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The Trump Administration Asked To Restart Nearly 20,000 Suspended Immigration Cases — As It Faces An Existing Backlog

“The administration has sought out creative ways to find and remove people already in the system.”

Posted on March 28, 2019, at 2:55 p.m. ET

Saul Loeb / AFP / Getty Images

In the past two fiscal years, the Trump administration has requested restarting more than 18,000 deportation cases that immigration judges had suspended, according to statistics provided by the Department of Justice’s Executive Office for Immigration Review, which oversees immigration courts.

Attorneys for Immigration and Customs Enforcement have sought the reactivation of more than 18,000 cases that were administratively closed — essentially pushed off the court’s docket — in the first two fiscal years of the administration. A small portion of those fiscal years includes the last few months of the Obama administration.

The more than 18,000 cases represents a massive jump from the final two complete fiscal years of the Obama administration, when around 8,400 cases were requested to be restarted. The figure also comes as the Trump administration continues to grapple with a backlog of more than 800,000 deportation cases across the country.

Judges generally grant requests to restart cases, experts say.

Administration officials have often lamented that migrants who enter the country and request asylum are able to stay for years without having their cases adjudicated because of the backlog.

“These statistics reveal how the Trump administration’s policies have directly contributed to an increase in the immigration court backlog, further clogging the system and delaying and denying justice to the individuals within it,” said Laura Lynch, senior policy counsel at the American Immigration Lawyers Association.

And Sarah Pierce, an analyst at the Migration Policy Institute, said the number shows the administration came in with the goal to deport as many immigrants as possible.

“But it’s difficult and resource intensive to ramp up removals. So the administration has sought out creative ways to find and remove people already in the system,” she said. “This has included the population of over 300,000 immigrants who had administratively closed removal proceedings.”

The data comes nearly a year after then-attorney general Jeff Sessions restricted the ability of immigration judges to indefinitely suspend deportation cases, a practice he said “resulted in illegal aliens remaining indefinitely in the United States without any formal legal status.”

The Obama administration had made a push to suspend cases that were deemed a low priority — such as those of undocumented immigrants who had ties to the country and had no serious criminal convictions — using prosecutorial discretion as the courts dealt with a major backlog. In all, more than 300,000 cases have been administratively closed.

After Sessions’ decision was released in May, the American Immigration Lawyers Association posted a purported memo that ICE officials sent to the agency’s attorneys, instructing them to request to re-calendar previously closed cases depending on the resources available. In his decision blocking administrative closures, Sessions said that he expected the “the recalendaring process will proceed in a measured but deliberate fashion that will ensure that cases ripe for resolution are swiftly returned to active dockets.”

In the two months following the memo sent to ICE attorneys, requests to re-calendar cases brought by ICE attorneys skyrocketed, with more than 2,400 motions — not that far off from what attorneys during the Obama administration would sometimes request for an entire year.

In recent months, however, the requests to restart cases has decreased. In the first five months of the 2019 fiscal year, DHS attorneys have requested to re-calendar just over 2,100 cases.

“In accordance with the Attorney General’s decision in Matter of Castro-Tum, ICE continues to review cases that were administratively closed by an immigration judge to determine whether they should be recalendered; however, local Chief Counsel offices must prioritize cases based on available resources and other considerations,” said ICE spokesperson Sarah Rodriguez.

Pierce, from the Migration Policy Institute, said the recent downturn in requests can be tied potentially to the government shutdown but also to something else.

“The recent dip in motions to recalendar is likely a recognition that there is little value in adding to the court’s massive backlog,” she said.

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