Immigration attorneys in Boston say new filing deadlines could, in some cases, mean the difference between their clients being able to stay in the U.S. or being ordered removed from the country.
The new deadlines were established by the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR), an office of the Department of Justice which oversees the nation's immigration courts. Attorneys in Boston say they began receiving the orders in the mail earlier this month, calling for individuals in certain cases to file an application with the court to remain in the U.S. within a matter of weeks or risk being deported. Attorneys say the timeline is made more challenging by the pandemic and the complicated nature of many of the cases.
"We've never seen these orders issued before by the immigration court," said Alexandra Peredo-Carroll, managing attorney at the Boston office of Kids In Need of Defense (KIND).
She says the Boston office has received 14 of these notifications and nearly 50 nationwide, all for cases involving young people who arrived in the U.S. as unaccompanied children. Such cases are generally provided special privileges in immigration proceedings because of the vulnerability of the children involved. They're also often granted more time to file for relief because there are various options available to minors, including pursuit of asylum or special immigrant juvenile visas not through the court, but through U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
But Peredo-Carroll said these new court ordered deadlines mean attorneys could, in some cases, be forced to apply for a certain kind of relief that may be more expeditious but that is not in their client’s best interest.
"By setting this arbitrary deadline and not allowing respondents to meaningfully access the forms of relief for which they are eligible, they might be precluded from applying," Peredo-Carroll said.
She said her youngest client affected by the new deadline is 8 years old.
The Department of Justice has not responded to multiple emails asking for comment.
Some of the letters, which Boston-area attorneys say appear to follow a template, also include inaccurate information concerning the individual case and are signed not by the immigration judge involved with the case but instead by the supervisory judge.
Eliana Nader, the head of the New England chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, said she's heard from dozens of attorneys in New England who are scrambling to pull together filings by deadlines that fall before the end of the year.
"To rush a deadline like this, it means that now people feel that they're forced to apply for something in the immigration court when that's not in their best interest and it's not the way that they were planning to seek relief from removal in the United States," she said.
Nader points out the overwhelming backlog of cases in Boston's immigration court when questioning why the EOIR selected these individual cases for expedition as opposed to others that have been waiting months for a motion from a judge.
"We certainly want to move cases before the immigration court but these cases that they've chosen to move are cases where the respondents are in many cases seeking relief elsewhere," she said.
For instance, in some of these cases children are eligible to apply for special immigrant juvenile visas through U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, a process that Nader said involves a long waitlist.
"There's no way to make that list move faster, so if they're ordered removed from the United States before it's their turn to get their green card, that doesn't benefit anybody," Nader said.
According to Nader, the vast majority of cases affected by these new deadlines in Boston involve children.
"So it seems to me that instead of finishing the cases that could be finished right now, they are doing this instead which could result in a bunch of removal orders for what seems to be mostly children."