The Role of the Executive Branch in Setting Immigration Policy

Last month, the Public Interest Leadership Program (PILP) heard from Stephen Roth of Project Citizenship, concluding the month-long examination of immigration policies today. Stephen has extensive experience representing detained and non-detained immigrants undergoing removal proceedings and in family-based petitions in both New England and greater New York City.  Project Citizenship* is a nonprofit agency that seeks to increase the naturalization rate in Massachusetts and beyond through free workshops and legal counseling.

Stephen offered a first-hand look at how immigration policy has changed from the Obama Administration to the Trump Administration. Specifically, under a regulation rarely invoked in the past, the U.S. Attorney General has the singular authority to refer immigration cases to himself and to then re-adjudicate them autonomously.

Upon becoming Attorney General, Jeff Sessions self-referred several cases involving previously settled law, Stephen explained. The most notorious of his decisions was Matter of A-B-, in which Sessions overturned Board of Immigration Appeals precedent, finding that “being a victim of private criminal activity” did not constitute a cognizable “particular social group” for purposes of asylum, though domestic-violence-based claims had been recognized as grounds for asylum for decades.

Stephen encouraged the PILP class to volunteer with Project Citizenship and other nonprofit organizations providing free or low-cost legal services to low-income immigrants and refugees.  Stephen further encouraged everyone to participate in notice-and-comment procedures on proposed changes to federal regulations governing asylum and other immigration procedures.

Meeting recap provided by PILP Member Genevieve Aguilar (Choate).

*Project Citizenship is a 2018 Boston Bar Foundation Grant Recipient.

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