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Court of Appeals Limits Mandatory Detention

9 Oct

Detention

On October 6, 2014, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit issued a decision in Castañeda v. Souza that greatly limits the ability of Immigration & Customs Enforcement to subject individuals to mandatory detention during their removal proceedings.  In Castañeda, the First Circuit interpreted the not very confusing language “when the alien is released” and rejected the Board of Immigration Appeals’ formulation, articulated in Matter of Rojas that the “when released” means “any time after release.  The First Circuit determined that the Board got that wrong and concluded that “when released” means “at the time the individual is released” rather than “any time after release not matter how many days, weeks, months or years later.”  Amazingly, two other circuit courts, the Third and the Fourth, have already upheld the Board’s decision.  Thus, the First Circuit’s decision creates a “circuit split” that may result in the Supreme Court resolving the two differing interpretations.

The Immigration & Nationality Act (INA) allows Immigration & Customs Enforcement (“ICE”) to detain someone without any right to release on bond if they are removable for having been convicted of certain offenses.  This “mandatory detention” causes certain individuals to be held in detention for the duration of their removal proceedings.  They are not entitled to an individualized determination as to whether they present a danger to the community or are not likely to appear for removal proceedings.  The section of the INA that allows for mandatory detention states that DHS “shall take into custody” certain foreign nationals who are deportable on specific criminal grounds “when the alien is released” from criminal custody.  Stewart

For years, individuals have challenged their mandatory detention by arguing that they were not taken into custody “when released,” but weeks or even years later.  By filing actions for habeas corpus in U.S. District Court, individuals obtained decisions from courts nationwide ordering DHS to give the detainee an individualized bond hearing where issues of dangerousness or flight risk could be assessed by an independent judge.   The overwhelming majority of district courts to consider the “when released” language concluded that the Immigration & Nationality Act only subjected those who were taken into custody within a reasonable period of time from criminal custody to mandatory detention.  Courts concluded that mandatory detention did not apply to those who ICE apprehended long after their release from custody and those individuals must be given an individualized bond hearing.  Over the past few years, the government has appealed some of these district court decisions.  The first decision from a Court of Appeals occurred here in the 4th Circuit.  In Hosh v. Lucero, the government appealed a district court’s order that DHS provide Mr. Hosh with a bond hearing in light of the three year gap between his release from criminal custody and his apprehension and detention by ICE.  The 4th Circuit reversed the decision of the district court determining that the Board of Immigration Appeals’ interpretation of the “when released” language was reasonable and not plainly in opposition to the INA and therefore, was entitled to the court’s deference.  About a year after Hosh, the Third Circuit reached the same conclusion in Sylvain v. Attorney General.  Thus, although several district courts across the country rejected the Board’s interpretation, the two circuit courts that considered the question deferred to the Board.

FirstIn Castañeda, the First Circuit determined that the “when released” language did not permit the government to subject an individual to mandatory detention when she was taken into custody ten years after her release from criminal custody.  The First Circuit did not require complete immediacy and stated that ICE’s apprehension must occur within a reasonable period of time after release from criminal custody.  The Court noted the arbitrary nature of mandatory detention and why it offends due process when it is undertaken long after a person completes their criminal sentence:

Despite its years long delay in bringing removal proceedings after the petitioner’s release from custody, the government has offered no explanation for either the delay or the eventual decision to prosecute in these individual cases or for that matter, in the other cases where individuals have been detained years after release.  Indeed, when the district court ordered that the petitioners be given bond hearings, the government actually viewed them as neither dangerous nor likely to flee.  Castañeda was even released on her own recognizance (i.e., without a monetary bond) and before her bond hearing even took place.

Mandatory detention of individuals such as the petitioners appears arbitrary on its face.  We are left to wonder whether the petitioner’s sudden arrest and detention is not to “facilitate deportation, or to protect against risk of flight or dangerousness, but to incarcerate for other reasons,” which would offend due process.

The decision in Castañeda creates a circuit split between the 1st Circuit and the 3rd and 4th Circuits.  When federal law is different in different parts of the country, there is a strong incentive for the Supreme Court to step in.  However, the Supreme Court can only step in if the government chooses to appeal.  We will be watching to see what the Department of Justice does.

In each of these circuit court cases, Benach Ragland has submitted amicus (“friend of the court” ) briefs on behalf of the American Immigration Lawyers Association and will continue to do so as long as the issue is litigated.

Nine Ways Obama Could Make Immigration Law Better Without Bothering to Wake Congress

13 Mar

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The House of Representatives passed the Enforce Act yesterday.  This piece of legislation, which is never going to become law, provides a cause of action to Members of Congress to sue the President for failure to enforce the laws as they see fit.  The Enforce Act is aimed squarely at the President’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which has given hope to so many young undocumented immigrants.  How this vote fits with the immigration statement of principles that the House GOP released in January is beyond us.  When in doubt, votes, much more than “statements of principles,” reflect where Congress truly is.  And the House actually managed to get worse on immigration.  So, in case, it is not perfectly clear- THE HOUSE HAS NO INTENTION OF PASSING ANY MEANINGFUL IMMIGRATION REFORM.  IF THE PRESIDENT WANTS TO BE A CHAMPION OF IMMIGRANTS, HE NEEDS TO DO SO ON HIS OWN.  Got it??Grumpy-Cat

My internet marketing professionals tell me that lists are very effective ways to get readers to a blog.  And cats in a foul mood.

So, here are nine things that the President could do administratively to grant some relief from the deportation machine.  That is, nine things that the President could do without Congress acting.  Any of these steps would ease the deportation crisis and provide relief and assistance to hundreds of thousands of people left hopeless by Congressional inaction.

Now, we have heard a lot from this President that he does not have the authority to simply ignore the law.  That simple statement is true enough.  However, the President does have broad authority to determine how to interpret ambiguous statutory language.  And the Immigration and Nationality Act is pretty darn ambiguous.  For example, Congress has stated that cancellation of removal for people who are not permanent residents is limited to those who have U.S. citizen or permanent resident family members who would suffer “exceptional and extremely unusual hardship” if the applicant were deported.  It is the role of the immigration agencies to define what is “exceptional and extremely unusual hardship.”  Whereas the Board of Immigration Appeals has been pretty stingy with that standard, the agency could depart from such a parsimonious interpretation and create a more generous standard.  The President’s power to fill-in the details and context of statutes was discussed by the Supreme Court in Chevron v. National Resources Defense Council.  In that case, the Supreme Court stated that it will defer to an agency’s reasonable interpretation of ambiguous statutory language.  As a practical matter, where a court finds a statutory command to be ambiguous, it will almost always defer to the agency’s interpretation of the statute.  Most statutory language is ambiguous.  Recently, for example, courts of appeals have found the term “when the alien is released” to be ambiguous as to time.  If an agency’s interpretation conflicts with an ill-expressed Congressional mandate, the Court reasoned, Congress could legislate more specifically.  It is here that the President can use Congressional inaction in his favor.  Since Congress seems incapable of passing any legislation, it is unlikely that the President’s liberalized policies will be overturned by a vengeful Congress.

Another Supreme Court case sheds some light on the powers of Congress vis-a-vis the President.  In INS. v. Chadha, the Supreme Court invalidated a statutory scheme in which the House of Representatives could veto a INS decision to grant relief from removal known as suspension of deportation to a particular individual.  The Court reasoned that the power to decide particular immigration cases has been delegated by statute to the executive and that it violated the Separation of Powers for the Congress to be able to veto a decision regarding a particular individual.  This case shows that Congress may disapprove of decisions that the agency makes, but absent legislation, can not do anything about them.  Again, the difficulty of getting legislation through Congress gives the President a lot of leeway.

Presumably, the President, a constitutional law professor, knows all that, so he is ready to take actions that would dramatically improve the lives of immigrants in America, re-capture his status as “immigration reform champion in chief,” and get himself measured for a monument on the Mall.

  • Parole in place.  This is the big kahuna of administrative reform.  Parole in place is a mechanism that would allow the agency to “parole” individuals who entered without inspection into the U.S.  While parole is normally thought of as something done to allow people to enter the U.S., parole in place allows the government to parole them from within the U.S.  The administration recently did this for the undocumented spouses of members of the U.S. military, but there is no reason why the concept can not be applied to tens of thousands of others.  Through parole in place, people who have U.S. citizen family members or job offers may be able to adjust their status.  Friends of Benach Ragland (FOBRs) Cyrus Mehta and Gary Endelman wrote the definitive piece on parole in place, so we will not go into excessive detail here.
  • Reconsider Matter of Rojas.  In Matter of Rojas, the BIA held that ICE may hold someone as a mandatory detainee regardless of how long it has been since the individual was released from criminal custody when ICE encounters the immigrant.  Many district courts have held that a person is only subject to mandatory detention if ICE apprehends them “when released” from criminal custody.  By reconsidering Rojas, ICE would allow immigration judges to determine whether particular individuals are dangerous or likely to flee before a removal hearing.  This would have the effect of drastically reducing the detained population.
  • Redefine custody.  Alternatively, ICE could interpret “custody” to include alternatives to detention such as ankle bracelets and home monitoring, as many criminal agencies do.
  • Issue a regulation stating that the separation of a parent from U.S. citizen child is, per se, presumptively “exceptional and extremely unusual hardship.”  This would allow parents of U.S. citizens to have more solid claims to cancellation of removal, removing the biggest obstacle to grants of cancellation of removal.  The INS created a presumption of hardship before when it issued regulations underillegal-immigrants-children-deport-parents NACARA allowing certain Central American and Eastern European immigrants to seek suspension of deportation.  The INS issued a regulation stating that NACARA applicants were entitled to a presumption of extreme hardship.  The immigration agency would be free to limit the presumption of exceptional and extremely unusual hardship, but should begin with the recognition that deporting the parent of a U.S. citizen child is an inherently traumatic act with horrific long term consequences.
  • Issue a directive to ICE and CBP stating that, unless significant criminal issues are present, the agencies should decline to enter administrative removal orders and instead seek removal through removal proceedings in immigration court.  DHS issues a wide variety of administrative removals.  Only about one-third of removal orders are entered by an immigration judge.  The rest are issued by ICE either due to reinstatement of a prior removal order, visa waiver overstays, expedited removal of arrivals and of non-resident criminals and voluntary returns.  DHS could issue a directive (not guidance or suggestions but orders) requiring ICE to bring these cases before an immigration judge, where the individual could apply for relief.
  • Issue a directive to ICE attorneys in immigration court to seek two year continuances in all cases in immigration court where there is no criminal ground of removability and no relief.  This would force ICE to work on the hardest cases and clear the backlog of cases where a person has done nothing more than entered illegally or overstayed a visa.
  • Issue a directive that detainers should only be lodged where a person has been convicted of a deportable offense.  Detainers are issued to people who have been arrested regardless of whether there is a conviction.  Removal proceedings are often started due to an arrest that does not lead to any criminal charge because a detainer has been issued.  Limit detainers only to those who have been convicted of a deportable offense.
  • Issue a precedent decision affirming the low standard for the exceptions to the one year rule for asylum.  The law requires an asylum applicant to seek asylum within one year of entry to the U.S.  There are exceptions to this rule and the statute requires that an applicant must prove the applicability of the exception “to the satisfaction of the attorney general.”  This is the lowest legal standard.  Yet, courts routinely hold applicants to a much higher standard.  The Attorney General can issue a decision making it clear to the courts that the exception to the one year rule should be liberally applied.I-821-TPS-Facts
  • Grant Temporary Protected Status to Mexicans, Salvadorans, Guatemalans, Hondurans, Venezuelans, and Ukrainians.  Temporary Protected Status is granted to nationals of countries where there is disaster or upheaval.  It provides individuals already in the U.S. with temporary status, protection against removal, and work authorization.  It is possible to make a cogent claim to TPS for each of those countries.  Mexico and the Central American countries have been beset by drug and gang violence creating a humanitarian disaster on the ground and Ukraine is the flashpoint of a major crisis in Europe.  These are all legitimate uses of Temporary Protected Status.

The House’s action yesterday makes it clear that the House has no intention of moving on immigration reform.  The only thing that the President has to lose is his dwindling support in the immigrant community.  And he loses that by not acting, rather than acting.

Strong Presidents are Great Presidents

17 Feb

Stop deports

On this President’s Day, we wish to add a historical perspective to the robust exercise of executive authority.  The President routinely tells audiences that he does not have the power to act unilaterally on immigration reform.  Frustration and anger have mounted as the toll from deportations rises, and the lost opportunities due to the lack of immigration reform are compiled.  The President’s claim of impotency is in direct conflict with how the right wing of the GOP (is there another wing?) sees the President.  Recently, the House Judiciary Committee held a charade of  hearing on the President’s duty to see that the laws be faithfully executed.  The theory: the President has abdicated his constitutional duty to faithfully execute the law by granting deferred action to childhood arrivals.  Apparently, the theory goes that the President has a duty to remove all deportable individuals and by granting deferred action to a sub-group of the deportable individuals, the President has failed to do his duty.  So, who is right?  Is the President a dictator who ignores the laws?  Or is he an executive with a limited vision of his authority, doomed to mediocrity?  That answer remains to be seen, in our opinion.  It will depend on whether the President follows the example of those presidents who have monuments on the National Mall and across the capital or those who are reviled, ignored and forgotten.  For a president as historic as Obama, we hope that he embraces a more robust view of Presidential power.

The earliest President who truly revolutionized the role of the Chief Executive was Andrew Jackson.  When Jackson took office, he viewed himself as the only national andrew jackson kingembodiment of the people’s will.  He scandalized the country by making arguments to the people in support of his policy decisions.  In addition, he broke tradition by vetoing pieces of legislation that he disagreed with.  Previously, Presidents would only veto legislation that they thought unconstitutional.  Jackson was the first President to veto legislation for the plain reason that he was opposed to it.  In addition, when South Carolina asserted that it could nullify a federal law that it did not like, Jackson stood for the not-yet-clear proposition that federal law was supreme and a state could not pick and choose which federal laws it wished to follow.  Jackson’s position on nullification provided historical precedent when another President was faced with rebellious southerners.

Before taking office, Abraham Lincoln was confronted with the “secession” of South Carolina and several other states.  Lincoln refused to accept that a state could secede and decided that his principal obligation was to preserve the Union.  Abraham_Lincoln_head_on_shoulders_needlepointWhen Lincoln called up 75,000 troops in the wake of the Southern attack on Fort Sumter, several other states, including Virginia, seceded. Lincoln arrested secessionist deputies in Maryland and advocated for a strenuous war against the rebellious states.  Lincoln exerted his powers as Commander-in-Chief to free the slaves in “territories in rebellion against U.S. authority” in the Emancipation Proclamation.  Just to be clear: Lincoln dissolved certain “property” rights in nearly half the country.

Franklin Roosevelt determined that the circumstances of the Great Depression required an energetic response by the federal government.  However, he found that the Supreme Court proved to be a formidable obstacle.  After the Supreme Court issued a series of opinions striking down New Deal federal legislation on matters previously considered solely the domain of the state as well as progressive state legislation, such as maximum hours and minimum wage laws, Roosevelt came up with the preposterous idea of adding additional justices to the Supreme Court.  After all, where is it written in the Constitution that there need to be 9 justices?  Roosevelt threatened to add additional justices– to pack the court— to get his agenda past the Court.  The crisis was averted when Justice Owen Roberts, a reliable Supreme Court vote against the New Deal agenda, changed his opinion and joined a group of justices supportive fdr2of the President giving Roosevelt a 5-4 win which upheld a Washington state minimum wage law.  Roberts’ switch and the retirement of Justice Willis Van Devanter provided Roosevelt with a solid majority to uphold the New Deal legislation.  The New Deal legislation significantly expanded federal authority over tremendous swaths of economic and commercial activity.

Each of these Presidents was derided during their terms as being despots, dictators, and wannabe kings.  A faction of the country called them tyrants bent on reshaping the country in some perverse way.  Yet today, each is honored with a place on our National Mall (True, Jackson is not on the mall- but his equestrian statute is right in front of the White House for the President to see every day.)  Each of these Presidents is understood as being an essential part of this country’s progress and their allegedly improper power grabs have been revalidated generation after generation.  This is not to say that they receive universal acclaim; there are plenty of holdouts who are anti-Lincoln for the Civil War and the modern day GOP and its court appointees are determined to undo the legacy of the New Deal.  Yet, when historians rank the best Presidents, all three will make that list.  They are on the list because they responded with energy to the crises facing the country.  In doing so, they expanded the power of the Presidency (without creating tyranny!) and pushed the country forward.

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Contrast Lincoln with his predecessor James Buchanan.  Believing he could do nothing about secession or slavery, Buchanan allowed guerrilla warfare to rage in Kansas and Missouri through much of his term.  Buchanan felt he had no power to stop secession.  In other words, that the President of the United States was powerless to stop the dissolution of the union.  Little wonder that there is no monument to Buchanan and he routinely fills out the bottom slot when historians rank the Presidents.

All this is to say that history reveres Presidents who have a dynamic view of their power.  It has now become clear that Congress has no intention of taking up any meaningful immigration reform. This is despite an acknowledged crisis.  Lincoln-Memorial-4Families are being torn apart, the administration is closing in on 2 million deportations, businesses can not get the workers they need, and national security and public safety are compromised due to the failure of Congress to act on immigration reform.  It is time for the President to be worthy of the slurs hurled at him by the know-nothings in Congress.  It is time for the President to make a bold claim of Presidential authority and place a hold on all bust the most serious removals.  History will reward him if he does.  Lincoln or Buchanan?  The choice is the President’s.Andrew_Jackson_(2873018869)

Lifted Lamp’s Top Ten Blog Posts for 2013 & Poll for Topics for 2014

27 Dec

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Looking back on what turned out to be a disappointing 2013 for the lack of progress on meaningful immigration reform and on the continuing pace of removals, we have tried to figure out what articles and stories most appealed to our readers.  Turns out that our readers were not as interested in the minute-by-minute accounts of progress, but rather came to Lifted Lamp for information about developments in the law that had a real impact upon their lives.  The provisional waiver, DACA, the de Osorio litigation were topics that continually received interest from our readers.  We hope to use this information to make this blog more useful and interesting to our readers.

We have compiled our 2013 Top Ten Blogposts and provide some thoughts on them after they have been written, published and we have received feedback.

10.  Leave it to controversy to be popular.  Our tenth most popular blog of 2013 is just over a month.  On November 25, we wrote about the young man who challenged the President to halt removals while waiting for immigration reform.  In “Does the President Have the Power to Stop All/Most Removals?“, we discussed whether the President can use his executive power to halt all deportations.  We decided that the President probably could not halt all deportations, but he could definitely stop a whole lot more.

9.   The provisional waiver, which has allowed the spouses of U.S. citizens to seek the required waiver of the ten year bar before traveling abroad, has been a continually popular topic on this blog.  In February 2013, we asked “Should I Apply for a Provisional Waiver or Wait for Immigration Reform?”  We answered that the provisional waiver was likely the better bet.  Turns out we were right.  Hundreds of people have received their residence through the provisional waiver, whereas immigration reform remains stuck in the quagmire of today’s politics.  While there is lots of talk about the prospects for reform in 2014, we continue to place our bet on the provisional waiver.

8.  The de Osorio litgation regarding the interpretation of the Child Status Protection Act has generated a lot of interest on this site.  We have chronicled the litigation from our submission of an amicus brief on behalf of undocumented youth at the 9th circuit and celebrated the victory in the 9th Circuit decision.  We implored the administration not seek review of the 9th Circuit’s decision in the Supreme Court and  shared our disappointment in the government’s decision to seek certiorari review in “Opportunity Lost: Administration Seeks Supreme Court Review of de Osorio.”  The Court heard arguments on December 12, 2103 and a decision is expected by June 2014.

7.  Also, in January 2013, we sought to explain some basics of immigration law as the popularity of the “go to the back of the line” school of thought dominated discussion of immigration reform.  In “What’s The Deal with the Immigration Line?“, we discussed how the visa numbers and quotas work and, more often, don’t work.  We had a lot of fun with this post and are glad that it was so well received.

6.  In February 2013, we highlighted a piece of legislation proposed by Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) called the I-Squared Act.  In “Immigration Reform 2013: Understanding the I-Squared Act,” we described Senator Hatch’s proposals to modernize and improve the visa process for high tech workers.  Much of Senator Hatch’s bill was folded into the Senate bill which passed the Senate in June 2013 and remains languishing in the House of Representatives.

5.  A surprise for number 5!  In March, we wrote about Congress’ belated re-authorization of the Violence Against Women Act.  In “Congress Reauthorizes VAWA But Falls Short on Immigration Provisions,” we discussed the history of the VAWA, improvements made in the 2013 reauthorization, and disappointments in the bill.  One of the bigger disappointments was Congress’ failure to raise the cap on U visas, a failure that has proven to be significant as the U visa cap for 2013 was reached in December.

4.  In January 2013, we discussed the development and roll-out of the provisional waiver process.  The provisional waiver has been one of the most popular topics on our blog.  And for good reason, the provisional waiver is one change to the immigration laws that has directly benefited immigrants in 2013.  While immigration reform has stalled, the provisional waiver has proven to be a way out of the catch-22 of ineligibility for adjustment in the U.S. and the ten year bar triggered by traveling abroad.  In “Q&A on I-601A Provisional Waivers,” we reported on the procedures that CIS would use in executing the provisional waiver process.

3.  The provisional waiver dominates the top three spots.  In “The Provisional Waiver and Removal Proceedings,” we discussed the process of seeking a provisional waiver for individuals in removal proceedings.  This topic still draws interest as I took a call yesterday from a lawyer who wanted our thoughts on a government motion to terminate removal proceedings so that the client could seek the provisional waiver.

2. Again, the provisional waiver draws a lot of interest.  In this post, “What is Extreme Hardship?“, we used our years of experience preparing applications for waivers to help illuminate this very subjective and squishy standard.  One of our most popular posts, this post is very similar to many of the consultations we do where we help people identify relevant hardship factors before applying for waivers.

numero uno1.  Our most popular post is “10 Facts About the Provisional Waiver Process.”  This is, by far, our most popular post.  It was our first post of 2013.  We are a bit curious as to its popularity given how many developments there have been in the provisional waiver process, but this post remains an informative introduction to the provisional waiver, what it means to accomplish, and the mechanics of seeking a waiver.

Thanks to all of our readers.  We have studied these results and will use this information to make this blog more interesting and useful to you.  Happy new year to all!

Mayorkas v. Cuellar de Osorio: CSPA at the Supreme Court

9 Dec

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Tomorrow, December 10, 2013, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in Mayorkas v. Cuellar de Osorio, reviewing the 9th circuit decision that reversed the Board of Immigration Appeals’ decision in Matter of Wang that rejected the applicability of the Child Status Protection Act (CSPA) to a large number of immigrants.  If the Supreme Court upholds the decision of the 9th Circuit, many aged-out young adults will be immediately eligible to apply for residence.  If the Supreme Court reverses the 9th Circuit, the BIA’s interpretation will stand and young adults who aged-out while their families’ petitions were stuck in the immigration backlogs will continue to wait for alternative paths to residence.

At the heart of the dispute is a common question in U.S. immigration law- how much deference does a court owe to an agency’s interpretation of matters within its expertise.  In a seminal 1984 case, Chevron v. Natural Resources Defense Council, the Supreme Court held that the answer to that question requires a two part analysis.  First, the court must determine whether Congress spoke clearly in the statute.  If Congress spoke clearly, the court must look to whether the agency faithfully implemented the statute’s directive.  The second part of the analysis comes into play if the court determine that Congress did not speak clearly and left the details of the matter to the expertise of the agency.  Where Congress spoke ambiguously, courts should defer to the agency’s special expertise so long as their interpretation was reasonable.  As a practical matter, if a court finds that Congress’ directive in a piece of legislation was ambiguous, it will likely uphold the agency’s interpretation.  Thus, in this case, the Court must decide whether the Child Status Protection Act was clear in how these aged-out young people should be treated.  If the court decides that Congress was pellucid in the language of the statute, it is likely that the court will reject the BIA’s interpretation and uphold the 9th Circuit’s decision.  In addition to the 9th Circuit, one other court, the 5th Circuit, has also rejected the BIA’s formulation.

Cuellar de Osorio’s lawyers will be arguing that Congress spoke with particular clarity when it passed the Child Status Protection Act and intended for all aged-out derivative beneficiaries of their parent’s immigrant petitions to be able to reclaim their original filing date rather than going back to the “end of the line” after turning 21.  They are supported by a brief filed by several Senators who explain to the Court that their intention in passing the legislation was to help as many aged-out children as possible.  The government seeks to muddy the waters and state that Congress was not clear and that the court should defer to the government.  The government warns of major disruption to the way visas are distributed if the Court rejects its interpretation.

Tomorrow, lawyers for the government and for the immigrants affected will get their chance to argue the case before the Supreme Court.  A decision will likely come in the spring of 2014.

More on Asylum Litigation and the Meaning of Particular Social Group

7 Nov

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Last week, we told you about two cases that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit heard oral arguments on.  As we discussed, these cases will go a long way towards setting the law on what constitutes a particular social group for purposes of asylum.

One of these cases, Martinez, dealt with the issue of whether a former gang member can be granted protection in the U.S. because of a clear likelihood of persecution because of his status as a former gang member.  In Martinez, there is no doubt among the government or the courts that he will be harmed if he returns to El Salvador.  The question is whether he falls within a group meriting protection under U.S. asylum law.  The Board of Immigration Appeals said that Congress did not intend for someone to gain protection in the U.S. because they were once part of a criminal enterprise, which the Mara Salvatrucha certainly is.  The BIA reasoned that a person should not be able to get a benefit like protection for removal because of involvement in a gang and that gang membership is not what Congress had in mind when it allowed for protection for members of particular social groups.  Mr. Martinez’s lawyers, a very talented group led by FOBR Maureen Sweeney of the University of Maryland Law School Immigration Clinic, argued that Congress established a number of bars to asylum and withholding of removal and that previous gang membership was not among them.  Had Congress wished to exclude such individuals, it could have easily specified in the statute.  Martinez argued that the BIA created a bar to asylum and that was, in fact, Congress’ job, and not the Board’s.

Those arguments, made in briefs to the 4th Circuit, framed the argument held last Thursday.  Maureen Sweeney argued for Mr. Martinez and FOBR Ben Casper argued for the American Immigration Lawyers Association, which filed a brief supporting Mr. Martinez’s claim to protection.  After the hearing, Maureen emailed the following report:

We had oral argument this morning, and I’m not one to draw overly optimistic conclusions from such things, but I will say that two of our 3 judges seemed to really get what the case was about. Our panel was Judges Wynn, Neimeyer and Flanagan (sitting by designation). Judge Neimeyer pretty much spent 40 minutes arguing our case for us – completely got the analytical distinction between current and past gang members, and spoke admiringly of how our client was trying to do the right thing and be a person of conscience, and how they’d just kill him for it if he had to go back. Judge Wynn seemed concerned about being asked to actually find all the elements of particular social group, but he didn’t seem to object to the idea of finding immutability and remanding the case for the BIA to do the rest of its job. Judge Flanagan was the hardest to read. Ben Casper from AILA did a great job pointing out how the Bd decision just adds to the chaos that is PSG jurisprudence right now. Judges seemed uninterested in whether initial membership in the gang was voluntary or not – they seemed to get that once the person left, that became the defining characteristic. And they didn’t seem particularly worried about letting in a bunch of bad guys. As Judge Neimeyer said, “That’s what you have all those bars in the statute for.” We will, of course, see what their decision says when they get around to writing it.

Thanks to all of you for all your help and support with this case and this new adventure in appellate work for me and our clinic. It made a big difference to me to feel like we had the support of such a great community behind us.

And the interesting trivia fact of the day is that we believe we were arguing in the courtroom where Jefferson Davis was tried after the Civil War. So if anybody ever asks you what Julio Martinez and Jeff Davis have in common, now you know!

A very encouraging report, to say the least.

A bit of bad news is that, on the day the case was argued in Richmond, the Court of Appeals for the First Circuit sitting in Boston issued a terrible decision on the same issue. In Cantarero v. Holder, the First Circuit held, “The BIA reasonably concluded that, in light of the manifest humanitarian purpose of the INA, Congress did not mean to grant asylum to those whose association with a criminal syndicate has caused them to run into danger.  Such recognition would reward membership in an organization that undoubtedly wreaks social harm in the streets of our country.”  It then added, preposterously, that recognition of such a social group “would, moreover, offer an incentive for aliens to join gangs here as a path to legal status.”  In rejecting protection, the 1st Circuit set up a circuit split between itself and the 7th Circuit and the 6th Circuit which had already concluded that former gang membership was a legitimate particular social group for asylum purposes.

Whatever the 4th Circuit does in Mr. Martinez’s case, it appears that this issue is teeing up for a showdown at the Supreme Court.

Board of Immigration Appeals Affirms Same-Sex Marriage

20 Jul

Earlier this week, the Board of Immigration Appeals affirmed the sweeping-change in immigration law that the Windsor decision ushered in.  In Matter of Zeleniak, 26 I.&N. Dec. 158 (BIA 2013), the Board recognized that Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), found unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in Windsor, was not an impediment to recognition of same-sex marriage by immigration authorities.   In Zeleniak, U.S. citizen Serge Polajenko filed an immigrant partner for his husband, Oleg Zeleniak.  The Citizenship & Immigration Service (CIS) found that the couple had a legal marriage in Vermont, but denied the petition, citing Section 3 of the DOMA.   On July 17, 2013, the BIA sent the case back to the CIS stating that the CIS should only consider whether the marriage was entered into in good faith.  Thus, the BIA affirmed that Section 3 of DOMA, as a result of Windsor, was no longer an impediment to approval of a petition by U.S. citizen on behalf of his same sex husband, so long as the couple was married in a state where same-sex marriage is legal.

The BIA went further than the immediate issue at hand and sought to identify those areas of immigration law that are impacted by the Windsor decision.  The BIA stated:

The Supreme Court’s ruling in Windsor has therefore removed section 3 of the DOMA as an impediment to the recognition of lawful same-sex marriages and spouses if the marriage is valid under the laws of the State where it was celebrated. This ruling is applicable to various provisions of the Act, including, but not limited to, sections 101(a)(15)(K) (fiancé and fiancée visas), 203 and 204 (immigrant visa petitions), 207 and 208 (refugee and asylee derivative status), 212 (inadmissibility and waivers of inadmissibility), 237 (removability and waivers of removability), 240A (cancellation of removal), and 245 (adjustment of status), 8 U.S.C. §§ 1101(a)(15)(K), 1153, 1154, 1157, 1158, 1182, 1227, 1229b, and 1255 (2012).
Ironically, the BIA’s decision appeared the same day that former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales resurfaced from ignominy to publish a wholly unnecessary and surly opinion in the New York Times stating that Windsor did not compel immigration recognition of same-sex marriages.  Relying on 1982 decision of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, the former Attorney General stated that Congress did not intend to cover same-sex spouses when it used the term “spouse” in the 1952 Immigration & Nationality Act (INA).  As a lawyer who has tried to cite 9th Circuit laws in other parts of the country, I am well aware of the limited reach of a decision of a single appeals court.  You would think that the former Attorney General would be as well.  It is important to keep Mr. Gonzales’ point-of-view in mind, however.  Under our system, the Attorney General has the authority to overrule the BIA on any matter of immigration law. Which is why it is important that Mr. Gonzales, thankfully, no longer occupies that post.