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New Limits for Immigration Judges to Dismiss Cases

By George Khoury, Esq. | Last updated on

It's no secret for immigration practitioners that the current administration isn't simply exerting pressure on the immigration courts and system. It's tying hands and caging children, physically and metaphorically.

Most recently, Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued an opinion limiting the authority of immigration court judges to dismiss deportation proceedings. Sessions' opinion stated that immigration court judges don't possess the "inherent authority" to dismiss deportation cases, and can only do so under rather narrow conditions.

Narrowing Process

Sessions' opinion limits the ability of immigration court judges to dismiss cases based on their own discretion. Now, cases can only be dismissed if federal government decides to drop the case, fails to prove their case, or if the defendant can prove a legal right to be in the country. Basically, his order states that an immigration judge can only dismiss or terminate deportation proceedings based upon the statutorily defined reasons.

Sessions also explained that an immigration judge must issue a decision upon the conclusion of a removal case on whether the individual is or isn't removable, further explaining that failing to do so is an error. And while other judges may have the ability to control their dockets, Sessions' opinion seemed to chastise one immigration judge who dismissed a case (that had seemed to work itself out via other administrative procedures) out of expedience to help unclog the court's backlog.

Policy Over Process

Immigrant rights advocates explain that although Sessions seems to be simply pushing for enforcement of the law as written, this is more a political statement than anything else. By issuing an opinion that explicitly prevents judges from using their inherent discretion to control their dockets, advocates explain that Sessions is marginalizing the judiciary's role in their own courtroom.

And while Sessions' opinion blasted a judge for abusing the inherent authority judges traditionally have to control their own dockets (particularly for judicial economy), he seemed to unnecessarily state that judges shouldn't dismiss cases when they "may pose sympathetic circumstances."

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