Over the past couple of years, U.S. attorney general Jeff Sessions has made a number of high-profile changes to the immigration court system. One of the biggest—and most controversial—is the Matter of Castro-Tum.
This ruling drastically reduced the power of immigration judges to suspend certain removal proceedings. This has created considerable anxiety for thousands of immigrants, including many who thought that their cases were over.
In this article, we’ll go over Matter of Castro-Tum and what it means for immigrants. We’ll also talk about how individuals affected by Matter of Castro–Tum can change their legal strategies to avoid deportation.
What’s an Administrative Closure?
In immigration law, an administrative closure is a specific legal process initiated by ICE, the Department of Justice, an immigration judge, or the Board of Immigration Appeals. This process removes the case from the judge’s immediate docket, and essentially puts it on a shelf while the court deals with other matters.
Since the judge never formally decides the case one way or another, administrative closures are not final decisions. In practical terms, this means that you can continue living in the U.S. while your case in administrative closure.
In effect, an administrative closure is very similar to a continuance. However, there are two main differences:
- First, a continuance is typically issued at the request of the respondent, while an administrative closure is at the request of the government.
- Second, continuances are temporary solutions with specified dates for reopening the case, while closed cases remain closed indefinitely.
Before Matter of Castro-Tum, administrative closures were left to the sole discretion of the immigration judge. Essentially, they were used as a way of focusing administrative resources on more high-risk cases while low-risk immigrants got to live our their lives in the U.S.
Now, however, Jeff Sessions has ruled that immigration judges do not have the right to grant administrative closures outside of very specific circumstances.
How Have Immigration Judges Used Administrative Closure in the Past?
Back in 2012, the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) released a memo which addressed the backlog of cases in U.S. immigration courts. In order to deal with this backlog, the EOIR recommended that judges employ administrative closures in certain cases. Since then, immigration judges have issued thousands of closures, usually for one of two reasons.
In most cases, immigration judges issued administrative closures when a subject of removal proceedings seemed likely to receive relief. This often occurred in cases where individuals were obviously eligible for family-based immigrant visas or other legal residence permits. In these cases, immigration judges, or DOJ lawyers, would request closure to avoid taking time away from more pressing cases.
Immigration judges could also close immigration cases for other reasons, at their discretion. For example, an immigration judge overseeing removal proceedings for someone who was clinically ill could use administrative closure to put the case aside until their medical issues were resolved.
How Does Matter of Castro-Tum Change the Administrative Closure Process?
All of this changed on May 17th, 2018, when Attorney General Jeff Sessions ruled on Matter of Castro-Tum. Sessions’ ruling on this case overturned previous precedent, restricting the ability of immigration judges grant administrative closure. Now, immigration judges and the Board of Immigration Appeals may only close cases in specific, limited circumstances.
In order for an Immigration Judge to grant an administrative closure, a previous regulation or judicially approved settlement must authorize the action. Matter of Castro-Tum lays out many such situations in detail.
Here are a few of the most important:
- Individuals eligible for a T Visa for victims of human trafficking.
- Certain spouses and children of lawful permanent residents, but only if they qualify for a V visa.
- Nationals of countries with specific immigration agreements with the U.S., such as Cuba, Haiti, Vietnam, and Laos.
Individuals who do not fall into the categories listed in Matter of Castro-Tum are no longer eligible for administrative closure.
How Does Matter of Castro-Tum Affect Closed Cases?
In addition to changing how administrative closures work, Jeff Sessions has also ordered closed cases returned to the docket. This means that immigration judges will now need to hear and make rulings on those cases. This applies to all closed cases not covered above—in total, more than 200,000 cases.
Of course, this will not happen immediately. Instead, the Department of Justice will slowly reschedule specific cases over time, at their discretion. Additionally, Matter of Castro-Tum allows individual respondents to request their cases be recalendered, should they so desire.
While Sessions refers to the “need to return these cases to the active docket,” it is not clear what time frame he has in mind for doing so.
How Does Matter of Castro-Tum Affect My Immigration Case?
Sessions ruling on Matter of Castro-Tum will primarily affect two groups. The first consists of individuals who had been granted administrative closure in the past. These individuals could eventually find themselves in removal proceedings, even if they haven’t committed a crime.
If you are part of this group, it is important to begin looking for a valid path to immigration relief, such as a family visa. Talk to your immigration lawyer to find out what your options are.
Matter of Castro-Tum may prove even more problematic for those currently involved in removal proceedings. If you are part of this group, consider speaking to your lawyer about motioning for a continuance. While less permanent than an administrative closure, a continuance can still give you the time you need to seek immigration relief.
Finally, some lawyers and their clients have sought to directly challenge Matter of Castro-Tum. They hope that, by doing so, they can receive a new ruling from the Office of the Attorney General. However, it is not yet clear whether these arguments will prove successful.
The Attorney General’s ruling in Matter of Castro-Tum is a serious concern for all beneficiaries of administrative closure. However, it is an even more serious matter for respondents seeking closure while awaiting immigration relief. Such individuals will now be forced to rely on the continuance system, which is itself under fire from the Attorney General.
In either case, individuals affected by Matter of Castro-Tum should contact an immigration lawyer immediately. By doing so, you can create a legal strategy for receiving relief before you end up in removal proceedings.