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WASHINGTON, DC, Aug. 30, 2019 – On August 29, 2019, the Fourth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruled in Zuniga Romero v. Barr that Immigration Judges (IJ) and the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) have the authority to administratively close cases pending before them. The court of appeals decision overturns a decision issued last year by then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Matter of Castro-Tum, 27 I. & N. Dec. 271 (A.G. 2018). In Castro-Tum, former Attorney General Sessions concluded immigration law did not permit immigration judges to administrative close cases before their own courts, even those which could be resolved by other federal agencies. Keeping those cases in litigation and on immigration court dockets exacerbates the Executive Office of Immigration Review (EOIR)’s growing case backlog. The Fourth Circuit concluded immigration law unambiguously permits immigration judges to control their own dockets.

Jeremy McKinney, AILA Second Vice President stated, “Zuniga Romero unequivocally rejects the legal reasoning of Castro-Tum. With this ruling, the Fourth Circuit has given those who support the rule of law and an independent judiciary cause for celebration. This ruling, for now limited to the Fourth Circuit, restores the authority of immigration judges to temporarily close a case for someone like Zuniga Romero who has a petition pending before U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and may be eligible for legal relief. Zuniga Romero gives new hope to people appearing in immigration courts in other circuits that Castro-Tum does not stand up to judicial scrutiny and must be challenged nationwide.

Gregory Chen, AILA Director of Government Relations stated, “This decision sends an immediate symbolic message nationwide: The federal judiciary will not tolerate an unreasonable interpretation of law and will halt the abuse of power by the executive branch. Ultimately, however, we cannot rely upon this decision by the Fourth Circuit to ensure the immigration courts operate with the independence and integrity Americans expect of our judicial system. Currently, control over the immigration courts rests entirely with the Attorney General, and Castro-Tum exemplified how former Attorney General Jeff Sessions abused that power. A truly independent immigration court system can only be accomplished if Congress passes legislation creating a court under Article I of the Constitution that is separate from the Department of Justice.

For more information about the administration’s attempts to undermine judicial independence and the need for independent immigration courts, visit AILA’s featured issue page: http://www.aila.org/immigrationcourts.