Delfin Polanco has lived in the United States for over 25 years. Like millions of noncitizens, he is undocumented and lives in fear that each day in this country could be his last. Delfin was ordered removed over a decade ago after his first marriage did not work out. He was allowed to stay with the permission of ICE, given a work permit, and has proudly paid taxes ever since. Following the September 11th attack on the World Trade Center, Delfin, a member of the Teamsters Union, joined the clean-up effort at Ground Zero. As a result, he suffers permanent respiratory and psychological damage.
Last year, Delfin’s son Danny filed a petition so his father could apply for a green card but his old removal order means that to move forward with legalizing his status, an immigration judge must agree to reopen his case. Yet, an eleventh-hour rule by the Trump Administration stripped immigration trial and appellate judges of their ability to reopen old removal orders like Delfin’s. Instead of being on the road to citizenship, Delfin remains undocumented and in danger of imminent removal.
The Biden administration has quickly signaled its intention to reject the prior administration’s anti-immigrant agenda. In one of President Biden’s first acts, he signed an executive order calling on immigration agencies to review regulations that impose barriers to “immigration benefits and fair, efficient adjudications.” But the Trump administration imposed over a thousand changes— large and small—to the immigration system, and identifying the changes and undoing this damage will take time.
Many of these changes were pushed through in the final weeks of the Trump administration, including one innocuously titled, “Appellate Procedures and Decisional Finality in Immigration Proceedings; Administrative Closure,” which went into effect less than a week prior to Biden’s inauguration. The rule has upended decades of procedural protections in immigration court by eliminating judges’ ability to manage the cases on their own calendars and by prohibiting judges from reopening old removal orders like Delfin’s. It is the only one of Trump’s midnight rules that has not been enjoined by a federal court or by Biden’s first-day order to pause and examine pending regulations.
There are currently two lawsuits challenging this rule, including one by the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc. But while these cases wind their way through the courts, the administration continues to enforce the rule. The Biden administration has asked for a pause in litigation of some high profile Trump rules, including one dubbed “Death to Asylum” by immigration experts, so that it may more fully analyze the rule to determine whether to defend it in court. But the rule that has foreclosed Delfin’s dream of U.S. citizenship remains in effect. It is critical that the new administration swiftly analyzes every Trump rule, even those that have not made national headlines. The lives of Delfin and thousands like him, hang in the balance.
AILA National included this recommendation and many other important changes to improve immigration courts in our recently released policy brief: Policy Brief: Why President Biden Needs to Make Immediate Changes to Rehabilitate the Immigration Courts. Watch for ways to amplify the policy brief through social media in the coming weeks!