WASHINGTON (CNN) - Attorney General Eric Holder overturned on Wednesday an order by the Bush administration that made it more difficult for defendants to appeal the rulings on their immigration cases, Holder's office announced.
The order, enacted by former Attorney General Michael Mukasey 13 days prior to the end of then-President George W. Bush's term, limited immigrants' efforts to reopen their cases by claiming they had ineffective assistance of counsel.
The order and its abolishment focus on whether non-citizens have a constitutional right to effective counsel in deportation cases.
"At the end of the day it's important to remember that aliens aren't granted the same constitutional protections as are granted a U.S. citizen," said Jon Feere, legal policy analyst at the Washington-based Center for Immigration Studies.
"Basically we're talking about a difference in due process standards and that's not really up for debate."
The elimination of the order could place a heavier burden on the immigration court system because appeal processes would take more time, Feere said. He added that the order did not inhibit immigrants from appealing on the basis of ineffective counsel; it set a higher standard of proof.
But Lee Gelernt, deputy director of the American Civil Liberties Union's immigrants' rights project, argued that whether defendants met those "exceedingly high standards" was at the discretion of the Justice Department. Repealing the order means immigrants have the right to have their cases
reopened when they argue they were unjustly served by their attorney, said Gelernt.
"This is going to be potentially an enormous benefit to countless immigrants and their families that have been taken advantage of by incompetent attorneys," said Gelernt, who helped write a legal brief to Holder asking him to overturn the order.
Gelernt said that immigrants do have a constitutional right to effective counsel, but its not certain what stance Holder and the attorneys at the Justice Department will take from here on. Although Holder vacated the order, he did not replace it.
Holder has handed that task to the Executive Office of Immigration Review, and wants the office to ask for the public's input, according to a news release.