The Trump administration has requested the restarting of thousands of deportation cases that immigration judges previously had suspended, according to statistics provided Wednesday by the Department of Justice’s Executive Office for Immigration Review, which oversees the immigration courts.
So far this fiscal year, attorneys for Immigration and Customs Enforcement have sought the reactivation of nearly 8,000 deportation cases that had been administratively closed — meaning pushed off the court’s docket. The previous fiscal year, which included nearly four months of the Obama administration, there were nearly 8,400 such requests.
The pace of such requests is nearly double that of the last two years of the Obama administration, when there were 3,551 and 4,847 such requests, respectively. Judges generally grant requests to restart cases, experts say.
The data comes just a month after 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, like 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.
Experts said the newly released statistics were in line with the administration’s stated goals on immigration.
“DHS's increase in motions to recalendar is part of a broad, administration-wide effort to increase deportations,” Sarah Pierce, a senior policy analyst at the Migration Policy Institute, a Washington think tank, said, referring to the Department of Homeland Security. “The effort has been accelerated by Attorney General Jeff Sessions' ruling that immigration judges do not have the authority to administratively close cases, and subsequent DHS guidance to ICE attorneys instructing them to recalendar every single case that has ever been administratively closed.”
After Sessions’ decision was released in May, the American Immigration Lawyers Association posted a purported memo sent to ICE attorneys instructing them to move to recalendar 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.”
For its part, ICE said Wednesday that it was attempting to restart previously closed cases in which individuals had since been convicted of or arrested for a crime. ICE said it was reviewing those cases that were closed using prosecutorial discretion to see if the reasons for such discretion were still valid.
Dana Marks, an immigration judge in San Francisco and a spokesperson for the National Association of Immigration Judges, said that under previous administrations, motions to reactivate previously closed cases were often due to the individual subsequently being arrested, charged, or convicted of a new crime.
Under this administration, she said, the reasons for the motion have expanded.
“They want all of them back on the docket because all of these individuals have been identified in their mind as having a potential ground of removability,” she said.
The statistics released Wednesday do not say why the government had sought to reopen a case.
Pierce, the analyst at Migration Policy Institute, said the reactivation of cases that had been closed, many for years, was likely to have a psychological impact on tens of thousands of immigrants.
“For the over 355,000 immigrants whose cases have been administratively closed, this is frightening. They have been living in relative peace knowing that they are not in active deportation proceedings,” she said. “Now, under the Trump administration, they face a renewed chance at being deported.”