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Trump-Era Ending of Immigration Administrative Closures Rebuked

May 5, 2021, 6:46 PM

Former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ decision that immigration judges and the Board of Immigration Appeals don’t have authority to administratively close immigration cases was rebuked by the Third Circuit Wednesday.

An administrative closure is a docketing tool under which an IJ or the board takes an immigration case off their active dockets and places it on hold while an alternate resolution is developed or because events outside the control of the parties may affect the case.

The process isn’t specifically mentioned in the Immigration and Naturalization Act or in applicable regulations. But it had long been deemed valid under regulations that allow IJs and the BIA to take necessary or appropriate action to dispose of a case, according to the Third Circuit opinion by Judge Marilyn J. Horan, sitting by designation.

But in 2018 Sessions said that IJs and the BIA don’t have authority to administratively close cases unless specifically authorized to do so by a regulation or settlement agreement. Administrative closures conflict with the regulatory requirement that cases be timely resolved, he said.

In this particular lawsuit, Abner Arcos Sanchez requested an administrative closure of his removal proceedings so that he could renew his Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals status. After having his request denied, he appealed.

There is a circuit split over whether IJs and the BIA have authority to utilize administrative closures, but the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit joined the Fourth and Seventh circuits, saying that they do. The plain text of the applicable regulations “establishes that general administrative closure authority is unambiguously authorized,” it said.

Judge Kent A. Jordan joined the opinion.

Dissenting Judge Paul B. Matey fell on the other side of the circuit split. He echoed the Sixth Circuit and said the regulations don’t unambiguously authorize administrative closures.

Bastarrika Soto Gonzalez & Somohano represented Arcos Sanchez.

The case is Arcos Sanchez v. Garland, 3d Cir., No. 20-1843, 5/5/21.

To contact the reporter on this story: Bernie Pazanowski in Washington at bpazanowski@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Rob Tricchinelli at rtricchinelli@bloomberglaw.com; Steven Patrick at spatrick@bloomberglaw.com