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Background and Security Investigations in Proceedings Before Immigration Judges and the Board of Immigration Appeals [70 FR 4743] [DHS 6-05]
FEDERAL REGISTER CITE:
70 FR 4743
DATE OF PUBLICATION:
January 31, 2005
BILLING CODE: 4410-30
DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE
8 CFR Parts 1003 and 1208
[EOIR No. 140I; AG Order No. 2755-2005]
Background and Security Investigations in Proceedings Before Immigration Judges and the Board
of Immigration Appeals
Executive Office for Immigration Review, Justice.
Interim rule with request for comments.
This rule amends Department regulations governing removal and other proceedings before immigration judges and the Board of Immigration Appeals when a respondent has applied for particular forms of immigration relief allowing the alien to remain in the United States (including, but not limited to, asylum, adjustment of status to that of a lawful permanent resident, cancellation of removal, and withholding of removal), in order to ensure that the necessary identity, law enforcement, and security investigatio
ns are promptly initiated and have been completed by the Department of Homeland Security prior to the granting of such relief.
: This rule is effective April 1, 2005.
: Written comments must be submitted on or before April 1, 2005.
Request for Comments
: Please submit written comments to MaryBeth Keller, General Counsel, Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR), 5107 Leesburg Pike, Suite 2600, Falls Church, Virginia 22041. To ensure proper handling, please reference RIN No. 1125-AA44 on your correspondence. You may view an electronic version of this rule at
You may also comment via the Internet to EOIR at firstname.lastname@example.org or by using the
. comment form for this regulation. When submitting comments electronically, you must include RIN No. 1125-AA44 in the subject box. Comments are available for public inspection at the above address by calling (703) 305-0470 to arrange for an appointment.
FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT:
MaryBeth Keller, General Counsel, Executive Office for Immigration Review, 5107 Leesburg Pike, Suite 2600, Falls Church, Virginia 22041, telephone (703) 305-0470.
An immigration judge or the Board of Immigration Appeals (Board) may grant relief from removal under a variety of provisions of the Immigration and Nationality Act (Act). Among the common forms of relief are adjustment of status to lawful permanent resident (LPR) status, asylum, waivers of inadmissibility, cancellation of removal, withholding of removal, and deferral of removal under the Convention Against Torture.
In considering an application for relief the applicant bears the burden of establishing his or her eligibility for the relief sought and, for discretionary forms of relief, that he or she merits a favorable exercise of discretion. For almost all forms of relief from removal, it must be established that the applicant has not been convicted of particular classes of crimes, and that he or she is not otherwise inadmissible or ineligible under the relevant standards.
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) conducts a variety of identification, law enforcement, and security investigations and examinations to determine whether an alien in proceedings has been convicted of any disqualifying crime, poses a national security threat to the United States, or is subject to other investigations. Since September 11, 2001, DHS and its predecessor agencies have expanded the scope of identity, law enforcement, and security investigations and examinations before granting of immigra
tion status to aliens. Moreover, because circumstances are subject to change over time, DHS may be required to update the results of its background investigations if the current determinations have expired. As the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States (“9/11 Commission”) has emphasized, “[t]he challenge for national security in an age of terrorism is to prevent the very few people who may pose overwhelming risks from entering or remaining in the United States undetected.” The 9/11
Commission Report, ed. W.W. Norton & Co. (2004), at 383. The Attorney General agrees with the Secretary's determination that the expanded background and security checks on aliens who seek to come to or remain in this country are essential to meet this challenge, regardless of whether the alien applies affirmatively with DHS or seeks immigration relief during removal proceedings within EOIR's jurisdiction.
In general, these investigations and examinations can be completed in a timely fashion so as to permit the adjudication of adjustment and other applications before the immigration judges without delay. Because DHS initiates the immigration proceedings, in most cases DHS has ample time to undertake the necessary investigations if it has obtained the alien's biometric
and other biographical information
prior to or at the time of filing of the Notice to Appear (NTA). In the instance when an NTA has been issued without biometrics and other biographical information having been taken at all (such as when DHS's U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) issues the NTA upon denial of a petition or application for change of nonimmigrant status at a service center or when an applicant fails to appear for a scheduled biometrics fingerprinting appointment with USCIS), this rule contemplates that DHS will be
given the opportunity to obtain respondent's biometrics and other biographical information from the respondent before a merits hearing. In addition, particularly when substantial time may have elapsed during the pendency of immigration proceedings, the validity of a fingerprint response received by USCIS may have elapsed and, under current arrangements with outside law enforcement and investigative agencies, fingerprints may need to be taken again by DHS to complete updated background checks.
When an alien in proceedings files an application for relief, such as an application for asylum or adjustment of status, DHS is on notice that further inquiry into criminal and national security records may be required. Because the immigration judges schedule in advance the date of the hearing on the merits of the alien's application, a time that is ascertainable from the hearing notices served on the government counsel, DHS is routinely on notice of the date by which these inquiries, investigations and exa
minations must be completed in time for a final decision by the immigration judge on the pending applications for relief. When an alien files an application in immigration proceedings for relief from removal, the immigration judge ordinarily will be able to consider the time that DHS indicates it will likely require to conduct the background and security inquiries and investigations before setting the date for the merits hearing. The immigration judge also can take into consideration that DHS's ability to o
btain full results from the law enforcement and intelligence agencies that are not within its control may require additional time beyond that initially indicated by the government.
There are, as noted, occasions where an investigation being conducted or updated by DHS requires additional time. Historically, DHS has had the ability to file a motion for a continuance under the rules applicable to proceedings before immigration judges, 8 CFR 1003.29, but that general provision leaves numerous s unanswered in the complicated area of criminal history checks and national security investigations. The current regulations are also unclear as to the scope of an immigration judge's authority to
act to grant relief in situations where a background investigation is ongoing.
The national security requires that immigration judges or the Board should not grant applications for adjustment to LPR status, asylum, or other forms of immigration relief without being advised by DHS of the results of the investigations, including criminal and intelligence indices checks. The Department and DHS recognize the need for coordination of processes so as to permit these appropriate identity, background, and security investigations to be completed by DHS prior to the granting of immigration reli
ef that is within the jurisdiction of the immigration judges and the Board. This rule provides a means to ensure that the immigration judges and the Board will not grant relief before DHS has completed its investigations.
The Department and DHS also recognize that the need to protect national security and public safety must be balanced against the desire for law abiding aliens to have their requests for immigration relief adjudicated in a prompt and timely fashion. However, there have been instances when aliens in removal proceedings were granted some form of immigration relief but USCIS did not automatically and immediately learn about their need for an immigration document. Furthermore, DHS determined that in some cases th
e law enforcement checks were not completed prior to the grant. Since USCIS must run background checks on any alien who will receive an immigration document reflecting the alien's immigration status or authorization to work, this process creates a waiting period for aliens that in most cases could have been avoided. This process also is not acceptable to the grantees, some of whom have been named or represented in litigation against the government complaining of delays. Recent cases include Santillan v. Ash
croft, No 04-2686 (N.D. Cal.) (requesting relief for proposed nationwide class); Padilla v. Ridge, No. M-03-126 (S.D. Tex.) (requesting relief for proposed class of aliens in three districts of Texas). The Department and DHS have determined that the best method for avoiding these delays is to run law enforcement checks prior to immigration relief being granted. Further, these checks should be conducted in advance of any scheduled merits hearing before the immigration judge wherever possible.
This rule enables and requires immigration judges to cooperate with DHS in: (1) Instructing aliens on how to comply with biometric processing requirements for law enforcement checks; (2) considering information resulting from law enforcement checks; and (3) instructing aliens who have been granted some form of immigration relief regarding the procedures by which to obtain documents from DHS. This rule also creates a more efficient process, saving time for the immigration judge, respondent, and others, by im
plementing a process that enables the Department to adjust its hearing calendars when the required law enforcement checks have not been completed prior to a scheduled hearing. This improvement to the system is immediately necessary to reduce the time that grantees must wait to receive their documents after the completion of immigration proceedings, and decrease the chances that an alien who is a danger to public safety or national security will be granted relief from removal.
Systems Utilized To Conduct Identity, Background and Security Checks
There is no need for this rule to specify the exact types of background and security checks that DHS may conduct with respect to aliens in proceedings. DHS and other agencies are actively involved in streamlining and enhancing the systems of information that contain information on terrorist and other serious criminal threats.
Generally, however, the majority of required checks are returned in a matter of days or weeks. Yet there are instances where another agency may inform DHS that a check reveals some sort of positive “indicia” on an individual, and it may take a longer period of time for those agencies to complete their investigations and convey this information to DHS for a determination of relevancy under the immigration laws. Additional time may be required if it is necessary to obtain additional fingerprints. In other ins
tances, the “indicia” may require that DHS obtain or provide notice to the individual that he or she must obtain and present DHS with all records of court proceedings. A longer period of time may also be necessary to complete background checks where individuals have common names that may require individualized reviews of the records of all similarly named individuals or where there are variations in the spelling of names due to translation discrepancies. Finally, there may be demands on DHS to conduct a dis
proportionate number of investigations in a short time based upon current events, such as an emergent mass migration, that may have an impact on various agencies' capacity to conduct identity, background and security investigations in a timely manner.
Requirement for Aliens in Proceedings To Provide Biometrics and Other Biographical Information
The Act imposes a general obligation on aliens who are applicants for admission to demonstrate clearly and beyond doubt that they are entitled to admission and are not inadmissible under section 212(a) of the Act (8 U.S.C. 1182(a)). Almost all of the various forms of relief from removal require the applicant to demonstrate either that he or she is admissible under applicable legal standards, or that he or she has not been convicted of certain disqualifying offenses or engaged in other specified conduct. The
results of the DHS background and security checks are obviously quite relevant to a determination of an alien's admissibility or eligibility with respect to the requested immigration relief. Moreover, an applicant for any form of immigration relief in proceedings bears the burdens of proof--i.e., the burden of proceeding and the burden of persuasion--in demonstrating that he or she is eligible for such relief and, if relevant, that he or she merits a favorable exercise of discretion for the granting of suc
h relief. 8 CFR 1240.8(d); see, e.g., Matter of Lennon, 15 I&N Dec. 9, 16 (BIA 1974), remanded on other grounds sub nom. Lennon v. INS, 527 F.2d 187 (2d Cir. 1975) (adjustment of status to that of a lawful permanent resident).
For adjustment of status, section 245(a) of the Act requires that an applicant meet three conditions in addition to a favorable exercise of discretion: (1) He or she must make an application for adjustment of status; (2) he or she must be eligible to receive a visa and be admissible for permanent residence; and (3) an immigrant visa must be immediately available at the time of application. Thus, it is first and foremost the applicant's responsibility to file a complete application for adjustment of status (
DHS Form I-485) and submit the required supporting documentation (including the respondent's biometric and other biographical information) to establish eligibility to receive a visa and admissibility to the United States. Other forms of relief such as asylum, withholding of removal, or cancellation of removal also place the burden of proof on the alien, and require the alien to file the proper application for relief and submit all of the necessary supporting documentation in the proceedings before the immig
ration judge, as provided in 8 CFR 1240.8(d).
The rule therefore specifically provides that applicants for immigration relief in proceedings before the immigration judges have the obligation to comply with applicable requirements to provide biometrics and other biographical information.
For aliens who are not in proceedings and who seek to apply for asylum or for adjustment of status or some other status, the alien files the appropriate form directly with USCIS, and USCIS then informs the alien when and where the alien (and any covered family members) should go to provide biometrics and other biographical information. Fingerprints normally are taken by USCIS at an Application Support Center (ASC).
However, a different approach is needed where the respondent in proceedings applies for asylum, adjustment of status, or other forms of relief that are available in removal proceedings, such as cancellation or withholding of removal. In these instances, where the immigration proceedings have already begun, respondents file the appropriate application forms and related documents in the proceedings before the immigration judge, rather than with USCIS.
At a master calendar hearing or other hearing at which the immigration judge addresses issues relating to whether a respondent is removable, the immigration judge normally reviews with the respondent possible forms of relief from removal, including asylum, adjustment of status, cancellation of removal, or other forms of relief or protection, if the respondent is potentially eligible. 8 CFR 1240.11. At that hearing, or at a subsequent master hearing, the immigration judge normally establishes a date by which
the application must be filed with the immigration judge and served on DHS, and a later date for a hearing at which the immigration judge will consider the application.
This rule provides that applications for adjustment of status, cancellation or withholding of removal, or other forms of relief covered by this rule will be deemed to be abandoned for adjudication if, after notice of the requirement to provide biometrics or other biographical information to DHS, the applicant fails without good cause to provide the necessary biometrics and other biographical information to DHS by the date specified by the immigration judge. As noted, in many cases, the alien will already ha
ve provided biometrics or other biographical information in connection with the removal proceedings prior to the master calendar hearing or other hearing at which the alien indicates an intention to seek immigration relief. However, in those instances where the respondent has not yet provided biometrics or other biographical information to enable DHS to conduct those checks or where DHS notifies the immigration judge or the Board that checks have expired and need to be updated, it is clear that the applicat
ion cannot be granted by the immigration judge or the Board.
In those instances, until the respondent and any covered family members appear at the appropriate location to provide DHS their biometrics or other biographical information, the application cannot be granted or may be found to be abandoned if there is a failure to comply without good cause by the date specified by the immigration judge. Thereafter, once the biometric and other biographical information is provided as required, DHS should be allowed an adequate time to complete the appropriate identity, law e
nforcement, and security investigations before the application is scheduled for decision by the immigration judge.
This approach clearly places the responsibility for taking the initiative to provide biometrics or other biographical information in a timely manner on the respondent who is seeking relief, consistent with the respondent's burdens of proceeding and persuasion. By requiring the respondent to provide biometrics or other biographical information to DHS in a timely manner or risk a finding that the application has been abandoned, this rule will facilitate the prompt adjudication of cases.
In general, aliens in proceedings who are obligated to provide biometrics or other biographical information can do
so by making appropriate arrangements with local DHS offices. In many cases, this will involve visiting an ASC, the same place to which an applicant would be directed if he or she had filed an affirmative application for asylum or adjustment of status directly with USCIS.
Upon the applicant's filing of an application for relief with the immigration court or USCIS's referral of the application to an immigration judge, unless DHS informs the immigration judge that new biometrics are not required, DHS will provide the alien with a standard biometrics appointment notice prepared by an appropriate DHS office. USCIS District Directors and Immigration and Customs Enforcement Counsel, in consultation with the Office of the Chief Immigration Judge, will develop scheduling procedures
and standardized appointment notices for each location. The DHS fingerprint notice will be hand-delivered to the alien by DHS and the notice may be used for multiple family members, but the notice must contain at least the alien registration number, receipt number (if any), name, and the form number pertaining to the relief being sought for each person listed. Locally established procedures will ensure that applicants for relief from removal receive biometrics services in a time period compatible with DHS r
esources and the scheduled immigration proceedings. The immigration judge shall specify for the record when the respondent receives the notice and the consequences for failing to comply with biometrics processing. On the other hand, aliens who are currently in detention--either immigration custody under section 236 of the Act (or other provision of law) during the pendency of the removal proceedings, or in a federal, state, or local correctional facility based on a criminal conviction--will not have such fl
exibility. In the case of any detained alien, DHS will make the necessary arrangements to obtain biometrics and other biographical information if that has not already been collected in a manner that can be re-used by DHS for updating checks.
Failure To File a Complete Application for Relief in a Timely Fashion
The rule also codifies the existing Board precedent that failure to file or to complete an application in a timely fashion constitutes abandonment of the application. Where an immigration judge has set a deadline for filing an application for relief, the respondent has already in fact appeared at a hearing. His statutory right to be present has been fulfilled. The Board has long held that applications for relief under the Act are properly denied as abandoned when the alien fails to timely file them. See Mat
ter of Jean, 17 I&N Dec. 100 (BIA 1979) (asylum), modified, Matter of R-R-, 20 I&N Dec. 547 (BIA 1992); Matter of Jaliawala, 14 I&N Dec. 664 (BIA 1974) (adjustment of status); Matter of Pearson, 13 I&N Dec. 152 (BIA 1969) (visa petition); see also Matter of Nafi, 19 I&N Dec. 430 (BIA 1987) (exclusion proceedings). Accordingly, the rule specifies that the immigration judge shall issue an appropriate order denying or pretermitting the requested relief if the application is not timely filed or is not completed
in a timely manner.
With respect to a failure to provide biometrics or other biographical information, the rule allows an immigration judge to excuse the failure to comply with these requirements within the time allowed if the applicant demonstrates that such failure was the result of good cause. This language is taken from the current provision in 8 CFR 1208.10 pertaining to applications for asylum and is consistent with the general obligation placed on the alien to satisfy this requirement. For detained aliens, though, it is
the obligation of DHS to obtain the necessary biometrics and other biographical information.