Court Rules Secret Deportation Hearings Unconstitutional
In the most significant ruling by the courts against the Bush administration's post-September 11 actions, the United States 6th Circuit Court of Appeals declared that a blanket policy of secret deportation proceedings is unconstitutional. Writing that "Democracies die behind closed doors," the three-judge panel unanimously agreed that the press and the public have a "right to access" to the proceedings, and that the government had acted unlawfully in unilaterally closing all "special interest cases." The judges did recognize, however, the government's right to argue for closed hearings on a case-by-case basis.
Major Changes to Board of Immigration Appeals
Under the final rule recently published by the Justice Department, the Board of Immigration Appeals will be reduced from 23 to 11 judges (after a transition to reduce the backlog in cases), and most cases will be heard by a single member, rather than a three-member panel. The rule also sets new time limits and abolishes de novo review of immigration judges' (IJ) factual findings. The government has argued that the changes will make the system more efficient and help streamline the process. Advocates, however, argue that there will be insufficient opportunities for fair review of IJ decisions, given the number of cases that each member will have to handle, potentially leading to rubberstamping of decisions, rather than consistent, fair reviews.
New LPRs Break One Million Mark
The Immigration and Naturalization Service announced that 1,064,318 individuals became legal permanent residents (LPRs) between October 2000 and September 2001 (Fiscal Year 2001). The numerical increase from previous years was attributed primarily to reductions in the backlog due to improved processing. At the beginning of 2000, the processing of applications was taking an average of 30 months; that time now has decreased to 11 months. Nearly 850,000 applications remain pending. Sixty-one percent of the new LPRs had been living in the U.S. (as students, temporary employees, refugees, asylees, or illegally) and adjusted their status, while the remainder entered on visas. The leading country of origin was Mexico (206,426), followed by India (70,290), China (56,426), the Philippines (53,154), and Vietnam (35,531); immigrants from these five countries comprised 40 percent of the total number.
U.S., Canada Agree to Final Draft of Safe Third Country Agreement
Canada and the United States have reached an agreement to limit the access of asylum seekers to the asylum/refugee system of the country of first arrival. Discussions on this issue began last December under an immigration accord between the two countries, and negotiation of such an agreement was one of the 30 points of the U.S.-Canada Smart Border Declaration. Canada had reported that nearly 40 percent of its asylum seekers were entering via the United States, and some individuals had pending asylum applications in both countries (often as a defensive measure to avoid deportation). Refugee advocates in both countries have expressed concern about the agreement, fearing it will limit the ability of asylum seekers to apply for asylum in the country of their choice, thus reducing their likelihood of receiving protection. The agreement does include exceptions, such as for family reunification, but overall, it would likely shift an unknown number of asylum applications from the Canadian system to the U.S. system.
Refugee Admissions Fall Below Target
Due to the temporary shutdown of the refugee resettlement program after September 11 and the increased security procedures that followed, U.S. officials and resettlement agencies now expect refugee admissions for the fiscal year ending September 30 (FY 2002) to total fewer than 30,000. This falls far short of the 70,000 slots approved for FY 2002, which had been the lowest ceiling approved in 15 years. Traditionally, the United States has resettled more refugees than all other countries combined.
President Signs Child Status Protection Act
People under the age of 21 who have applied for, and are entitled to, immigration benefits no longer will be in danger of losing their eligibility due to Immigration and Naturalization Service processing delays. Under the law signed by President George W. Bush in August, the children of U.S. citizens, lawful permanent residents, refugees, and asylum seekers will be treated as minors for adjudication purposes, regardless of their age at the time the adjudication actually occurs, as long as they were under 21 at the time of application. The law addresses the "aging-out" of otherwise eligible immigrant children.