The Administrative Procedure Act (APA) is known for bringing standardization to federal agency behavior. The APA’s framework for adjudication, however, is lax and incomplete. It provides standards, but only meaningfully for formal adjudication, and Congress rarely requires agencies to follow the APA’s formal adjudication procedures. The APA, therefore, expressly allows for nonuniform adjudication in that it requires little of the informal adjudication category that makes up the lion’s share of agency adjudication.

This lack of uniformity in adjudication is prominent in immigration law. When federal agencies adjudicate whether to remove (deport) an individual from the United States, those agencies act pursuant to the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) and not the APA. The INA establishes removal adjudication before an immigration judge. The lack of uniformity is compounded in immigration law, however, because most removals are achieved not through the INA’s immigration judge procedures but rather through various diversions from immigration court. These diversions provide fewer procedural protections and deviate from the supposed standard of a hearing before an immigration judge. In practice, there are no centralized, uniform procedures for removal adjudication. The INA theoretically provides a substitute North Star in place of the APA, but in practice the INA’s immigration court procedures only apply to a minority of cases.

This phenomenon in immigration law raises questions about the strength of the APA and the value of uniformity in administrative law. If the APA’s aim was to improve adjudication, it has failed in immigration law. The removal adjudication system is extremely dysfunctional. Removal adjudication does not have the constitutional-like, uniform standards it desperately needs.

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