Garland overturns Sessions opinion, allows immigration judges to pause deportation proceedings

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Attorney General Merrick Garland issued an opinion Thursday recognizing the ability of immigration judges to administratively close a removal proceeding, which effectively removes a deportation case from the docket without technically disposing of the case.

The opinion overturned a previous one from then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions in a case known as the Matter of Castro-Tum, where Sessions held that there was no legal authority to administratively close such a case, as had previously been done. The Justice Department, in December 2020, issued a rule reflecting that position, but that was soon blocked on the grounds that it did not follow the rule-making process set by the Administrative Procedure Act.

“Because Castro-Tum departed from long-standing practice, it is appropriate to overrule that opinion in its entirety and restore administrative closure pending the reconsideration of the 2020 rule through notice-and-comment rulemaking, which will ‘afford[] all interested parties a full and fair opportunity to participate and ensure[] that the relevant facts and analysis are collected and evaluated,’” Garland wrote.

Administrative closure, Garland argued, allows for greater flexibility in case management by allowing for cases to be put on hold so that they can more fully focus on other cases.

“It has been used, for example, to pause cases while the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) adjudicates a noncitizen’s pending visa petition, or a noncitizen facing removal on criminal grounds pursues direct appeal or post-conviction relief in criminal court,” Garland said.

Administrative closure, he continued, could also be used to “facilitate the exercise of prosecutorial discretion” by allowing officials to ask judges to take certain cases off the docket.

In the meantime, Garland said, the Trump administration’s rule that attempted to codify Castro-Tum has to go through the proper “notice-and-comment” rulemaking process as part of the Justice Department’s reconsideration of the rule. Garland’s Thursday opinion makes it appear unlikely that they will continue to support the rule.

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