Attorney General Sessions' decision of March 5, 2018, vacating Matter of E-F-H-L-, 26 I&N Dec. 319 (BIA 2014) be motivated by any number of explanations, as Judge Paul Schmidt of Immigration Courtside thoughtfully suggests. See

Nevertheless, the AG’s cryptic and unreasoned ruling will predictably engender more litigation and take up more court time than arguably may be saved by denying all asylum seekers access to the due process protections codified in the statute and regulations, and reiterated in numerous currently standing BIA precedents and federal circuit court decisions.

First, he vacated a 4 year old precedent decision of the Board of Immigration Appeals, an action that should not be taken lightly. Cf. Matter of E-F-H-L- 26 I&N Dec. 319 (BIA 2014)(remanding with instructions to honor the guarantee of a full evidentiary hearing on an asylum claim). The AG contends that “[b]ecause the application for relief which served as the predicate for the evidentiary hearing required by the Board has been withdrawn with prejudice, the Board’s decision is effectively mooted.” Matter of E-F-H-L-, 27 I&N Dec. 226 (A.G. 2018). To the contrary, it is worth noting that, historically, many of the Board’s precedent decisions, which have been rendered moot by federal circuit court reversals or remands, have nonetheless remained in force and served as precedent in all cases other than that of the named respondent.

Assuming the AG’s decision was more than a knee-jerk, irrational, result-oriented response to an IJ’s administrative close order, but a decision fit for an Attorney General, he is expected to have read the Board's reasoning in reaching the outcome it reached in E-F-H-L- (BIA). The Board plainly recognized the applicability of the statutory provisions that guarantee "​a reasonable opportunity to examine the evidence against the alien, to present evidence on the alien’s own behalf, and to cross-examine witnesses presented by the Government.” See ​section 240(b)(4)(B) of the Act, 8 U.S.C. § 1229a(b) (4)(B)(2012)​(governing ​procedures in removal proceedings)​. In contrast, the AG’s opinion contains no reasoning what so ever and reveals no effort to respect the terms of the statute, much less to distinguish them in any way.

Second, the Board's decision in E-F-H-L- also cited to governing ​"​regulations implementing these statutory provisions in the context of asylum and withholding of removal applications​,” which provide that,

  • such applications for relief filed with the Immigration Court will be decided “after an evidentiary hearing to resolve factual issues in dispute,” 8 C.F.R. § 1240.11(c)(3) (2013).
  • ​such an evidentiary hearing will entail​ the respondent “shall be examined under oath on his or her application and may present evidence and witnesses in his or her own behalf,” 8 C.F.R. § 1240.11(c)(3)(iii). ​
  • such regulations also apply to applications for withholding or deferral of removal under the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment ​(citation omitted).

The Board specifically recognized that “[t]hese regulations clearly give the Immigration Judge ‘the authority . . . to properly control the scope of any evidentiary hearing,’ 8 C.F.R. § 1240.11(c)(3)(ii) . . .” and to discontinue or limit an evidentiary hearing “in the interests of efficiency, including by limiting testimony and focusing issues.” Nonetheless, the Board ruled in E-F-H-L- that, at a minimum, there must be an evidentiary hearing, which includes “an opportunity for the respondent to present evidence and witnesses in his or her own behalf.” See 8 C.F.R. § 1240.11(c)(3). In contrast, the AG’s opinion offers no colorable justification for abrogating these regulations, which remain in force, making his action in vacating the Board’s precedent in E-F-H-L-ultra vires.

Third, the Board’s decision refers to numerous Board precedent decisions standing for the principles elucidated concerning the need for taking oral testimony and for a meaningful evidentiary hearing in adjudicating asylum applications. See e.g., Matter of Fefe,​ 20 I&N Dec. 116, 118 (BIA 1989); Matter of Mogharrabi, 19 I&N Dec. 439, 445 (BIA 1987); Matter of Interiano-Rosa, 25 I&N Dec. 264, 266 (BIA 2010); cf. Matter of Ruiz, 20 I&N Dec. 91, 93 (BIA 1989) (holding that in absentia proceedings should have been reopened once the alien established reasonable cause for his failure to appear, because he retained the right to present his asylum claim at a full evidentiary hearing, regardless of whether prima facie eligibility for relief had been shown).Matter of C-B-, 25 I&N Dec. 888, 890−91 (BIA 2012); Matter of A-S-, 21 I&N Dec. 1106 (BIA 1998). No matter what the Attorney General’s vacation of the Board’s E-F-H-L- precedent is read to mean, the AG fails to indicate that any of these other Board precedents governing evidentiary hearings are disturbed or no longer in effect and they remain in force.

What is more, the Board’s decision recognized that numerous federal courts of appeal nationwide have endorsed and upheld the statutory and regulatory promise of a full and fair evidentiary hearing. See e.g., Litvinov v. Holder, 605 F.3d 548, 555−56 (8th Cir. 2010); Hoxha v. Gonzales, 446 F.3d 210, 214, 217−18 (1st Cir. 2006); Arulampalam v. Ashcroft, 353 F.3d 679, 688 (9th Cir. 2003). See also Sankoh v. Mukasey, 539 F.3d 456, 467 (7th Cir. 2008); Islam v. Gonzales, 469 F.3d 53, 55 (2d Cir. 2006); Mekhoukh v. Ashcroft, 358 F.3d 118, 129 & n.14 (1st Cir. 2004); cf. Oshodi v. Holder, 729 F.3d 883, 889−93 (9th Cir. 2013) (en banc) (holding that an alien’s Fifth Amendment due process right to a full and fair hearing, which includes the opportunity to present evidence and testify on one’s behalf, was violated where the Immigration Judge denied relief solely on an adverse credibility finding after refusing to allow the alien to testify to the contents of his applications). Notably, the AG’s decision vacating E-F-H-L- does not trigger Brand X authority such that the rulings of these federal courts are supplanted or no longer control administrative hearings taking place within the jurisdiction of those courts. Cf. National Cable & Telecommunications Assn. v. Brand X Internet Services, 545 U.S. 967, 982 (2005) (“A court’s prior judicial construction of a statute trumps an agency construction otherwise entitled to Chevron deference where the prior court decision holds that its construction follows from the unambiguous terms of the statute and thus leaves no room for agency discretion.”)

Accordingly, for reasons of statutory, regulatory, and administrative precedential authority, and reasons of federal acquiescence, the AG’s vacation of Matter of E-F-H-L has no impact on the right to an evidentiary hearing on an asylum application. By the AG’s own admission in the case vacated, the respondent had withdrawn his asylum application with prejudice upon remand in favor of administrative closure to permit an I-130 petition to be adjudicated. Thus, the AG’s ruling vacating E-F-H-L- cannot stand for any principled holding with respect to the right to an evidentiary hearing in asylum cases.

In fact, the IJ’s order of administrative closure of the removal hearing, while allowing USCIS to engage in a timely adjudication of a petition that ultimately might confer lawful status on the respondent, had the mutually beneficial effect of freeing up the court’s time to attend to its heavily backlogged docket. Upon recalendaring in the instant case, the respondent may wish to challenge his previous “withdrawal with prejudice” and seek to re-raise his asylum claim on due process grounds.

Moreover, in light of the AG’s decision, respondents in general would be well-advised to exercise their statutory and regulatory rights to a full evidentiary hearing in their asylum claims, notwithstanding the potential availability of other forms of relief. Likewise, attorneys would be well-advised to consider their obligations in relation to Matter of Lozada, before counseling respondents to withdraw viable applications. The AG’s decision sends a clear message that notwithstanding their best intentions, IJs intentions to fairly resolve removal hearings may be disrupted without notice.

Beyond inefficiently and ineffectively usurping the IJ’s authority to control his or her docket, it is unclear just what the AG intended to accomplish. We are left, perhaps, with much “sound and fury, signifying nothing.” Shakespeare, Macbeth Act 5, scene 5.