(Reuters) - Liliana Barrios was working in a California bakery in July and facing possible deportation when she got a call from her immigration attorney with some good news.
The notice to appear in court that Barrios had received in her deportation case hadn’t specified a time or date for her first hearing, noting that they would be determined later. Her lawyer was calling to say that the U.S. Supreme Court had just issued a ruling that might open the door for her case, along with thousands of others, to be dismissed.
The Supreme Court case involved Wescley Fonseca Pereira, a Brazilian immigrant who overstayed his visa and was put into deportation proceedings in 2006. The initial paperwork he was sent did not state a date and time of appearance, however, and Pereira said he did not receive a subsequent notice telling him where and when to appear. When he failed to show up in court, he was ordered deported.
The Supreme Court ruled that paperwork failing to designate a time and place didn’t constitute a legal notice to appear in court.
The ruling sparked a frenzy of immigration court filings. Over ten weeks this summer, a record 9,000 deportation cases, including Barrios’, were terminated as immigration attorneys raced to court with challenges to the paperwork their clients had received, a Reuters analysis of data from the Executive Office for Immigration Review shows. The number represents a 160 percent increase from the same time period a year earlier and the highest number of terminations per month ever.
For a graph of the trend, click here: tmsnrt.rs/2QCbeJZ
Then, just as suddenly as they began, the wave of case terminations stopped. On August 31, in a different case, the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) ruled that charging documents issued without a date and time were valid so long as the immigrant received a subsequent hearing notice filling in the details, as is the usual procedure.
A Department of Justice official said that as a result of the BIA decision, the issues “have been solved.”
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) did not respond to requests for comment, but the agency laid out its thoughts on the terminations in court documents opposing the motions to terminate. In a San Diego case, DHS wrote that the motions were based on a “misreading” of the Supreme Court decision. “If read in a manner most favorable to the respondent, the practical impact would be to terminate virtually all immigration proceedings.” The Supreme Court decision “nowhere purports to invalidate the underlying removal proceedings,” DHS wrote.
The dueling interpretations will now be weighed by a federal appeals court, which could uphold or overturn the BIA decision in coming months. The case could ultimately end up before the Supreme Court. [MORE]