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On May 17, 2018, the Attorney General issued a decision in Matter of Castro-Tum, 27 I&N Dec. 271 (A.G. 2018), finding that immigration judges do not have the authority to administratively close immigration proceedings except in limited circumstances authorized by regulation or judicially approved settlement.  Pursuant to this decision, immigration judges may no longer administratively close cases, and if either party moves to recalendar (reschedule) proceedings that were previously administratively closed, the immigration judge must recalendar proceedings and move forward with adjudication.

Administratively closure is a mechanism immigration judges have utilized for decades to manage their dockets.  It has become a particularly important tool in recent years as increased immigration enforcement and an understaffed immigration court system has led to significant backlogs.  A noncitizen whose proceedings are administratively closed remains in removal proceedings, but her case is taken off the active docket, effectively “pausing” adjudication until either party moves to recalendar the case for a hearing.

One common reason an immigration judge would administratively close a case is when the non-citizen is eligible for relief from deportation, but U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has exclusive jurisdiction over that relief.  For example, a non-citizen in removal proceedings who is eligible to obtain permanent residency based on marriage to a U.S. citizen must usually first seek a benefit before USCIS before being able to return to the court for a final adjudication of her claim.  Similarly, a child in removal proceedings may be eligible for Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS), but USCIS has exclusive jurisdiction over the petition for SIJS.  The child must therefore ask the court to continue or administratively close her removal proceedings until USCIS has adjudicated her SIJS petition.  In addition, under the prior administration, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agreed to administrative closure in certain cases where ICE had decided to exercise prosecutorial discretion.  In each of these situations, administrative closure helped ensure the judge’s limited resources were efficiently utilized.

Based on this decision, NIJC believes that ICE may soon begin moving to recalendar cases that were previously administratively closed, possibly focusing first on cases where the relief has been obtain before USCIS.  In cases where proceedings are recalendared, but the application for relief remains pending before USCIS, such as an asylum application for an unaccompanied immigrant child, the noncitizen may seek a continuance, in lieu of administrative closure, while waiting for a decision from USCIS.  In other cases, such as those where administrative closure was granted based on an offer of prosecutorial discretion from ICE, the case will likely proceed to a merits hearing once it has been recalendared.

If you previously represented an individual whose proceedings were administratively closed and you did not withdraw from the case, you will receive notice when ICE moves to recalendar your former clients’ proceedings.  It is critical that you make sure you have updated your appearance form with the Court if you changed employers or addresses since the case was closed.

Please contact your NIJC point-of-contact if you have questions about how this decision will impact your case.  Click here to read NIJC’s statement on the Attorney General’s decision.