The Trump administration’s immigration enforcement policies have increased immigrants’ vulnerability to swift deportation, making the ability to access safeguard more important than ever. The Board of Immigration Appeals, the highest administrative body for interpreting and applying immigration laws, has refused to disclose critical information about how it implements life-saving mechanisms that would allow these individuals to seek reopening or reconsidering of their immigration cases, and prevent the irreparable harms that can result from deportation.
In response, the American Immigration Council and the Kathryn O. Greenberg Immigration Justice Clinic at Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law filed a lawsuit yesterday in federal court to compel the Executive Office for Immigration Review and the Department of Justice to release policies, practices, and data that disclose how the BIA interprets mechanisms to reopen or reconsider immigration cases, and legal actions to temporarily prevent deportation of vulnerable individuals.
The lawsuit, filed in the Southern District of New York, challenges the BIA’s failure to disclose information—in response to two Freedom of Information Act requests submitted in July and November 2018— about its policies and practices regarding requests to halt removal while an individual seeks review of an unlawful deportation order. The suit asks the court to produce documents that will provide the public with information on requests to prevent unlawful or unjust deportations, including statistical information on these decisions and guidance on the standards for deciding such requests.
“The BIA’s failure to properly implement these crucial mechanisms for reopening cases and protecting against harm places asylum seekers at risk of serious bodily harm and death,” said Yael Ben Tov, law student intern at the Kathryn O. Greenberg Immigration Justice Clinic at Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law. “In order to prevent more erroneous deportations, it is critical that the BIA produce these documents so that noncitizens may access their statutory and regulatory rights.”
“The motion to reopen and stay processes exist to protect individuals from irreparable harm as a result of erroneous deportations. Yet by operating in secrecy and opacity, the BIA undermines Congress’ intention and allows this exact population along with many others who have valid claims for relief to be deported, without so much as a glance at the merits of their case,” said Claudia Valenzuela, FOIA staff attorney at the American Immigration Council. “We cannot allow the BIA to continue to shield its practices from public scrutiny.”
“Individuals seeking to avail themselves of their statutory rights, especially those that are pro se, need clear guidance from the BIA on how these mechanisms work,” said Geroline Castillo, law student intern at the Kathryn O. Greenberg Immigration Justice Clinic at Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law. “Without it, they risk losing their families and communities, even if they have valid claims and can lawfully remain in the United States.”
Since the Trump administration took office in 2017, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has stepped up arrests, detention, and quick deportation of people residing in vulnerable immigrant communities. Many targeted individuals have lived in the United States for years with the federal government’s permission.
In many cases, these individuals are now afraid to return to their country of origin because of changed circumstances there and hope to reopen their immigration cases to seek protection from persecution. In other cases, individuals can now show that their underlying deportation order was invalid or that they merit some other form of relief. While immigration law provides mechanisms for reopening and reconsidering cases and preventing the irreparable harms that can result from deportation, current EOIR practices often render these protections ineffective and result in unjust deportation of individuals before their cases are even considered by the immigration courts. Many of these deported noncitizens are forced to live in hiding in fear of their lives and often lose touch with their friends, family, and advocates in the United States.