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Attorney General William Barr issued a decision limiting aliens' options to fight deportation late Friday, furthering the Trump administration's immigration agenda. The little-noticed decision, made through the attorney general's unique "certification" power, removes a long-standing path to disqualify aliens with multiple drinking and driving convictions from the cancelation of deportation orders.

Barr's new decision establishes that he is following in the footsteps of his predecessor, Jeff Sessions, by using certification to overturn sometimes decades-old precedent and limit paths to deportation appeals. Sessions issued decisions on five cases during his tenure. Barr has now issued four. In its eight-year span, the Bush administration issued 16 decisions. The Obama and Clinton administrations issued four and three respectively.

Barr can make such sweeping decisions over immigration law because unlike most of the federal court system, immigration court is part of the executive branch, not the judiciary, and is housed within the Department of Justice. That makes the attorney general both the nation's top prosecutor and, in the case of immigration courts, its top judge. As top judge, Barr can essentially pluck cases from the Board of Immigration Appeals, which is effectively the appellate arm of the immigration courts, for "certification." After reviewing those cases, he can issue binding rulings on how immigration courts should interpret the law.

In the decision, Matter of Castillo-Perez, Barr ruled that two or more DUI convictions disqualify an alien from appealing orders for deportation, on the ground that multiple offenses contradict the "good moral character" clause of U.S. Code. The "good moral character" standard is used throughout the immigration system. Aliens must prove they have had good moral character for a set period of years when requesting cancellation of a deportation order and in applying for green cards, among other immigration processes.

Rehabilitation efforts after DUI convictions, such as going sober, completing alcohol-safety programs and attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, "are commendable, but they do not themselves demonstrate good moral character," Barr wrote in his decision, and do not counteract the disqualifying DUI convictions.

DUIs are the most common criminal conviction for people arrested by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, according to federal data obtained by Syracuse University's Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, but are not deportable crimes on their own.

While past administrations have used the power, often to narrowly clarify immigration law, the Trump administration has been using it to alter large parts of the immigration system to further more common-sense immigration reforms. Since coming into office, Trump's attorneys general have used the certification process on a range of immigration issues, including limiting the discretion of immigration judges and narrowing asylum law by restricting the number of aliens who can stay in the U.S.

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Updated: Wed, Nov 13th 2019 @ 10:20am EST