Recent changes in immigration policies have raided the long-standing practices characteristic of American immigration courts.[i]At the annual Symposium for the North Carolina Journal of International Law and Commercial Regulation, the session on New Developments in Immigration Law brought in a variety of voices that discussed these changes.[ii]Panelists at this session included Fatma Marouf, a professor and director of the Immigrant Rights Clinic at the Texas A&M University School of Law and consultant for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees; Kaci Bishop, director of the Immigration Clinic at the University of North Carolina School of Law; and Helen Parsonage, a specialist in Immigration Law and in Criminal Law as recognized by the North Carolina State Bar Board of Legal Specialization. Each of these professionals were able to draw from their work experiences to describe the realistic impacts of policy changes on the daily practices of immigration attorneys.[iii]
At this session, initial discussions focused on the appointment of Jeff Sessions as the U.S. Attorney General and the resulting shift of focus away from leniency towards immigrants towards constriction of the powers possessed by immigration judges.[iv]Thus, the current situation includes several aspects: putting an end to administrative closure, which judges use to prioritize some cases and remove others from their dockets while immigrants whose cases are removed retain their rights to stay in the U.S. without fear of deportation; a crackdown on continuance, which allows judges to reschedule an upcoming hearing or pause an ongoing hearing; requiring immigration judges to complete 700 cases per year as part of their performance review; and empowering the Attorney General to fire immigration judges for insubordination, which may include the inability to complete the required quota of cases.[v]These policies altogether have altered the climate of the practice of immigration law in the U.S. and imposed new pressures upon the less fortunate clients.[vi]
Later discussions at the session delved into the various types of statuses that immigrants across the country seek to obtain.[vii]Examples include the Temporary Protected Status granted to foreign nationals currently present in the U.S. and asylee status granted to foreign nationals already in the U.S. or at the country’s border.[viii]Professor Marouf explained in detail that foreign nationals at the border may qualify for asylum on the basis of meeting the requirements of a “refugee” under the definition provided by international refugee law as someone who is unable or unwilling to return to his or her home country due to persecution.[ix]She further laid out the claims that may fulfill the requirement of persecution due to race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group rendering unable or unwilling to return to his or her home country, or membership in a particular social group.[x]According to Professor Marouf, since a significant number of applicants made the claim that they belonged to a particular social group, their major challenge lied in defining which “social group” they belonged to.[xi]She highlighted this is a particular problem because a social group can change by the time the immigration judge sets a full hearing for them.[xii]Other discussions included that applicants of asylum claiming domestic violence now have a harder time getting approved. This is due to the fact that the definition of domestic violence under U.S. domestic violence law has now been redrafted to account solely for violent instances of kicking and punching instead of the broader former definition including emotional abuse as well.[xiii]
The session ended with an overview of the types of immigrants that are in need of protection under U.S. law while shedding light upon the role of outside mechanisms like international law and non-state actors in facilitating applications.[xiv]Thus, the conclusion reiterated that current immigration policies had come far from accommodating immigrants facing crises but reassured that such outside mechanisms could help them.[xv]
[i]Abigail Hauslohner and Andrew Ba Tran, How Trump is Changing the Face of Legal Immigration, The Washington Post(Jul 2, 2018), https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/how-trump-is-changing-the-face-of-legal-immigration/2018/07/02/477c78b2-65da-11e8-99d2-0d678ec08c2f_story.html?utm_term=.21cbb82c0eb6.
[ii]Symposium, Discrete Issues in Immigration Law, 44 N.C. J. Int’l L. (2018).
[iv]Fatma Marouf, Professor of Law and Dir. of the Immigrant Rights Clinic, Texas A&M Univ. School of Law, Speaker at the North Carolina International Law Journal Symposium: Discrete Issues in Immigration Law (Feb. 1, 2019).
[xiii]Helen Parsonage, Partner, Elliot Morgan Parsonage, Speaker at the North Carolina Law Journal Symposium: Discrete Issues in Immigration Law (Feb. 1, 2019).
[xiv]Kaci Bishop, Director of the Immigration Clinic, University of North Carolina School of Law, Speaker at the North Carolina International Law Journal Symposium: Discrete Issues in Immigration Law (Feb. 1, 2019).