Attorney General Decision Restores Ability of Immigration Judges to Terminate Removal
Attorney General Merrick Garland issued a recent decision that restored immigration judges’ authority to terminate removal proceedings. Matter of Coronado Acevedo, 28 I&N Dec. 648 (A.G. 2022). This decision overruled a prior decision by then Attorney General Jeff Sessions that held that immigration judges “have no inherent authority to terminate or dismiss removal proceedings.” Matter of S-O-G- & F-D-B-, 27 I&N Dec. 462 (A.G. 2018) Id. at 463. This prior decision adversely impacted many noncitizens, particularly those with applications for collateral relief pending before U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, or USCIS, such as T and U visa applicants, DACA applicants, and Violence Against Women Act self-petitioners.
In deciding to overrule Matter of S-O-G- & F-D-B-, Garland noted that it had relied heavily on another now-vacated Attorney General decision that restricted the ability of immigration judges to administratively close removal proceedings. Matter of Castro-Tum, 27 I&N Dec. 271 (A.G. 2018). That decision had been rejected by several circuit courts and was ultimately overruled by Garland in a subsequent decision. Matter of Cruz-Valdez, 28 I&N 326 (A.G. 2021). Garland thus noted that much of the reasoning in S-O-G- & F-D-B- was reliant on another case that was no longer good law. In addition, the Attorney General noted that the Fourth Circuit had previously rejected S-O-G- & F-D-B- and found it was in conflict with the governing regulations. Gonzalez v. Garland, 16 F.4th 131 (4th Cir. 2021).
Pending the outcome of the rulemaking process, Garland confirmed that termination of proceedings is appropriate in certain circumstances, including the following: when a noncitizen has obtained lawful permanent residence after being placed in removal proceedings; where the pendency of removal proceedings causes adverse immigration consequences for a noncitizen who must travel abroad to obtain a visa; or where termination is necessary for the noncitizen to be eligible to seek immigration relief before USCIS. Until such time as a final regulation is issued, immigration judges and the Board of Immigration Appeals should be permitted to consider and, where appropriate, grant termination in these types of limited circumstances. The Attorney General noted that all parties will have a full and fair opportunity to participate in the rulemaking process.
The Attorney General’s decision in Coronado Acevedo is a welcome, common-sense measure. The decision allows the Executive Office for Immigration Review to focus on those matters that can only be resolved in immigration court while also offering crucial protections for vulnerable noncitizens, in particular for victims of domestic violence and human trafficking.