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Jeffrey S. Chase, Feb. 14, 2021
"As we all know, on December 10, the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security jointly published final rules widely referred to as the “Death to Asylum” regulations. On January 8, a U.S. District Court Judge issued a preliminary injunction blocking those rules from taking effect. The rules remain enjoined at present.
However, EOIR, the agency housing the Immigration Courts and the Board of Immigration Appeals, maintains a Virtual Law Library (“VLL”) on its website. Most EOIR judges, staff attorneys, and law clerks use the VLL to reference applicable law when drafting decisions. Many private lawyers and other interested individuals outside of government use the VLL as a resource as well. In addition to listing all precedent decisions of the BIA and the Attorney General, the VLL contains links to the most current versions of both the Immigration & Nationality Act and the regulations that interpret it.
One clicking on the link to the federal regulations on the VLL is taken to a site called e-CFR, which is maintained by the U.S. Government Printing Office. At present, that site displays the enjoined “Death to Asylum” rules as if they are presently in effect. The site does not state that the regulations have been enjoined, and therefore may not be relied on.
This means that at present, an Immigration Judge, Board Member, law clerk, staff attorney, or anyone else involved in the decision-making process who researches the law applicable to a pending asylum case will read rules that are not actually in force, but that mandate the denial of asylum in cases that should be granted under the actual applicable law. The judges and their staff will see “rules” that require an overly narrow view of what constitutes political opinion or a particular social group; of who may be a persecutor and of how nexus is established. They will see language making it more difficult to find that an asylum seeker could not have reasonably relocated within their country; that discourage reliance on country condition information critical to establishing many elements of individual claims; and that, in some cases, call for the termination of bona fide asylum claims as “frivolous,” a classification that carries a lifetime bar to any and all immigration benefits.
Remarkably, when made aware of the problem, government officials defended the posting of the non-applicable rules on the grounds that their “effective date” had been reached, and seemed unable to understand what the problem was. I would hope that the Biden Administration might instruct these officials why it might actually be a problem for judges to access rules requiring them to deny asylum claims they should actually be granting. They might want to add that it would be a particularly good practice to double-check before posting any rule commonly referred to as “Death to Something.”
In the meantime, attorneys should carefully review all written decisions from EOIR, checking whether they cite to the inapplicable regs."
Copyright 2021 Jeffrey S. Chase. All rights reserved. Jeffrey S. Chase is an immigration lawyer in New York City. Jeffrey is a former Immigration Judge and Senior Legal Advisor at the Board of Immigration Appeals. He is the founder of the Round Table of Former Immigration Judges, which was awarded AILA’s 2019 Advocacy Award. Jeffrey is also a past recipient of AILA’s Pro Bono Award. He sits on the Board of Directors of the Association of Deportation Defense Attorneys, and Central American Legal Assistance.