\ fr \ Federal Register Publications (CIS, ICE, CBP) \ Federal Register Publications (Legacy INS) - 2002 \ FEDERAL REGISTER FINAL REGULATIONS - 2002 \ Board of Immigration Appeals: Procedural Reforms to Improve Case Management [67 FR 54878][FR 44-02] \ II. Summary of the Revised Review System
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II. Summary of the Revised Review System
Description of the Department's Goals
At the time this rule was proposed, the Attorney General laid out four important objectives in the disposition of administrative immigration appeals: (1) Eliminating the current backlog of cases pending before the Board; (2) eliminating unwarranted delays in the adjudication of administrative appeals; (3) utilizing the resources of the Board more efficiently; and (4) allowing more resources to be allocated to the resolution of those cases that present difficult or controversial legal questions--cases that a
re most appropriate for searching appellate review and that may be appropriate for the issuance of precedent decisions. This rule reflects a variety of necessary reforms to achieve these various objectives, in order to strengthen the review process, enhance the function of the Board in resolving issues, provide effective guidance regarding the implementation of the immigration laws, and improve the timeliness of the Board's review.
The Board's decisions focus, for the most part, on the issue of whether a respondent has established eligibility for relief from removal from the United States and whether the Attorney General should affirmatively exercise discretion in the respondent's favor. Although the nature of the Board's caseload appears to be changing somewhat in light of changes in the law, the Board's caseload continues to focus heavily on relief from removal. Most respondents either concede removability before the immigration jud
ge, or do not appeal the immigration judge's determination that the respondent is removable. Therefore, the dominant number of the Board's cases relate to the application of specific portions of the Act relating to relief from removal.
Moreover, the Department agrees with the assessment of former Board member Michael Heilman, based on his review of over 100,000 appeals over some 15 years of service on the Board, that the “overwhelming percentage of immigration judge decisions * * * [are] legally and factually correct.” House Judiciary Subcommittee Hearing, supra, at 15. The Department disagrees with a view that suggests that “the factual records made in the majority of hearings * * * [are not] fully considered and assessed by either the I
mmigration Judge or the Board.” See Matter of A-S-, 21 I&N Dec. 1106, 1122 (BIA 1998) (Rosenberg, dissenting). Accordingly, the final rule continues to focus on the primacy of immigration judges as factfinders and determiners of the cases before them. The role of the Board is to identify clear errors of fact or errors of law in decisions under review, to provide guidance and direction to the immigration judges, and to issue precedential interpretations as an appellate body, not to serve as a second-tier tri
er of fact.
In this adjudicatory process, the Department employs Board members to decide the merits of cases brought before the Board. That decisional process includes not only the individual case, but also the function of setting precedent to guide the immigration judges, the Service, attorneys and accredited representatives, and respondents. Historically, as the Attorney General's delegate, the Board's precedent decisions have been accorded appropriate deference under the Supreme Court's decisions in Chevron v. NRDC,
467 U.S. 837 (1984) (deference due agency interpretation of statutes within delegated authority); INS v. Aguirre-Aguirre, 526 U.S. 415, 425 (1999) (Attorney General, and hence the Board, accorded Chevron deference); INS v. Cardoza-Fonseca, 480 U.S. 421, 448-449 (1987) (same), as the primary interpreter of the Immigration and Nationality Act. The Attorney General's ultimate authority to decide the cases presented to the Board through his delegation has not changed over the years, although it has been exerci
sed with varying frequency at different times of the Board's history.
This precedent setting function recognizes that novel issues arise each and every time that the Act, or the regulations, change; complex issues arise because of the interrelationship of multiple provisions of law; and repetitive issues arise before different immigration judges because of the national nature of the immigration process. All of the participants in the immigration adjudication process deserve concise and useful guidance on how these novel, complex, and repetitive issues are best resolved. The r
ule of law guides Board members' adjudications; the Act and regulations provide the context for that adjudication.
Summary of the Provisions of the Rule
The Attorney General has determined that the rights of all respondents are better protected by restructuring the appeals process so that three-member panels may focus their attention on writing quality precedent-setting decisions, correcting clear errors of fact and interpreting the law, and providing guidance regarding the standards for the exercise of discretion, rather than reviewing appeals that involve routine questions of law or fact or that present no substantial basis for reversing the decision unde
r appeal. In this regard, the Board is delegated authority to review questions of fact to determine whether they are clearly erroneous; all other questions, whether of law or discretion, may be reviewed by the Board de novo. A key element of this reform is that the Chairman will establish, and be responsible for, a case management screening system to review all incoming appeals and to provide for prompt and appropriate disposition--by a three-member panel in those instances where the merits of the case pres
ented to the Board call for review by a three-member panel under § 3.1(e)(6) of the rule, and by a single Board member in every other case that does not meet those standards.
The final rule establishes the primacy of the streamlining system for the majority of cases. These do not present novel or complex issues. A single Board member may issue a brief order where appropriate to affirm the decision of the immigration judge or dismiss the appeal on procedural grounds. A single Board member may issue a short order that explicates the reasons, for example, why an immigration judge's findings of fact are not clearly erroneous, or why the immigration judge's exercise of discretion was
appropriate, or why the record should be remanded to the immigration judge for further proceedings.
Under specific circumstances, the single Board member may refer the record for decision by a three-member panel. These more complex cases deserve closer attention. The Board's en banc process remains as currently devised to provide interpretation of the Act through precedent decisions, whether through affirmation of a decision of a three-member panel or through review by the entire Board. Both the three-member panel and the en banc Board should be used to develop concise interpretive guidance on the meaning
of the Act and regulations. Thus, the Department expects the Board to be able to provide more precedential guidance to the immigration judges, the Service, attorneys and accredited representatives, and respondents.
This process will resolve simple cases efficiently while reserving the Board's limited resources for more complex cases and the development of precedent to guide the immigration judges and the Service. The Department believes that this allocation of resources will better serve the respondents, the Service, the public, and the administration of justice.
The final rule establishes the primacy of the immigration judges as factfinders by utilizing a clearly erroneous standard of review for all determinations of fact. The Board's historic rule, explained below, of not considering new evidence on appeal, is codified in this rule. Factfinding that may be required will be conducted by the immigration judge on remand.
However, the rule retains de novo review both for questions of law and for questions of judgment (concerning whether to favorably exercise discretion in light of the facts and the applicable standards governing the exercise of such discretion).
The rule contains a number of the time limits of the proposed rule. However, recognizing the concern of a number of commenters, the Department has decided to retain the current sequential briefing schedule for non-detained cases, but with shorter time limits. Under the final rule, detained cases will be briefed concurrently on a 21-day calendar and non-detained cases will be briefed consecutively on a 21-day calendar. Moreover, the Chairman is directed to undertake improvements in the transcription process
to assist in the briefing process.
Finally, the rule retains the reduction to 11 Board members after a transition period. The Department is unpersuaded by the arguments received, particularly in light of the objective evidence, that the reduction to 11 Board members should be changed. The Board should, under this rule, be able to reduce its backlog and keep current, as well as conduct the en banc proceedings necessary to provide precedent guidance to the immigration community. Given the scope of these changes to the Board's structure and rev
isions to current procedures, the Department will continuously review the effectiveness of the rule in achieving the aforementioned Departmental goals.
III. Comments on the Proposed Rule
The comments received on the proposed rule can generally be grouped into broad categories. In this analysis, we divide the comments and further discussion of the rule into specific subparts in order to provide a cohesive overview of the comments, the changes made in light of the comments, and the final rule. Many of the issues overlap and commenters treated the same issues in different ways. Accordingly, while all comments have been carefully reviewed, it may not be apparent from this discussion that a part
icular version of a comment has been directly addressed. To the extent practical, the Department has attempted to address the comments received as specifically as possible, but the duplication of comments, either by filing the same comment multiple times, or making minor adjustments in different submissions, makes it impossible to address each specific comment in a structured response.
The Department received widely divergent comments that both supported and opposed the proposed rule. The Department appreciates the contributions of all the individuals and groups who submitted comments. The Department has given careful consideration to all of the comments received on the proposed rule, as indicated in the following discussion. The thoughtfulness of the public comments has contributed greatly to improvement in the final rule. As discussed below, the comments also included ideas and specific
proposals that were beyond the scope of the proposed rule.
Overall, most of the commenters supported at least some of the Department's objectives, especially the elimination of unwarranted delays and the current backlog of cases pending before the Board. As numerous commenters noted, languishing appeals do not serve the interests of justice. There are divergent views, though, regarding how these objectives should be accomplished. Some commenters generally supported the proposed rule, while many other commenters strongly opposed many or most of the specific provisio
ns of the proposed rule.
General Due Process Issues
Some commenters argued in a general way that the proposed rule violates due process or that it is otherwise bad procedure.
Initially, the Department notes that the due process clause of the Constitution does not confer a right to appeal, even in criminal prosecutions. See Ross v. Moffitt, 417 U.S. 600, 611 (1974) (“[W]hile no one would agree that the State may simply dispense with the trial stage of proceedings without a criminal defendant's consent, it is clear that the State need not provide any appeal at all.”); Griffin v. Illinois, 351 U.S. 12, 18 (1956) (plurality opinion) (noting that “a State is not required by the Feder
al Constitution to provide appellate courts or a right to appellate review at all”) (citation omitted). Much as the Congress may dispense with the inferior federal courts by the same legislative stroke that created them, the Attorney General could dispense with the appellate review process in immigration proceedings, i.e., the Board of Immigration Appeals.
Some of the commenters argued specifically that the proposed rule violates a respondent's right to due process under the Supreme Court's balancing in Mathews v. Eldridge, 424 U.S. 319 (1976). The Department agrees that some form of hearing is appropriate and beneficial under the circumstances. See Wolff v. McDonnell, 418 U.S. 539, 557-58 (1974). However, due process is not “a technical conception with a fixed content unrelated to time, place and circumstances,” Cafeteria and Restaurant Workers v. McElroy, 3
67 U.S. 886, 895 (1961), but is “flexible and calls for such procedural protections as the particular situation demands.” Morrissey v. Brewer, 408 U.S. 471, 481 (1972).
Assuming that Mathews is the appropriate touchstone, the process that is due is determined by balancing the nature of the individual's interest, the fairness and reliability of the procedures, and the nature of the governmental interest. Many of the commenters focused on the nature of the interest of the individual, particularly in asylum and related cases where the respondents assert that the respondent will be persecuted, his or her life or freedom will be threatened, or that he or she will be tortured, i
f returned to his or her country of origin.1. The Respondent's Interest in the Individual Proceeding
First, and foremost, the vast majority of issues presented on appeal to the Board involve applications for relief from removal, not removal itself. Accordingly, the process that is due is not a process related to the government's efforts to remove the respondent from the United States. The process that is due is process relating to the respondent's request for amelioration of removal.
Those cases where the respondent has a basis to contest a finding of removability would appear to be more amenable to review by a three-member panel under § 3.1(e)(6). Removability, and whether the Service has established clear and convincing evidence to support the charge, when disputed, may be more likely to involve novel or complex factual or legal issues because of the multitude of governing statutory provisions, such as divisible State criminal laws. Whether a single-member or three-member review is mo
re efficacious is a question best decided by the Board under the standards of this rule.
In most cases, the issues before the Board relate to whether the respondent has established eligibility for an application for relief from removal, or whether the Attorney General should exercise discretion in the respondent's favor. In these cases, the Service has established the government's interest in removal of the respondent. The burden of proof in these cases shifts to the respondent to establish eligibility for relief from removal and, in most cases, that the respondent deserves a favorable exercise
of the Attorney General's discretion. The process due under the Constitution in determining removability is substantially higher than the process required by the Constitution in determining whether to grant relief from such an order of removal.2. The Government's Interest in the Immigration Adjudication Process
The interest of the government in effective and efficient adjudication of immigration matters, moreover, is substantially higher than an individual respondent's interest in his or her own proceeding. Congress is granted plenary authority under the Constitution in immigration matters and Congress has delegated broad authority to the Attorney General to administer the immigration laws. The authority is not merely one involving a discrete set of benefits and penalties, but implicates, in conjunction with the S
ecretary of State, the vast external realm of foreign relations. Not only does the removal process utilize reports and profiles of country conditions provided by the Department of State, the actual removal process implicates the relationships of the United States with other countries. INS v. Aguirre-Aguirre, 526 U.S. 415, 425 (1999); INS v. Abudu, 485 U.S. 94, 110 (1988). In this context, the Attorney General has substantially more authority to structure the administrative adjudicatory process than most adm
inistrative processes. Indeed, the Department questions whether Mathews is the appropriate touchstone in light of the unique nature of the Act as the tool for managing the intersection of foreign and domestic interests regarding aliens. Congress has provided almost no parameters for the exercise of the Attorney General's broad authority to manage immigration adjudications, and to the extent it has done so, has limited discretionary procedure available to respondents. See, e.g., INS v. Rios-Pineda, 471 U.S.
444, 446 (1985) (Attorney General's creation of motion to reopen, and delegation to the Board, by regulation), 8 U.S.C. 1229(c)(6) (motions to reopen in statutory removal proceedings specified by statute in 1996). Accordingly, more deference to the Attorney General is appropriate. Cf. Weiss v. United States, 510 U.S. 163, 176-79 (1994).3. Balancing of Interests in the Adjudicatory Process
Some commenters expressed concern that the expansion of the streamlining initiative, with its emphasis on single-member review of cases, will result in violations of the due process rights of respondents-appellants. Some commenters contended that three-member reviews of appeals provide more protection for due process rights than single-member reviews. The primary concern of the comments is a perceived inadequacy in the ability of a single Board member to decide an appeal in a way that protects the due proce
ss rights of appellants while maintaining administrative efficiency.
The Department finds that single-member review under the final rule is both fair and reliable as a means of resolving the vast majority of non-controversial cases, while reserving three-member review for the much smaller number of cases in which there is a substantial factual or legal basis for contesting removability or in which an application for relief presents complex issues of law or fact. In this context, the Attorney General is free to tailor the scope and procedures of administrative review of immig
ration matters as a matter of discretion. Maka v. INS, 904 F.2d 1351 (9th Cir. 1990); see also Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Corp. v. NRDC, 435 U.S. 519, 524-25 (1978), quoting FCC v. Pottsville Broadcasting Co., 309 U.S. 134, 143 (1940) (“administrative agencies should be free to fashion their own rules of procedure and to pursue methods of inquiry capable of permitting them to discharge their multitudinous duties' “). See generally J. McKenna, L. Hooper & M. Clark, Federal Judicial Center, Case Management
Procedures in the Federal Courts of Appeals (2000) (comparative compendium of innovations in circuit court case management systems).
Each case varies according to the needs presented by the respondent and the issues.
In the typical case that reaches the appeal stage, the respondent makes an initial appearance and is advised of his or her rights, including the right to be represented by counsel or an accredited representative at no cost to the government, the right to inspect all evidence presented, and the right to present evidence and testimony, by the respondent and other witnesses, in the language the respondent understands. Pleadings are usually taken after a continuance, with a further hearing being held to determ
ine whether the alien is deportable or inadmissible, if the respondent contests removability. If the immigration judge finds that the respondent is removable, the immigration judge informs the respondent of possible forms of relief, and further continuances may be granted to allow time for the respondent to prepare applications for relief and acquire additional evidence. A call-up date is established for filing the application and a deadline is set for filing additional evidence. Only then is the respondent
expected to present his case for relief from removal. All of these proceedings are on the record and recorded verbatim. A transcript of proceedings has been prepared in all appeals, including any oral decision by the immigration judge. See, e.g., 8 CFR 240.3-240.13 (procedure in removal cases). Accordingly, by the time a case reaches the Board on appeal, many, if not most, respondents have already had several hearings on the record before the immigration judge, been explained their rights, and been given m
ore than one opportunity to ask questions and raise issues.
On appeal, the respondent is required under existing regulations to file a statement indicating the grounds for appeal, and has the right to file a more detailed brief. On this record, single Board members are well-equipped both to determine the legal quality and sufficiency of an immigration judge's decision and to determine if the appeal qualifies under 8 CFR 3.1(e)(6) for referral to a three-member panel. Each appeal will be fully reviewed and decided by the Board member within the law and regulations, p
recedent decisions, and federal court decisions. The Department is not persuaded that a single Board member review gives any less due process to an respondent's appeal that involves routine legal and factual bases than would a three-member panel considering the same appeal.