Attorney General Merrick Garland has tossed out a Trump administration policy that barred immigration judges from temporarily shelving some deportation cases.
Garland on Thursday overruled a decision by then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions that judges could not put those cases on hold — a practice known as administrative closure. Immigration judges said the practice helped them manage their dockets more efficiently by letting them focus on priority cases and that barring it further backlogged an already overloaded immigration court system where people wait years to get a hearing.
For many immigrants, administrative closure was seen as a lifeline that shielded them from deportation while their applications for legal status were pending. Critics of the practice said judges too often let people stay in the country longer than they should in a sort of legal purgatory.
The immigration courts are part of the Department of Justice, and immigration judges are agency employees.
Three appeals courts had already rejected Sessions' policy, saying immigration judges had the authority to decide how they wanted to handle cases, Garland wrote in his decision. He said the Department of Justice was making rules related to the practice, which would be restored in the meantime.
The number of cases pending before the immigration courts surged during the Trump administration, partly as hundreds of thousands of cases that had been shelved were put back on the calendar for court hearings.
Since the 2018 fiscal year, the number of cases pending in the immigration courts rose 74%, to 1.3 million, according to data from the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University.
Taxin reported from Orange County, California.
Amy Taxin, The Associated Press