As of September of 2018, over 350,000 immigration cases had been closed and never re-opened, saving some immigrants from deportation and allowing judges to move through cases more quickly. Last Thursday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions ruled that whole process illegal.
Immigration judges "do not have the general authority to suspend indefinitely immigration proceedings by administrative closure," Sessions wrote in the decision, which was an effort to eliminate judges' ability to close immigration cases.
These closures had previously acted as a sort of loophole that gave immigrants a choice: allow their case to close—they wouldn't be deported, but they wouldn't gain legal status either—or continue to fight for official relief in a difficult, drawn-out brawl with prosecutors.
Prosecutors often pushed to close cases when they believed the immigrant had a good chance of being found eligible for asylum or other relief.
Sessions has pressured immigration court judges to move through cases more quickly, but he's made their job even more difficult by taking away the tool they've used to get cases off their dockets. Now, previously closed cases could be re-opened, adding even more cases to the already-backlogged immigration system.
Not to be deterred, Sessions has a solution for the backlog as well: "streamlining [immigration courts'] hiring process for judges, increasingly using video teleconferencing to let judges adjudicate cases from around the country and a new electronic filing system."
Legal immigrant advocates decry Sessions' move as an ineffective burden on immigration courts, and also a slight to the legislative process.
"Due process demands that we maintain an immigration court system with independent judges who have the authority and flexibility to make decisions," Benjamin Johnson, executive director of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, a non-profit based in Washington, D.C., told the New York Times.