Attorney General William Barr issued two rulings in late October over U.S. immigration policy. One limits the rights of immigrants with old criminal convictions to fight deportation proceedings. Another would disqualify people with multiple DUIs from taking several paths to legal immigration status.

Immigration advocates say those orders will affect hundreds of thousands of immigrants, forcing them into deportation proceedings with fewer options to fight to remain. Critics say the Trump administration continues to make life as unpleasant as possible for immigrants.

Barr uses “certification” powers

The attorney general is the nation’s top immigration judge as immigration courts fall under the jurisdiction of the executive branch within the Department of Justice, and not the judiciary. This allows Barr to select cases from the Board of Immigration Appeals for “certification.”

Past administrations have used this power as well, but usually for narrow clarifications to immigration laws. However, the Trump administration has used it to significantly alter large parts of the system without writing new regulations or laws, and overturning decades-old precedents.

Cases focus on “good moral character” standard

Under the “good moral character” standard, immigrants must prove they have exhibited moral behavior for several years when requesting immigration processes, including deportation. Barr selected two cases as the basis for his decisions:

  • Matter of Castillo-Perez: Barr ruled two or more DUI convictions disqualify an immigrant from having “good moral character” despite any rehabilitation steps they have taken, such as completing alcohol education classes or going sober. The decision does not distinguish between felony and misdemeanor DUIs.
  • Matter of Thomas and Matter of Thompson: Reduces the ability of state courts to direct the deportation process by adjusting lesser criminal sentences. Barr’s action is seen as an attempt to undo laws passed in some states where low-level crimes do not trigger the deportation process. A one-year sentence or longer has been the typical threshold.

Seek knowledgeable legal advice for immigration matters

Several legal challenges have already resulted from Trump administration decisions regarding immigration, and more are expected. If you are looking for a better life in the U.S. or seek to reunite with family members, an experienced and compassionate immigration attorney here in Arizona can help you obtain legal immigration status as well as defend your rights during deportation proceedings.