Stephen Dinan, Washington Times, May 17, 2018
Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued a directive to immigration judges Thursday telling them they can no longer shunt deportation cases off onto permanent wait lists and leave illegal immigrants free to roam the U.S.
Known as administrative closure, the wait list had become a favorite tactic of the Obama administration, serving to protect low-priority illegal immigrants from deportation.
Rather than pursue those cases, government attorneys would propose — and judges would grant — administrative closure by shipping more than 200,000 cases to the suspension list in what analysts said became a de facto amnesty.
Mr. Sessions, flexing his attorney general powers, ruled Thursday that the policy rested on shaky legal ground. He issued a precedent telling judges to decide the cases in front of them rather than rely on administrative closure.
“No attorney general has delegated such broad authority, and legal or policy arguments do not justify it. I therefore hold that immigration judges and the Board [of Immigration Appeals] lack this authority except where a previous regulation or settlement agreement has expressly conferred it,” Mr. Sessions said in his decision.
The ruling could, in the short term, speed up deportation decisions on the children and families that have surged into the U.S. over the past five years.
Mr. Sessions’ decision does not immediately reopen the 350,000 cases on the closure list. He said he feared overwhelming the already stressed immigration courts.
Even before his ruling, the government was making headway in cutting the backlog, suggesting an interest in getting those cases off the wait list and onto deportation dockets.
Administrative closure was part of the Obama administration’s response to Congress’ failure to legalize illegal immigrants. Left without a permanent solution, Mr. Obama ordered his aides to find other ways to protect illegal immigrants from deportation through “prosecutorial discretion.”
One answer was the 2012 DACA policy, which not only protected “Dreamers” from deportation but also granted them work permits, Social Security numbers and some taxpayer benefits, giving them a more firm footing.
For migrants who didn’t qualify for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals but still had low levels of criminal behavior, the Obama administration ordered Homeland Security not to lodge deportation cases against them and ordered immigration judges to close out their cases without deporting them when circumstances warranted.
Even as Mr. Sessions moved to speed up deportations, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said it was already arresting and deporting more people in the interior of the country.
Through the first half of fiscal year 2018, ICE arrests were up more than 26 percent, nearly reaching the 80,000 mark. ICE deportations, meanwhile, were up 17 percent.
Corey Price, assistant director for enforcement and removal at ICE, said they were told during the Obama era not to bother with illegal immigrants who didn’t have major criminal records. That has changed.