ATTORNEY General John Ashcroft has signed off on a proposed rule that would make procedural reforms at the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA), including cutting the number of Board members from the current 19 down to 11.
The proposed reforms are intended to accomplish five objectives. These include: eliminating the backlog of approximately 55,000 cases currently pending before the Board; eliminating delays in the adjudication of administrative appeals; using the Executive office for Immigration Review’s (EOIR) resources more efficiently; focusing the Board’s resources on those case that present disputed legal questions; and enhancing the quality of BIA decisions.
In fact, the backlog of cases has risen from 27,600 is 1995 to the current 55,000 cases. The current backlog includes 34,000 that are more than a year old and 10,000 that are more than 3 years old.
The BIA is the major avenue of appeal that immigrants have before taking their cases to federal court. Besides wanting to reduce the number of judges on the board to 11, Ashcroft plans to let many of the more routine appeals be resolved by a single judge rather than the three-judge review panel that is now the norm.
The changes are expected to save up to $30 million a year, which Ashcroft said would be used to reduce other immigration backlogs. The new procedures could be bad news for immigrants, especially political asylum seekers whose appeals are deemed simple and quickly resolved by a single judge who would not be allowed to review the facts or consider new evidence.
The new rule also would establish a series of time limits geared toward expediting the adjudication process. Under the proposed reforms, parties would still have 30 days to file an appeal but would have to brief the case simultaneously within 21 days. Current procedures allow each party 30 days in which to file their respective briefs.
The single members of the panel would have 30 days in which to either decide the case or refer it for three-member panel review, and the three-member panel would have to adjudicate the case within 180 days. Immigration Judges would have to complete their review of the decision transcripts within 14 days.
If the member drafting the opinion is unable to meet the 180-day deadline, he or she could request for an extension of up to 60 days from the BIA Chairman. If the decision of the panel majority is still not completed at the end of the 60-day period, the Chairman would either have to decide the case himself within 14days or refer the case to the Attorney General for a decision.
The Department of Justice is attempting to speed up deportation appeals. However, cutting the number of judges in half will only delay the process instead of expediting it.
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