The immigration court system involves an administrative trial court system and an administrative appellate court which are both part of the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) (a sub-agency of the Department of Justice).
The U.S. Attorney General delegates authority to EOIR to administer and interpret federal immigration law and regulations through the conduct of immigration court proceedings and appellate review. It has three components: Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA), Office of the Chief Immigration Judge (OCIJ), and Office of the Chief Administrative Hearing Officer (OCAHO).
The process to resolve immigration matters is that an Immigration Judge (IJ) is the trial court which decides issues such as whether a person is removable from the United States. The Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) is an administrative appellate body with jurisdiction to review these IJ decisions, and federal courts have jurisdiction to review BIA decisions.
Immigration judges (IJs) work at administrative immigration trial courts and determine matters over which they have jurisdiction. There are approximately 535 immigration judges who work at 66 immigration courts.
In general, IJs determine removability, deportability, and admissibility, and adjudicate applications for relief. The EOIR Policy Manual explains the specifics of IJ jurisdiction.
Immigration judges/courts are part of the Office of the Chief Immigration Judge (OCIJ) (a sub-agency of the Department of Justice). The OCIJ directs and establishes the priorities for IJs and immigration courts.
Judges render either oral or written decisions which are binding on the parties (unless appealed). They are not published/publicly available and have no precedential effect.
Review of IJ Decisions
IJ decisions are generally reviewable by the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA).
The Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) is an administrative appellate body responsible for interpreting and applying immigration laws uniformly which has nationwide jurisdiction to review the orders of IJs and certain DHS decisions, and to provide guidance to the IJs, DHS, and others, through published decisions.
The BIA Practice Manual explains the specifics of BIA jurisdiction.
The BIA is part of the Office of the Chief Immigration Judge (OCIJ) (a sub-agency of the Department of Justice).
Types of BIA Decisions
All BIA decisions are binding on the government and the parties unless modified or overruled by the Attorney General or a federal court. There are three types of decisions. The vast majority of the Board's decisions are unpublished, but the Board periodically selects cases to be published. The types of decisions are further explained in the BIA Practice Manual.
These are published decisions which constitute precedent to bind the BIA, immigration judges, and DHS in future matters. They are published in I&N Decisions and have I&N Dec. citations.
Precedent Decisions (Attorney General)
The Attorney General has jurisdiction to review BIA decisions. Sometimes the AG vacates a BIA decision and issues his or her own decision in the matter. They are published in I&N Decisions and have I&N Dec. citations.
These are unpublished decisions that apply existing law and policy to the facts of a given case. They do not serve as precedent to resolve future cases or bind the BIA, immigration judges, and DHS in future matters.
Finding BIA Decisions
Precedent decisions are available from the Department of Justice's Executive Office for Immigration Review website, Westlaw, and Lexis. These decisions will have a I&N Dec. citation.
Review of BIA Decisions
The majority of appeals reaching the BIA involve orders of removal and applications for relief from removal. Most BIA decisions are subject to judicial review in the federal courts.
Federal courts have appellate jurisdiction over immigration administrative appellate decisions.
U.S. Court of Appeals
BIA and other immigration administrative appellate decisions are appealable to the federal Court of Appeals which covers the state in which the Immigration Judge completed the initial proceedings.
Example: Immigration judge decisions from Arizona (and the other 8 states in the Ninth Circuit) are appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.
Only Court of Appeals opinions which are designated for publication according to court rules are binding and can be cited as precedent. Circuit Court of Appeals opinions are only binding in their own circuits. Cases from other circuits are just persuasive authority. (See below for information about unpublished opinions.)
U.S. Supreme Court
As usual, cases from all Court of Appeals can be reviewed by the U.S. Supreme Court, if the Court exercises its discretionary jurisdictions and grants cert. Supreme Court decisions are binding on all the Court of Appeals circuits.
Searching for Federal Cases
You search for immigration cases just like you search for any other type of federal cases.
Decisions issued by immigration judges in Arizona are reviewed by the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA).
Arizona is one of the nine states in the Ninth Circuit. So for cases decided by immigration judges in Arizona, parties that receive unfavorable decisions from the BIA can appeal to the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.
Decisions from the Ninth Circuit can be reviewed by the U.S. Supreme Court, if the Court exercises its discretionary jurisdiction to grant cert and hear the appeal.
Published Cases in Ninth Circuit
Only Court of Appeals opinions which are designated for publication according to court rules are binding and can be cited as precedent. Decisions from the Court of Appeals of the Ninth Circuit are only binding in the Ninth Circuit.
Unpublished Cases in Ninth Circuit
Unpublished cases from 2007 or after can be cited as persuasive authority according to FRAP 32.1 in all circuits. Some circuits, including the Ninth Circuit, have a court rule (Ninth Circut Rule 36-3) which prohibits citing unpublished cases decided before 2007, even as persuasive authority.
Ninth Circuit Immigration Outline
The court provides a 9th Circuit Immigration Outline to "assist attorneys in petitions for review. It synthesizes procedural and substantive principles relating to immigration law in the Ninth Circuit and covers the following topics: Jurisdiction, Standards of Review, Relief from Removal (e.g. Asylum, Cancellation of Removal, Adjustment of Status), Motions to Reopen or Reconsider, Criminal Issues, Due Process, and Attorney Fees.”