May 18, 2015

ZOMBIE PRECEDENTS, THE SEQUEL: HOW RECENT DECISIONS OF THE SECOND CIRCUIT AND THE BIA POINT TO A BETTER WAY OF DEALING WITH PRECEDENT DECISIONS THAT HAVE BEEN VACATED BY A COURT


By David A. Isaacson

In my October 2014 post The Walking Dead: Why Courts of Appeals Should Not Defer to BIA or Attorney General Precedent Decisions that Have Already Been Vacated by Another Court of Appeals, I discussed why such vacated “zombie precedents” should not be given deference under Chevron, U.S.A., Inc. v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc., 467 U.S. 837 (1984), by Courts of Appeals that address subsequent unpublished BIA decisions purporting to rely on them.  Recent decisions of the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit and of the Board of Immigration Appeals (“BIA”) provide additional support for that suggestion.
On April 9, 2015, the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit issued its opinion in Lugo v. Holder.  In that case, Ms. Lugo disputed whether her 2005 conviction for misprision of a felony under 18 U.S.C. §4 constituted a crime involving moral turpitude (“CIMT”).  She had been found barred from cancellation of removal based on the Immigration Judge’s ruling that misprision was indeed a CIMT, as the BIA had held in Matter of Robles-Urrea, 24 I&N Dec. 22 (BIA 2006).  The BIA had affirmed the Immigration Judge’s ruling in an unpublished decision.
As the Second Circuit discussed in Lugo, the BIA had originally held in Matter of Sloan, 12 I&N Dec. 840 (A.G. 1968; BIA 1966) that misprision of felony was not a CIMT.  In Matter of Robles-Urrea, however, the BIA agreed with the decision of the Eleventh Circuit in Itani v. Ashcroft, 298 F.3d 1213 (11th Cir. 2002), to the effect that misprision of felony under 18 U.S.C. §4 was in fact a CIMT, and overruled Matter of Sloan in relevant part.  Subsequently, the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit vacated Matter of Robles-Urrea in Robles-Urrea v. Holder, 678 F.3d 702 (9th Cir. 2012), and held that misprision of felony was not categorically a CIMT.  (The complicated history of the case law regarding whether misprision of felony is a CIMT was also discussed in Cyrus D. Mehta’s March 2014 post on this blog, Was the Attorney Really Ineffective in Kovacs v. United States?.)
The Second Circuit therefore held in Lugo that it was “left to wonder whether, going forward, the Board wishes to adopt the Ninth Circuit’s rule or the Eleventh Circuit’s.” Lugo, slip op. at 3-4.  It concluded that “it is desirable for the Board to clarify this matter in a published opinion.”  Lugo, slip op. at 4.  The Second Circuit remanded to the BIA to enable to answer both this question and a related question regarding retroactivity: that is, whether Matter of Robles-Urrea could appropriately be applied to Ms. Lugo even if the BIA otherwise wished to follow it, given that Ms. Lugo had pled guilty prior to the issuance of that published opinion.
One way to look at what the Second Circuit did in the first portion of its remand in Lugo is as an admirable refusal to defer to a zombie precedent.  Having been vacated by the Ninth Circuit in Robles-Urrea v. Holder, the BIA decision in Matter of Robles-Urrea fits the description of a zombie precedent as discussed in my post The Walking Dead.  It had been cancelled, rescinded, by a competent court, and thus, since “vacatur dissipates precedential force,” In re: Bernard Madoff Inv. Securities LLC, 721 F.3d 54, 68 (2d Cir. 2013), it was properly seen as “not precedent.”  Asgeirsson v. Abbott, 696 F.3d 454, 459 (5th Cir. 2012).  The non-precedent decision in Lugo’s own case, meanwhile, was not entitled to deference because, as the Second Circuit had previously held, in Rotimi v. Gonzales, 473 F.3d 55, 56 (2d Cir. 2007), “a nonprecedential decision by a single member of the BIA should not be accorded Chevron deference.”  The Second Circuit therefore properly vacated the nonprecedential decision in Lugo’s case and remanded to the BIA for the issuance of a precedential decision.  That is, the Second Circuit did in Lugo essentially what I had suggested in The Walking Dead, and earlier in Burning Down the House: The Second and Third Circuits Split on Whether Arson Not Relating to Interstate Commerce is an Aggravated Felony, that it should have done in Luna Torres v. Holder, No. 13-2498 (August 20, 2014).  Hopefully, this may be the start of a trend of Courts of Appeals not deferring to zombie precedents, but instead remanding to the BIA for further precedential analysis of whether the BIA wishes to follow in the footsteps of a prior precedent decision vacated by another Court of Appeals, or instead wishes to accede to the Court of Appeals decision which vacated that prior precedent.
The Second Circuit’s decision in Lugo is not the only recent development that I would submit gives support to my previously expressed views regarding zombie precedents.  As discussed in my prior post, the BIA has been known to reverse course and abandon a precedent following its rejection by one or more Courts of Appeals.  Earlier examples included Matter of Silva, 16 I&N Dec. 26 (BIA 1976), where the BIA acquiesced in the Second Circuit’s decision in Francis v. INS, 532 F.2d 268 (2d Cir. 1976) (regarding the availability of relief under former INA §212(c)) rather than insisting on its own contrary decision in Matter of Arias-Uribe, 13 I&N Dec. 696 (BIA 1971), and Matter of Marcal Neto, 25 I&N Dec. 169 (BIA 2010), where the BIA overruled Matter of Perez Vargas, 23 I&N Dec. 829 (BIA 2005) (regarding the exercise of portability under INA §204(j) in immigration court proceedings), after its rejection by several Courts of Appeals, including the Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in Perez-Vargas v. Gonzales, 478 F.3d 191 (4th Cir. 2007).  I acknowledged in The Walking Dead that the BIA has in some instances made a precedential choice to reaffirm the reasoning of a prior precedent even after its rejection by multiple circuits, and gave as an example Matter of E.W. Rodriguez, 25 I&N Dec. 784 (BIA 2012): in that case, the BIA reaffirmed Matter of Koljenovic, 25 I&N Dec. 219 (BIA 2010), after its holding regarding the ineligibility of certain Lawful Permanent Residents for waivers of inadmissibility under INA §212(h) had been rejected by multiple Courts of Appeals, and indicated that Koljenovic would continue to be followed in circuits that had not rejected it.  The BIA has now changed its mind on that point.
In Matter of J-H-J-, 26 I&N Dec. 563 (BIA 2015), decided on May 12, the BIA withdrew E.W. Rodriguez and  Koljenovic in light of the rejection of the theory underlying them by nine Courts of Appeals.  The immigration court proceedings in Matter of J-H-J- had taken place within the jurisdiction of the Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, which had, in Roberts v. Holder, 745 F.3d 928 (8th Cir. 2014), accepted the BIA’s reasoning in E.W. Rodriguez and  Koljenovic as a reasonable interpretation of the statute.  Thus, the BIA was free to reaffirm E.W. Rodriguez and  Koljenovic in the case if it so wished.  However, given “the overwhelming circuit court authority,” Matter of J-H-J-, 26 I&N Dec. at 564, and the importance of “uniformity in the application of the immigration laws”, id. at 565 (citing Matter of Small, 23 I&N Dec. 448, 450 (BIA 2002)), the BIA instead held that “section 212(h) . . . only precludes aliens who entered the United States as lawful permanent residents from establishing eligibility for a waiver on the basis of an aggravated felony conviction.” Matter of J-H-J-, 26 I&N Dec. at 565. 
Strictly speaking, E.W. Rodriguez and  Koljenovic were not zombie precedents as I have defined that term, never having been themselves vacated by a court.  However, the BIA’s overruling of those precedents in Matter of J-H-J- is, like Matter of Silva and Matter of Marcal Neto before it, an example of the BIA’s willingness to reconsider its own precedent in light of contrary appellate case law from outside the circuit having appellate jurisdiction over the case at hand. 
Against this background, it makes increasingly little sense for courts to implicitly assume that the BIA would necessarily insist on following in the footsteps of a precedent decision which has already been vacated by a Court of Appeals.  Rather than giving deference to a zombie precedent, the Courts of Appeals should remand to the BIA for reconsideration of whether it wishes to follow in the footsteps of that precedent, as the Second Circuit did in in Lugo.

May 8, 2015

EQUATING IMMIGRANTS TO GREENHOUSE GASES: IS THIS A VALID BASIS FOR STANDING TO SUE THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT?

It has lately become fashionable for states that oppose President Obama’s immigration executive actions to sue in federal court on grounds that they are unconstitutional.  But in order to get heard in court, a state must demonstrate standing.        
In the Texas v. United States litigation challenging President Obama’s November 2014 Deferred Action for Parent Accountability Program (DAPA) and expanded Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) programs, plaintiff states led by Texas successfully invoked standing by equating immigrants to noxious air pollutants that cause greenhouse gases. While greenhouse gases can only cause harm, immigrants, legal or not, are more likely to confer benefits than harm. Is it appropriate for a judge to give standing to a state opposing federal immigration policy based on the sort of harm that pollutants would cause it?  
Parties seeking to resolve disputes in federal court must present actual “Cases” or “Controversies” under Article III of the US Constitution. Plaintiffs must demonstrate that they have standing in order to satisfy Article III. They must establish three elements set forth in Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 560 (1992) that there is 1) an injury in fact, (2) a sufficient causal connection between the injury and the conduct complained of, and (3) a likelihood that the injury will be redressed by a favorable decision. 
In Texas v. United States, the states attempted to show harm through the influx of immigrants who will remain in the United States through deferrals of their removals and thus burden them. The basis for linking the harm caused by immigrants to noxious pollutants stems from the seminal Supreme Court decision in Massachusetts v. EPA in which plaintiffs requested the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from motor vehicles under section 202 of the Clean Air Act. After EPA refused to do so, plaintiffs, which included Massachusetts, sought review of the EPA’s refusal in the Supreme Court to regulate greenhouse gases. Massachusetts successfully sought standing under Lujan by showing that global warming caused by greenhouse gas emissions was so widespread that the failure of the EPA to regulate them would cause the state environmental damage such as coastal flooding of its shores. Justice Steven delivered the opinion of the Court by beginning with this broad pronouncement on global warming: 
A well-documented rise in global temperatures has coincided with a significant increase in the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Respected scientists believe the two trends are related. For when carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere, it acts like the ceiling of a greenhouse, trapping solar energy and retarding the escape of reflected heat. It is therefore a species—the most important species—of a "greenhouse gas." 
Later, in showing how Massachusetts as a landowner would suffer injury even though global warming was widespread, Justice Stevens stated: 
That these climate-change risks are "widely shared" does not minimize Massachusetts' interest in the outcome of this litigation. [citation omitted]. According to petitioners' unchallenged affidavits, global sea levels rose somewhere between 10 and 20 centimeters over the 20th century as a result of global warming. MacCracken Decl.  5(c), Stdg.App. 208. These rising seas have already begun to swallow Massachusetts' coastal land. Id., at 196 (declaration of Paul H. Kirshen 5), 216 (MacCracken Decl.  23). Because the Commonwealth "owns a substantial portion of the state's coastal property," id., at 171 (declaration of Karst R. Hoogeboom  4),[citation omitted] it has alleged a particularized injury in its capacity as a landowner. The severity of that injury will only increase over the course of the next century: If sea levels continue to rise as predicted, one Massachusetts official believes that a significant fraction of coastal property will be "either permanently lost through inundation or temporarily lost through periodic storm surge and flooding events." Id.,  6, at 172.[citation omitted]. Remediation costs alone, petitioners allege, could run well into the hundreds of millions of dollars. Id., 7, at 172; see also Kirshen Decl.  12, at 198.[citation omitted] 
While it is undeniable that greenhouse gases can cause only harm, should this case be applicable when a state uses it to invoke standing to challenge federal immigration policy? Texas, the lead plaintiff in Texas v. United States, argued that the President’s executive actions would cause a significant economic burden as deferring removal of certain classes of non-citizens would allow them to  apply for drivers licenses, which  in turn would cost the state several million dollars. Texas relied on this trifling economic burden as the injury that would give it standing,  which Judge Hanen accepted among other standing legal theories. After providing standing, Judge Hanen temporarily blocked the executive actions, and a trenchant criticism of his reasoning in doing so can be found here.  Judge Hanen elaborated at great length in equating the harm that Massachusetts would suffer through global warming with the harm that Texas would suffer as a result of “500,000 illegal aliens that enter the United States each year.” Judge Hanen went on to further expound his views on the harms caused by illegal immigration, as follows: 
The federal government is unable or unwilling to police the border more thoroughly or apprehend those illegal aliens residing within the United States; thus it is unsurprising  that, according to prevailing estimates, there are somewhere between 11,000,000 and 12,000,000 illegal aliens currently living in the country, many of whom burden the limited resources in each state to one extent or another. Indeed, in many instances, the Government intentionally allows known illegal aliens to enter and remain in the country. 
While emphasizing the alleged harms that undocumented immigration would cause to the states, Judge Hanen gave short shrift to the well-reasoned amicus brief of 12 states   demonstrating the overwhelming benefits that DAPA and DACA would confer to the states.  Amici argued that the recipients of a prior DACA program in 2012, which was not challenged in the litigation, caused 60% of the recipients to find new jobs and that wages increased by over 240%. Allowing immigrants to work legally and increase their wages substantially increases the state tax base. The granting of deferred action also provides many social benefits, amici argued, as it allows parents to support US citizen children, thus reducing the cost of state social service benefits and it also allows families to remain united.  According to the amicus brief, “When fit parents are deported, it can be difficult for the State to find the parents and reunite them with their children. The existence of fit parents – even if they have been deported – can also prevent the State from seeking alternative placement options for a child, such as a guardianship or adoption by another family member or third party.[citation omitted]. Deferred deportation allows families to remain together, even if only temporarily.”The government appealed Judge Hanen’s preliminary injunction to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. In a hearing before a panel in the Fifth Circuit to lift the block while the government’s appeal was pending, Massachusetts v. EPA was again discussed, as presented in David Isaacson’s summary:   
Continuing with the standing discussion, Judge Smith directed AAG Mizer to the Supreme Court’s decision in Massachusetts v. EPA, 549 U.S. 497 (2007), which he considered to be a key case on the standing issue.  Mizer responded, first, that there isn’t a territorial effect in this case as in Massachusetts, where the state’s territory was being affected (by rising sea levels resulting from global warming).  Also, the specific statute in Massachusetts v. EPA gave a specific right to sue, while the INA, Mizer argued, “is not enacted to protect the states”. 
The success of the legal challenges to President Obama’s executive actions hinges on whether courts will give plaintiffs standing or not. In Crane v. Johnson, the Fifth Circuit upheld the lower court’s finding that Mississippi, a plaintiff, did not have standing as its claim to fiscal injury arising out of deferral under the DACA 2012 program was speculative.  More recently, a three judge panel in the D.C. Circuit was skeptical of Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio’s challenge against DAPA and expanded DACA based on standing. While they were skeptical that the deferred action programs will result in more immigrants being detained in Maricopa County jails, one George W.  Bush appointee judge again cited Massachusetts’ standing to sue to prevent environmental harm from greenhouse gases by asking why “at least at the state level, isn’t concern about public safety and crime and that sort of things costs and crime should not be at least equal to the sovereignty concern to the sea level rise taking a few inches of shoreline.” 
Although the government has argued in its appeal brief that the Clean Air Act gave a state such as Massachusetts the right to sue while the INA does not in the context of deferred action and prosecutorial discretion, a broader and more compelling argument can be made against invoking Massachusetts v. EPA in immigration litigation. Analogizing the ability of certain classes of immigrants to temporarily remain in the United States to greenhouse gases is both specious and offensive. It is well recognized that greenhouse gases only cause harm, and thus a state impacted by them can readily demonstrate injury in order to seek standing to sue the federal government. Immigrants, unlike greenhouse gases, bring great benefits to the United States. Any manufactured claim of harm by a state, like what Texas has claimed with the so called economic burden caused by issuing driver’s license, is far outweighed by the benefits that immigrants bring to this country. Apart from all the benefits that were discussed by the states opposing the legal challenge, even a second grader can figure out that handing out licenses to people who otherwise could not get it before deferral ensures that many more will drive safely in the state of Texas. 
One would also not use this analogy in other contexts as it is highly offensive to link human beings to greenhouse gases.  Imagine if a state were to challenge a federal policy of providing federal benefits to same-sex married couples whose marriages are valid where celebrated but not in the state of their residence, on the basis that this policy led more same-sex married couples and their families to reside in that state and thus overburden its schools and public hospitals. If the state invoked Massachusetts v. EPA, it would be viewed as highly offensive and also not a very strong argument.  Plaintiffs seem to be getting away for the time being in linking immigrants to noxious pollutants, and it is hoped that some judge will strike down this odious analogy so that it is  no longer invoked in immigration litigation.




May 4, 2015

WHEN AN AMENDED H-1B PETITION IS NOT REQUIRED EVEN AFTER MATTER OF SIMEIO SOLUTIONS

By  Cyrus D. Mehta


The AAO decision in Matter of Simeio Solutions, LLC,  26 I&N Dec. 542 (AAO 2015) has already caused headaches as it will make it more costly and burdensome for employers who hire H-1B workers. An overview of the AAO decision can be found at AAO Firmly Tethers H-1B Workers To The LCA Like A Dog Is To A Leash. In Matter of Simeio, the AAO concluded that changes in the beneficiary's places of employment, resulting in the obtaining of a new Labor Condition Application (LCA) constituted a material change to the terms and conditions of employment as specified in the original petition,  thus necessitating the filing of an amended petition. 
Every time an H-1B worker moves to a location not covered in the LCA, the employer will have to file an amended petition. The filing of an amended H-1B petition will incur additional costs for an employer. At an April 30, 2015 DHS Ombudsman call on the AAO decision,  it was estimated that if an employer moves 50 workers three times a year, that would be 150 amended petitions resulting in half a million dollars in legal fees and costs.   It will also give a right to the USCIS to adjudicate the H-1B petition as no deference is given to a prior approval when there is a material change in the employment. It is also a fact that the USCIS Vermont Service Center and California Service Center do not always apply consistent standards when adjudicating H-1B petitions. If the Vermont Service Center approved an H-1B petition, and the worker will be assigned to a work location within the jurisdiction of the California Service Center,  there is a likelihood that the amended H-1B petition will be adjudicated under a stricter standard, resulting in a Request for Evidence and even a denial. 
Prior to Simeio Solutions, employers relied on informal USCIS guidance indicating that so long as a new LCA was obtained prior to placing an H-1B worker at a new worksite, an amended H-1B petition was not required. See Letter from Efren Hernandez III, Dir., Bus. And Trade Branch, USCIS, to Lynn Shotwell, Am. Council on int’l Pers., Inc. (October 23, 2003). The AAO has now explicitly stated in Simeio Solutions, footnote 7, that the Hernandez guidance has been superseded. Employers who relied on the prior guidance who file amended H-1B petitions to comply with Simeio Solutions should not be penalized for not previously filing an amended H-1B petition by deeming that the H-1B worker fell out of status. 
When is an amended petition not legally required even after Simeio Solutions
Arguably, if an H-1B worker is being moved to a new job location within the same area of intended employment, a new LCA is not required and nor will an H-1B amendment be required. The original LCA should still be posted in the new work location within the same area of intended employment. So a move to a new job location within New York City would not trigger a new LCA, although the previously obtained LCA would need to be posted at the new work location. This could happen if an entire office moved from one location to another within NYC, or even if the H-1B worker moved from one client site to another within NYC.
There is also nothing in the law and regulations that require an employer to first obtain an approval of the amended petition prior to placing a worker there. Footnote 11 in the Simeio decision suggests that the new LCA, along with the amended H-1B petition, must be submitted, before the beneficiary would be permitted to begin working in the new place of employment. It does not suggest that the amended H-1B petition has to be approved before the worker would be permitted to work. Still, there is an exception in the DOL regulations to immediately filing a new LCA, and by corollary an amended H-1B petition, even when an H-1B worker is moved to a new location. Employers may take advantage of the short term placement exception at 20 CFR 655.735. Under the short term placement exception, an employer may under certain circumstances place an H-1B worker at a new job location for up to 30 days, and in some cases 60 days (where the worker is still based at the original location), without obtaining a new LCA. Thus, when an employer needs to urgently transfer an H-1B worker to a new location, it can do so under the short term placement exception without needing to also immediately file an amended H-1B petition. This exception is limited, though, since if the H-1B worker is placed at the new location for more than the 30 or 60 days, the employer needs to obtain a new LCA and also file an amended H-1B petition. An employer also cannot use the short term placement exception if there is already an existing LCA at that location. 
While readers should review the short term placement rule in its entirety, an employer who wishes to take advantage of this rule must:
(i) Continue to pay such worker(s) the required wage (based on the prevailing wage at such worker's(s') permanent worksite, or the employer's actual wage, whichever is higher); 
(ii) Pay such worker(s) the actual cost of lodging (for both workdays and non-workdays); and 
(iii) Pay such worker(s) the actual cost of travel, meals and incidental or miscellaneous expenses (for both workdays and non-workdays). 

Finally, if an H-1B worker is placed at a location that is considered a non-worksite under 20 CFR 655.715, which does not trigger an LCA,  the AAO decision is also inapplicable. Non-worksites include locations where employee developmental activity is conducted such as management conferences, staff seminars, etc. Non-worksites may also include locations where little time is spent by the employee at anyone location, and where the worker’s job is “peripatetic in nature.” They may also include situations where the H-1B worker’s job is spent at one location but where the worker occasionally travels for short periods to other locations  “on a casual, short-term basis, which can be recurring but not excessive (i.e., not exceeding five consecutive workdays for any one visit by a peripatetic worker, or 10 consecutive workdays for any one visit by a worker who spends most work time at one location and travels occasionally to other locations).” 20 CFR 655.715 provides the following examples of non-worksites, although readers are well advised to read the rule in its entirety:
A computer engineer sent out to customer locations to “troubleshoot” complaints regarding software malfunctions; a sales representative making calls on prospective customers or established customers within a “home office” sales territory; a manager monitoring the performance of out-stationed employees; an auditor providing advice or conducting reviews at customer facilities; a physical therapist providing services to patients in their homes within an area of employment; an individual making a court appearance; an individual lunching with a customer representative at a restaurant; or an individual conducting research at a library.
The regulation also provides the following examples of “worksites” that would trigger a new LCA, and now under Simeio, an amended H-1B petition: 
A computer engineer who works on projects or accounts at different locations for weeks or months at a time; a sales representative assigned on a continuing basis in an area away from his/her “home office;” an auditor who works for extended periods at the customer's offices; a physical therapist who “fills in” for full-time employees of health care facilities for extended periods; or a physical therapist who works for a contractor whose business is to provide staffing on an “as needed” basis at hospitals, nursing homes, or clinics. 
Employers will soon feel the brunt of the AAO decision as they start moving H-1B workers, which in some industries like IT, accounting and management consulting is the norm. The exceptions to filing an amended H-1B petition while useful are still limited. As employers feel overly burdened by the AAO decision, they may consider resorting to litigation as the AAO has created a new rule without going through the appropriate notice and comment procedure under the Administrative Procedure Act.  According to the AAO, “[i]f an employer does not submit the LCA to USCIS in support of a new or amended H-1B petition, the process is incomplete and the LCA is not certified to the Secretary of Homeland Security.” The AAO cites INA 101(a)(15)(H)(i)(b), 8 CFR 214.2(h)(4)(i)B)(1) and 20 CFR 655.700(b) to support its position, but none of these provisions seem to suggest that an LCA obtained after an H-1B petition has already been submitted is not valid if it is “not certified to the Secretary of Homeland Security.”   The DOL certifies the LCA. There is no separate process where the DOL also has to certify the LCA to the Secretary of Homeland Security. The AAO’s invention of a new rule relating to the validity of the LCA is also ripe for litigation. Finally,  an H-1B worker should not found to be in violation of status for failure to file an amended H-1B petition prior to Simeio. If the USCIS begins to retroactively apply Simeio so as to penalize employers and H-1B workers, this too would be ripe for federal court litigation.

April 21, 2015

A PRELIMINARY ANALYSIS OF THE FIFTH CIRCUIT ORAL ARGUMENT ON THE APPLICATION FOR STAY IN TEXAS V. UNITED STATES

On Friday, April 17, 2015, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit heard oral arguments on the motion by the United States for a stay pending appeal of the preliminary injunction issued by Judge Andrew Hanen of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas in Texas v. U.S., which currently prevents implementation of the DAPA and expanded DACA programs set out in a November 20, 2014 Memorandum of Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson.  The decision on the motion for stay will not be the last word with respect to the preliminary injunction, which is the subject of a pending expedited appeal with briefing scheduled to be completed by mid-May and oral argument possible over the summer.  However, the decision on the motion for stay will determine whether implementation of DAPA and expanded DACA can resume immediately.
In a previous blog post, I provided some initial reaction to the Memorandum and Order in which Judge Hanen issued his injunction.  Having listened to the recording of the oral argument that is available online, it seemed appropriate to provide some initial reactions to the oral argument as well.  Nicholas Espiritu of the National Immigration Law Center, who was actually present at the argument, provided his own recap in a blog post that I would urge readers to review, but I think it is possible that reviewing the recording may make it possible to pick up some things that were less obvious in person—although since a recording still has some disadvantages relative to a transcript, it is also possible that the below may contain errors, for which I apologize in advance.
As background, the three Fifth Circuit judges on the panel hearing the motion for stay were Judge Jerry E. Smith, appointed to the Fifth Circuit by Ronald Reagan in 1987; Judge Jennifer W. Elrod, appointed to the Fifth Circuit by George W. Bush in 2007; and Judge Stephen A. Higginson, appointed to the Fifth Circuit by President Obama in 2011.  Texas was represented by state solicitor general Scott A. Keller, and the United States by Acting Assistant Attorney General Scott A. Mizer.
Near the beginning of the argument, Judge Elrod offered an extensive hypothetical regarding the question of reviewability: would the states be able to sue, she asked, if the administration gave something like DAPA to all of the aliens present without authorization?  What about if the administration gave that same population voting rights?  The goverment’s attorney, AAG Mizer, responded that the states wouldn't have standing in the hypothetical case of DAPA being greatly expanded, although there might be competitor standing by other workers.  In the voting hypothetical, however, he indicated that the states would probably have standing because the Voting Rights Act has provisions giving special rights and thus standing to states.
On the topic of reviewability, Judge Higginson asked whether expanding deferred action and thereby vastly expanding the class of people eligible for employment authorization might be reviewable, despite the existence of the longstanding regulations regarding employment authorization for deferred action recipients, if employment authorization through deferred action had previously been available to a smaller class of people.
Judge Elrod raised the issue of the district court’s factual finding that there is not an actual exercise of discretion by USCIS, and whether it is necessary to overcome a clear-error standard of review in order for the government to prevail with regard to that finding—a point that she revisited later in the argument.  The argument was based on the agency’s alleged practices in adjudicating applications for the original DACA program, as instituted in 2012 by then-Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano, which was not challenged by the plaintiff States and is not affected by the injunction; Judge Hanen effectively found that DHS had not exercised discretion in the 2012 DACA program and so would not exercise discretion with DAPA and expanded DACA.  Judge Higginson, in response, made an interesting point about how the fact the agency is removing more people than ever before may rebut the suggestion that DHS is being pretextual in claiming that they are exercising discretion.
Judge Elrod then raised the issue of whether the government has been disingenuous in the litigation, and whether that influences a credibility determination.  (On the question of whether the attorneys for the government indeed had breached any ethical obligations, I would refer the reader to an AILA Leadership Blog post by Cyrus D. Mehta in his capacity as Chair of the AILA Ethics Committee, and the related more comprehensive paper from the AILA Ethics Committee, “Judge Hanen’s Troubling Accusations of Unethical Conduct in Texas v. United States of America.)  The district court, AAG Mizner pointed out in response, considered “public safety” denials of the original 2012 DACA as not being discretionary, which is not really fair, since protecting public safety is a major discretionary factor. 
Judge Higginson pointed out, with regard to the question of alleged disingenuousness and credibility, that the district court doesn’t actually seem to have made any credibility finding regarding the competing affidavits of USCIS union official Kenneth Palinkas and USCIS Associate Director for Service Center Operations Donald Neufeld, who had offered vastly different accounts of how applications are processed.  That goes to Judge Elrod’s earlier point regarding the finding of fact, since it would seem to be error to make such a finding while simply ignoring a contrary affidavit and without having held an evidentiary hearing to resolve any credibility issues.
Returning to the question of standing and reviewability, the government noted that “Texas has been here before” in terms of trying to sue the US government about immigration policy, in 1997, and lost.  AAG Mizner further pointed out that 8 U.S.C. 1252(g), and the Supreme Court’s decision in Reno v. American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, 525 U.S. 471 (1999), interpreting that section, argue against anybody being able to sue regarding prosecutorial discretion—if even disappointed aliens can’t sue regarding the exercise of such discretion, then why would states, who have no role in immigration, be able to do so?
Continuing with the standing discussion, Judge Smith directed AAG Mizer to the Supreme Court’s decision in Massachusetts v. EPA, 549 U.S. 497 (2007), which he considered to be a key case on the standing issue.  Mizer responded, first, that there isn’t a territorial effect in this case as in Massachusetts, where the state’s territory was being affected (by rising sea levels resulting from global warming).  Also, the specific statute in Massachusetts v. EPA gave a specific right to sue, while the INA, Mizer argued, “is not enacted to protect the states”.
Mizer moved on to an interesting hypothetical about the problem with Texas’s standing argument.  Take the case of thousands of paroled Cubans, for example, who then became eligible to adjust status (under the Cuban Adjustment Act).  On Texas’s theory, if the paroled aliens moved to Texas, then Texas would have a judicially cognizable harm.  But to find standing for Texas under such circumstances, Mizer said, would be inconsistent with the FAIR v. Reno decision of the D.C. Circuit, which rejected a challenge to an agreement between the US and Cuba that would have such an effect.  Indeed, if Texas is right, Mizer argued, then they would be able to challenge an individual decision to grant a single person asylum, because if that person then gets a Texas driver’s license, it’s a harm to Texas.
Judge Elrod asked about why the US didn’t address the constitutional arguments made by the plaintiffs below (and not passed upon by the District Court).  Given the burden is on the government, she suggested that this might mean the government would lose at the stay stage.  Between this, the earlier noted questions from Judge Elrod, and a question soon thereafter in which Judge Elrod relied on President Obama’s comments at a press conference, rather as Judge Hanen had below, it seemed that Judge Elrod might be leaning in favor of denying a stay, although reading the proverbial “tea leaves” from an oral argument is always tricky.
Judge Higginson next returned to a variant of his point about the potential significance of DHS’s high number of removals, noting that the “abdication” theory propounded by Judge Hanen doesn’t make sense given that high number.
Judge Higginson followed up with an interesting hypothetical question about what would happen if the next administration flipped the priorities and went after DAPA recipients. AAG Mizer responded that DHS hasn’t bound itself not to change its mind.  Secretary Johnson may have bound his subordinates, but he has not bound the agency.
Returning to the question of standing, Judge Smith asked about the “special solicitude” that Massachusetts v. EPA says is afforded to the states.  Mizer says the immigration context is different than that case, because the Supreme Court has said in Arizona v. United States that the states can’t enact laws to conflict with federal immigration policy; why should the states be able to file a lawsuit to the same end?
Judge Elrod then asked AAG Mizer about whether “lawful status” is a benefit and about the difference between this and the Watt case, that is, Watt v. Energy Action Education Foundation, 454 U.S. 151 (1981).  Regarding Watt, Mizer’s response was to point out that California actually had a statutory interest in sharing the revenues from the program at issue in that case.  Regarding “legal status”, Mizer stated that deferred action is not a lawful status, just lawful presence. There followed a somewhat confused discussion of what exactly lawful presence is.  AAG Mizer ultimately pointed out that it doesn’t matter a great deal as a practical matter if one has lawful presence under DAPA, because DAPA beneficiaries already had more than a year of unlawful presence to begin with, and would thus already have sufficient unlawful presence to trigger the 10-year bar (that is, INA §212(a)(9)(B)(i)(II)).
The states’ lawyer, Texas Solicitor General Keller (TSG Keller for short), near the beginning of his argument, tried to pick up the thread regarding lawful presence versus lawful status and make the case that granting “lawful presence” is affirmative government action different than prosecutorial discretion. He couldn’t answer a question whether past deferred action grantees had lawful presence, but suggested that they might not have.  He also seemed near the beginning of is argument to concede that the scale of the program is not “pertinent to the legal doctrines”, though he then said that it “colors whether it is a substantive rule”.
Judge Higginson, picking up on the earlier discussion of lawful presence and lawful status, cited to Arizona v. United States and other case law to say that allowed presence from deferred action is different from lawful status.
TSG Keller moved on to talk about the double deference afforded in this stay posture.  He returned again later in the argument to a discussion of the “stay posture” and the record compiled on an expedited basis.  I found this interesting because to the extent the decision on the motion to stay relies on deference factors unique to the stay context, that suggests that any unfavorable decision on the motion to stay should not be given much deference by the panel that subsequently considers the appeal of the preliminary injunction.
One of the more notable aggressive moments of TSG Keller’s argument was when he claimed that 8 U.S.C. §1324a(h)(3) is only a “definitional” provision, and that the existing regulations regarding employment authorization may not be legal.  Judge Hanen, as I had pointed out in my prior post on this blog, had seemed to ignore that statute and the portion of the regulations, 8 C.F.R. §274a.12(c)(14), authorizing the grant of employment authorization to deferred action recipients.  Suggesting that the statutory provision is nearly meaningless and the regulations potentially invalid is, I suppose, an interesting alternative analytical route, but the argument strikes me as unconvincing, and would have far-reaching and problematic consequences if it did succeed.  This argument by TSG Keller would imply that the courts should read the statute to invalidate, for example, all employment authorization given to applicants for adjustment of status pursuant to 8 C.F.R. §274a.12(c)(9), just because the powers given to the Secretary of Homeland Security (formerly the Attorney General) by the statute to confer such employment authorization happen to be bestowed in the form of a definitional provision.  
Another somewhat rocky moment in TSG Keller’s argument pertained to the “abdication” theory of Article III standing mentioned by Judge Hanen, regarding which even Judge Elrod appeared to be skeptical.  Judge Elrod was able to get TSG Keller to clarify that the states would still need to show Article III injury in order to proceed on such a theory of standing.  As examples of such injury, TSG Keller pointed to driver’s licenses, health care and education benefits.
On the question of whether discretion was actually exercised in adjudicating applications under the 2012 DACA program, Judge Higginson pointed out that because of “self-selection bias”, you’d expect a high approval rate.  That is, given that it is up to each applicant whether to seek the benefit, people who aren’t going to qualify for the benefit won’t tend to apply for it.  This seemed a compelling point to me, and Judge Higginson returned to it repeatedly.  This discussion of discretion led to a further discussion of the data, or lack thereof, regarding reasons for refusal and so on in DACA 2012, and why the government didn’t, or couldn’t, provide evidence of discretionary refusals—evidently DHS had not kept track of such discretionary denials separately from other denials.
Also with respect to discretion, Judge Higginson had what I thought was a very interesting point about the perverse incentive that would be created by adopting the states’ viewpoint on what evidences a proper exercise of discretion.  If a high approval rate for those applicants meeting the written policy criteria is evidence of a lack of discretion, does that mean that executive agencies need to be careful not to comply with their written policies too well?  He came back to this again later in the argument.  This too struck me as a compelling point, because the implication of the states’ argument is that executive-branch policies not meant to confer enforceable rights on the public may only be defensible if the administration is careful to be arbitrary and unpredictable, allowing lower-level officers to make decisions without any meaningful guidance from their superiors—which would be a very strange way to run the executive branch, and a very strange policy to mandate as a matter of administrative law.
Judge Higginson also pointed out that in one of the cases the states have cited, the remedy for an agency supposedly not exercising the discretion that it claimed to be exercising was remand to the agency.  But he seemed potentially convinced by TSG Keller’s response that this possibility would be more relevant to the merits than to the stay.
In an interesting exchange towards the end of TSG Keller’s argument, both he and Judge Elrod seemed to say that if it were “just deferred action” this would be a very different case.  It seems to me, however, that the difference is not so clear, because once you get “just deferred action” you are eligible for an EAD under the existing regulations, as I have explained previously.
In his rebuttal argument, AAG Mizer argued that deferred action has always conferred lawful presence, and that Congress has acknowledged that.
Judge Elrod pressed AAG Mizner during his rebuttal regarding what scheme Texas could use to decide whom to give driver’s licenses to, that would not necessarily result in the grant of licenses to DAPA recipients, as the U.S.’s argument had seemed to suggest was possible.  AAG Mizer indicated that Texas could come up with a classification scheme not relying on employment authorization, as long as there was a legitimate state reason for that classification scheme.
Judge Higginson followed up with an interesting question about whether Congressional appropriations sufficient to remove all 11 million unauthorized aliens would mandate that this be done.  AAG Mizer responded there would be an impoundment problem with the funds not being utilized for their intended purpose in that hypothetical, but that the government would still have some residual discretion to consider foreign policy and humanitarian concerns and so on.
Regarding the “status quo” standard for a stay, Mizer points them to Justice O’Connor’s stay opinion in INS v. Legalization Assistance Project, 510 U.S. 1301 (1993) (O’Connor, J., in chambers), regarding the injury that the federal government suffers when the judicial branch interferes in its internal processes.
At the end of the argument, Judge Elrod pushed AAG Mizer regarding whether there would be significant benefits granted during a period after any lifting of the stay that would be difficult to unwind if the preliminary injunction were ultimately affirmed.  She did not seem convinced by his response.
Based on this oral argument, the most difficult prediction appears to me to be what view Judge Smith will take on the merits.  Although it seemed from Judge Smith’s questions regarding Massachusetts v. EPA that he was inclined to find in favor of the plaintiff states with regard to standing, his questions did not reveal his view of the merits to the extent that Judge Elrod’s did.  Judge Higginson was also a bit harder to read than Judge Elrod, but on balance it seems from the oral argument that he is more likely to favor the federal government’s position.  Even if Judge Smith and Judge Elrod were both to agree that the plaintiff states had standing, however, a stay could still be granted if Judge Smith were to agree with Judge Higginson’s apparent view of the federal government’s likelihood of prevailing on the merits.  While I am not sure how likely such an outcome is, it is not a possibility that I would entirely rule out based solely on the oral argument.

April 12, 2015

AAO FIRMLY TETHERS H-1B WORKERS TO AN LCA LIKE A DOG IS TO A LEASH

By Cyrus D. Mehta

In Matter of Simeio Solutions, LLC, 26 I&N Dec. 542 (AAO 2015), the AAO affirmed the Service Center Director's decision and revoked the petition's approval. Among other things, the Director had concluded that changes in the beneficiary's places of employment constituted a material change to the terms and conditions of employment as specified in the original petition. The changes included different metropolitan statistical areas from the original place of employment, which USCIS agents were unable to find. The AAO found that the petitioner should have filed an amended Form I-129 H-1B petition corresponding to a new labor condition application (LCA) that reflected these changes, but the petitioner failed to do so. The AAO noted that petitioners must immediately notify USCIS of any changes in the terms and conditions of employment of a beneficiary that may affect eligibility for H−1B status
In affirming the Director's decision, the AAO noted:
(1) A change in the place of employment of a beneficiary to a geographical area requiring a corresponding Labor Condition Application for Nonimmigrant Workers (LCA) be certified to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security with respect to that beneficiary may affect eligibility for H-1B status; it is therefore a material change for purposes of 8 CFR §§ 214.2(h)(2)(i)(E) and (11)(i)(A) (2014).
(2) When there is a material change in the terms and conditions of employment, the petitioner must file an amended or new H−1B petition with the corresponding LCA.
In the not too distant past, employers relied on informal USCIS guidance indicating that so long as a new LCA was obtained prior to placing an H-1B worker at a new worksite, an amended H-1B petition was not required. See Letter from Efren Hernandez III, Dir., Bus. And Trade Branch, USCIS, to Lynn Shotwell, Am. Council on int’l Pers., Inc. (October 23, 2003). The AAO has now explicitly stated in Simeio Solutions, footnote 7, that the Hernandez guidance has been superseded. Even prior to the guidance being formally superseded, employers were filing amended H-1B petitions as consular officers were recommending to the USCIS that the H-1B petition be revoked if a new LCA was obtained without an amendment of the H-1B petition. According to the AAO, “[i]f an employer does not submit the LCA to USCIS in support of a new or amended H-1B petition, the process is incomplete and the LCA is not certified to the Secretary of Homeland Security.” The AAO cites INA 101(a)(15)(H)(i)(b), 8 CFR 214.2(h)(4)(i)B)(1) and 20 CFR 655.700(b) to support its position, but none of these provisions seem to suggest that an LCA obtained after an H-1B petition has already been submitted is not valid if it is “not certified to the Secretary of Homeland Security.”   The DOL certifies the LCA. There is no separate process where the DOL also has to certify the LCA to the Secretary of Homeland Security.
It is not so much the cost that troubles employers with respect to filing an amended H-1B petition. The USCIS has made it extremely onerous for employers to obtain H-1B petitions especially when an H-1B worker will be assigned to third party client sites. This is a legitimate business model that American companies across the board rely on to meet their IT needs, but the USICS requires an onerous demonstration that the petitioning company will still have a right to control the H-1B worker’s employment. Each time the employer files an amendment, the USCIS will again make the employer demonstrate the employer-employee relationship through the issuance of a humongous Request for Evidence (RFE). The employer will thus risk a denial upon seeking an amendment, even though it received an H-1B approval initially on virtually the same facts.
H-1B workers in other industries such as healthcare also get re-assigned to different locations, such as physicians, nurses and physical therapists. They too will be over burdened by the need to file amended H-1B petitions each time they move to a new work location. One may also have to await the approval of the amendment before the H-1B worker can move to the new job location. The portability provision at INA 214(n) seems to apply only when an H-1B worker is accepting “new employment” by a “prospective employer of a new petition.” 
Arguably, if an H-1B worker is being moved to a new job location within the same area of intended employment, a new LCA is not required and nor will an H-1B amendment be required. The original LCA should still be posted in the new work location within the same area of intended employment.
20 CFR 655.17 defines “area of intended employment”:
Area of intended employment means the area within normal commuting distance of the place (address) of employment where the H-1B nonimmigrant is or will be employed. There is no rigid measure of distance which constitutes a normal commuting distance or normal commuting area, because there may be widely varying factual circumstances among different areas (e.g., normal commuting distances might be 20, 30, or 50 miles). If the place of employment is within a Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) or a Primary Metropolitan Statistical Area (PMSA), any place within the MSA or PMSA is deemed to be within normal commuting distance of the place of employment; however, all locations within a Consolidated Metropolitan Statistical Area (CMSA) will not automatically be deemed to be within normal commuting distance. The borders of MSAs and PMSAs are not controlling with regard to the identification of the normal commuting area; a location outside of an MSA or PMSA (or a CMSA) may be within normal commuting distance of a location that is inside (e.g., near the border of) the MSA or PMSA (or CMSA).
So a move to a new job location within New York City would not trigger a new LCA, although the previously obtained LCA would need to be posted at the new work location. This could happen if an entire office moved from one location to another within NYC, or even if the H-1B worker moved from one client site to another within NYC.   
The  DOL Wage and Hour Division Fact Sheet # 62J at http://www.dol.gov/whd/regs/compliance/FactSheet62/whdfs62j.htm also confirms this:
If the employer requires the H-1B worker to move from one worksite to another worksite within a geographic area of intended employment, must the employer obtain an LCA for each worksite within that area of intended employment?
No. The employer need not obtain a new LCA for another worksite within the geographic area of intended employment where the employer already has an existing LCA for that area. However, while the prevailing wage on the existing LCA applies to any worksite within the geographic area of intended employment, the notice to workers must be posted at each individual worksite, and the strike/lockout prohibition also applies to each individual worksite.
The AAO decision in Simeio Solutions further over regulates the H-1B visa, which is already subject to the most hyper-technical scrutiny. This in turn will deprive American companies of an efficient business model that has provided reliability to companies in the United States and throughout the industrialized world to obtain top-drawer talent quickly with flexibility and at affordable prices and scale that benefit end consumers and promote diversity of product development. This is what the oft-criticized “job shop” readily provides. By making possible a source of expertise that can be modified and redirected in response to changing demand, uncertain budgets, shifting corporate priorities and unpredictable fluctuations in the business cycle itself, the pejorative reference to them as “job shop” is, in reality, the engine of technological ingenuity on which progress in the global information age largely depends.  Such a business model is also consistent with free trade, which the US promotes vehemently to other countries, but seems to restrict when it applies to service industries located in countries such as India that desire to do business in the US through their skilled personnel
The Hernandez guidance provided flexibility to employers whose H-1B workers frequently moved between client locations, while ensuring the integrity of the H-1B visa program. Employers were still required to obtain new LCAs based on the prevailing wage in the new area of employment, and also notify US workers. However, they were not required to file onerous H-1B amendments each time there was a move, and risk further arbitrary and capricious scrutiny. The AAO has removed this flexibility, and has further regulated the H-1B to such an extent that the LCA must now always firmly and securely tether an H-1B worker through an amended petition just like a dog is to his leash, although the latter may still be occasionally let loose to enjoy more freedom than an H-1B!