Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced plans this week to do away with a requirement from a 2014 ruling by the Justice Department’s Board of Immigration Appeals that demands that all asylum seekers be given a full hearing in front of an immigration judge. Once this rule is eliminated, immigration judges will have the power to deny asylum to those seeking it based only upon an initial review of their petition. While Sessions and others in the Justice Department claim that this will ease the backlog of cases currently in the court system that are preventing judges from providing relief to deserving candidates, there are others who have expressed concern at the possibility of endangering thousands of people by sending them back to their native countries without giving them adequate time to explain their situation.
Getting rid of this requirement causes particular concern for asylum seekers who file their initial petitions without help from an attorney. This group represents about twenty percent of all asylum seekers and without this rule become significantly more at risk for being turned away without a chance to adequately present their case. Furthermore, despite claims this this will speed up the court system by allowing judges to reject unmerited cases more quickly, Jeremy McKinney from the American Immigration Lawyers Association points out that this will lead to increased backlog in the federal court system. This is primarily because a large portion of denied petitioners turn to the court of appeals as a last resort.
This is just another step in a series of measures that the Trump administration has attempted to take in order to reduce the number of illegal immigrants in the United States. In October 2017 the White House announced its decision to place “numeric performance standards” on federal immigration judges, which they also said was an effort to reduce the backlog of immigration cases. However this measure was an explicit effort to increase the judges’ ability to deport immigrants, an outcome that President Trump promised in the beginning of his term.
The suggested production quotas led to outcry from a number of federal judges, who insisted that these measures would negatively affect their judicial independence as well as their ability to decide these controversial, often life-and-death cases. It is clear from this previous case that the elimination of the full hearings requirement is another attempt by the Trump administration to expel as many illegal immigrants as possible, and not in order to make time for more worthy asylum seekers, as Justice Department officials claim.
For more on this:
Maria Sacchetti, Immigration judges say proposed quotas from Justice Dept. threaten independence, The Washington Post (October 12, 2017), https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/immigration/immigration-judges-say-proposed-quotas-from-justice-dept-threaten-independence/2017/10/12/3ed86992-aee1-11e7-be94-fabb0f1e9ffb_story.html?utm_term=.bfec32155fde
Antonio Olivo, Advocates say Sessions’s decision to toss rule on asylum hearings endangers thousands, The Washington Post (March 7, 2018), https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/social-issues/advocates-sessions-decision-to-toss-rule-on-asylum-hearings-endangers-thousands/2018/03/07/24b63b24-2214-11e8-94da-ebf9d112159c_story.html?utm_term=.6db1e24a8839