FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
FRIDAY, MAY 23, 2003
TDD (202) 514-1888
JUSTICE DEPARTMENT ANNOUNCES AFFIRMATIVE DISTRICT COURT DECISION REGARDING BOARD OF IMMIGRATION APPEALS CASE
WASHINGTON, D.C. - The Justice Department today announced an affirmative decision in a case challenging reforms to the Board of Immigration Appeals, the appellate body of the immigration court system. The plaintiffs - Capital Area Immigrants' Rights Coalition and the American Immigration Lawyers Association - challenged regulations issued by the Justice Department establishing reforms for the Board of Immigration Appeals.
In August 2002, the Attorney General announced the final rule reforming the procedures of the Board of Immigration Appeals to improve the timeliness and quality of its adjudication. In past years, the Board had developed a massive backlog of pending cases, reaching a peak of more than 56,000 cases in February 2002. Of these, more than 10,000 cases had been pending for three years or more.
The regulations revised the structure and procedures of the Board of Immigration Appeals, provided for an enhanced case management procedure, and expanded the number of cases referred to a single Board member for disposition. These procedures were intended to reduce delays in the review process, enable the Board to keep up with its caseload and reduce the existing backlog of cases, as well as allow the Board to focus more attention on those cases presenting significant issues for resolution by a three-member panel. The regulations also established standards of review that are consistent with those applied in the federal court system. After a transition period to implement the new procedures in order to reduce the Board's backlog of pending cases, the size of the Board was reduced to eleven.
The plaintiffs in this case contended that the regulations were issued in violation of the Administrative Procedure Act (APA). On May 21, 2003, Judge John D. Bates, of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, concluded that the Justice Department's regulations were not in violation of the law. The Court also rejected the plaintiffs' APA challenges to the reduction of Board's size and the six-month transition period for resolving the backlog of cases.
The reforms have had a significant impact on the efficiency of the Board, yielding impressive results. When the Attorney General announced the reforms in February 2002, the number of pending cases was 57,949. Of these cases, 38,843 were more than a year old and 13,707 were more than three years old. Currently, the number of pending cases is down to 38,000, with only 1,521 being more than three years old. The case backlog has been reduced by more than 28,000 cases.
To date, there have been five legal challenges regarding the Justice Department's reforms in four different judicial circuits. The Department has prevailed in every instance.