October 26, 2014

FOGO DE CHAO v. DHS: A SIGNIFICANT DECISION FOR L-1B SPECIALIZED FOREIGN CHEFS AND BEYOND

The best way for a great nation of immigrants such as America to showcase its richness and diversity is through fine ethnic restaurants. A better appreciation of different cuisines can also foster tolerance and social harmony. Cities and towns become more interesting and thrive if they have restaurants with diverse cuisines. For such restaurants to exist, though, there needs to be an immigration policy that would allow restaurants to access foreign specialty chefs. This unfortunately is not the case. The United States Immigration and Citizenship Services (USCIS) views applications for chefs under the limited and narrowly drawn nonimmigrant visa categories with a jaundiced eye. One such pathway for chefs is the L-1B visa for specialized knowledge employees who are being transferred from a foreign entity to a qualifying US entity.  The Brazilian restaurant chain Fogo de Chao successfully brought in 200 specialty chefs on the L-1B visa, when the USCIS changed its mind and denied one of their visas. The restaurant appealed the denial. 
On October 21, 2014, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in  Fogo de Chao v. DHS, No. 13-5301, skewered the USCIS for denying the L-1B visa to a Brazilian churrasqueiro or gaucho chef.  Fogo de Chao contended that it sought to recreate for its customers in the United States an authentic churrascaria experience, and it did so by employing a number of gaucho chefs from Brazil who learned this style of cooking first hand by growing up in the Rio Girande do Sul region and through training and at least two years of experience in Fogo de Chao’s Brazilian restaurants. A gaucho chef who possessed this knowledge would be capable of i) preparing and cooking five to six skewers of meat on an open grill; ii) circulating through the dining room to carve meats for guests; iii) educating those guests about both the cuts of meat being served and gaucho culinary and cultural traditions, and iv) monitoring the estimated future demand for food over the course of the evening. 
The key issue in Fogo was whether a foreign national chef could gain such specialized knowledge through one’s own cultural traditions, upbringing or life experience. The USCIS, including its Administrative Appeals Office, held that one’s own cultural upbringing falls within the realm of general knowledge rather than specialized knowledge, and thus such a chef would not qualify for an L-1B visa. The Court of Appeals in Fogo disagreed with the USCIS’s  rather wooden application of the law. (Many immigration practitioners like me will take great delight in the scolding given to the USCIS for  being so wooden as we have experienced this tendency first hand!) The Fogo Court held that there was nothing in INA section 214(c)(2)(B) which precludes culturally acquired knowledge as a form of specialized knowledge. That INA section defines specialized knowledge in a rather circular way, as follows: 
…an alien is considered to be serving in a capacity involving specialized knowledge with respect to a company if the alien has a special knowledge of the company product and its application in international markets or has an advanced level of knowledge of processes and procedures of the company   
A government agency’s interpretation of an ambiguous statute is entitled to deference under Chevron U.S.A. Inc. v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc., 467 U.S. 837 (1984)—often abbreviated as “Chevron deference”. Most are deterred from seeking review of a “wooden” decision in federal court to challenge an erroneous decision of the USCIS because of the Chevron deference the court will give to the government’s interpretation of a particular visa statutory provision.  The Fogo Court  gave no such deference because the USCIS regulation at 8 CFR section 214.2(l)(1)(ii)(D) merely parroted the statutory L-1B definition in the same circular manner, and a parroting regulation deserves no deference. Gonzales v Oregon, 546 US 243, 257 (2006). Instead, the Court applied the lower standard under Skidmore v. Swift & Co, 323 U.S. 134 (1944) where the weight accorded to an administrative interpretation or judgment “depends upon the thoroughness evident in its consideration, the validity of its reasoning, its consistency with earlier and later pronouncements, and all those facts which give it power to persuade, if lacking power to control.”   Even under the lower Skidmore standard, the Fogo Court held that the Administrative Appeals Office lacked the power to persuade that it could categorically exclude cultural knowledge as a basis for specialized knowledge. 
Also noteworthy in Fogo  was  the government’s  dismissal of  the relevance of the economic hardship the restaurant  would suffer if it had to train another employee to perform the gaucho chef’s proposed duties. The Fogo Court disagreed, emphasizing that economic inconvenience is sometimes the most concrete evidence that can be used to determine whether knowledge is specialized. According to the Fogo Court: “Consideration of evidence of this type provides some predictability to a comparative analysis otherwise relatively devoid of settled guideposts….That specialized knowledge may ultimately be a ‘relative and empty idea which cannot have plain meaning’...is not a feature to be celebrated and certainly not a license for the government to apply a sliding scale of specialness that varies from petition to petition without explanation. Suddenly departing from policy guidance and rejecting outright the relevance of Fogo de Chao’s evidence of economic inconvenience threatens just that.” Id. at 28 (citations omitted). 
Although Fogo applied to a Brazilian gaucho chef, it can arguably be applied to other occupations involving specialized knowledge. Skills gained through certain cultural practices may be relevant in determining specialized knowledge in other settings, such as Japanese management techniques. Similarly, acquiring deep knowledge in a particular software application through another employer can equip the L-1B visa applicant with specialized knowledge that can stand out in comparison to others. Moreover, demonstrating economic hardship as a way to prove specialized knowledge has gained more force after Fogo. The 1994 Puleo Memorandum was resurrected in Fogo, which endorsed a dictionary definition of the terms “special” and “advance” rather than solely tether specialized knowledge to the company’s products or processes. Fogo has also paved the way to argue that the USCIS’s interpretation of specialized knowledge does not deserve Chevron deference.   Finally, Fogo ought to potentially have more precedential value than other circuit court decisions since under  28 U.S.C. §1391(e)(1)(B) a petitioner could seek review in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia as the Administrative Appeals Office is located in the District of Columbia.

In recent times, the USICS has had the upper hand in L-1B visa adjudications by literally reading specialized knowledge out of the statute. Fogo  thus comes as a breath of fresh air and should hopefully temper the USCIS’s zeal in “woodenly” debarring specialized knowledge workers who can otherwise bring great value to America. We all need to forcefully deploy the hidden nuggets in Fogo to restore the more commonsensical definition of specialized knowledge. 

October 20, 2014

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

By David A. Isaacson

In my previous post Burning Down the House: The Second and Third Circuits Split on Whether Arson Not Relating to Interstate Commerce is an Aggravated Felony, I raised the issue of whether the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in Luna Torres v. Holder, No. 13-2498 (August 20, 2014), should have deferred as it did to the decision of the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) in Matter of Bautista, 25 I&N Dec. 616 (BIA 2011), after the Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit had already vacated that decision in Bautista v. Attorney General, 744 F.3d 54 (3d Cir. 2014).  As I was reminded by Matthew L. Guadagno in the comments to that post, it is a conventionally accepted rule that “when a precedent decision of the Board is struck down by a circuit court, that precedent decision continues to be followed by the Board in all other circuits unless the Board renders a new decision.”  But one of the points I had been trying to make in Burning Down the House, although evidently not clearly enough, is that the federal courts should not give deference to the Board’s common practice in this regard.  This follow-up post attempts to clarify my thinking on the matter.
As I noted in Burning Down the House, it seems in some sense disrespectful of the Third Circuit’s decision vacating Matter of Bautista for the Second Circuit to have said, as it did, that “Matter of Bautista . . . governs Luna’s case.”  Arguably, there was no extant decision and judgment of the BIA in Matter of Bautista which could so govern, since it had already been vacated by a court of competent jurisdiction.  The precedential decision in Matter of Bautista, in an important sense, no longer existed by the time of the Second Circuit’s decision.  And while the BIA had reached the same result in its unpublished decision in Luna Torres’s case as in Matter of Bautista, the Second Circuit had previously held, in Rotimi v. Gonzales, 473 F.3d 55, 56 (2d Cir. 2007), that “a nonprecedential decision by a single member of the BIA should not be accorded Chevron deference” (that is, deference under Chevron, U.S.A., Inc. v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc., 467 U.S. 837 (1984)).  Thus, the nonprecedential decision in Luna Torres’s case cannot, under Rotimi, have been what the Second Circuit was deferring to in its opinion.  Deference was evidently given to Matter of Bautista itself, and yet one might reasonably ask why the Second Circuit should have felt itself bound to defer to a precedential decision that had already been vacated by another Court of Appeals.
The general rule, as has been recognized by the Second Circuit and by other courts, is that “vacatur dissipates precedential force,” In re: Bernard Madoff Inv. Securities LLC, 721 F.3d 54, 68 (2d Cir. 2013).  That is, “vacated opinions are not precedent.”  Asgeirsson v. Abbott, 696 F.3d 454, 459 (5th Cir. 2012).  Or, as the Ninth Circuit has put it more emphatically, “a decision that has been vacated has no precedential effect whatsoever.”  Durning v. Citibank, N.A., 950 F.2d 1419, 1424 n.2 (9th Cir. 1991) (emphasis in original).  These opinions referred to the vacating of a federal court decision, not the vacating of a BIA decision, but logically the principle should apply to a vacated BIA decision as well.
To vacate, after all, has been defined as “to annul; to cancel or rescind; to render an act void; as, to vacate an entry of record, or a judgment.”  Matter of Bautista was annulled, was cancelled, was rescinded, by the Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, in a case over which that Court properly had jurisdiction.  It was, one might say, dead, having been killed by a competent authority.  And yet, the Second Circuit in Luna Torres deferred to the BIA’s vacated decision in Matter of Bautista as a precedent nonetheless—perhaps because the argument was not made that it ought not do so.  One might refer to Matter of Bautista, under such circumstances, as a zombie precedent, one which has risen from the grave to walk the earth again even after being killed.
To be sure, a vacated decision can under some circumstances have “persuasive authority” even though it is not binding.  Brown v. Kelly, 609 F.3d 467, 477 (2d Cir. 2010).  The analog of such persuasive authority in the context of a BIA decision under review by a Court of Appeals, however, would be not Chevron deference, but the more limited form of deference given under Skidmore v. Swift & Co., 323 U.S. 134 (1944), to an administrative opinion with the “power to persuade,” Skidmore, 323 U.S. at 140, which some Courts of Appeals have found applicable to non-precedential BIA decisions, as in Ruiz-Del-Cid v. Holder, 765 F.3d 635 (6th Cir. 2014), Siwe v. Holder, 742 F.3d 603, 607 (5th Cir. 2014), and Latter-Singh v. Holder, 668 F.3d 1156, 1160 (9th Cir. 2012).  (The Second Circuit has reserved the question whether unpublished, non-precedent BIA opinions are even entitled to Skidmore deference, for example in Mei Juan Zheng v. Holder, 672 F.3d 178, 186 n.4 (2d Cir. 2012).) Even if a zombie precedent still walks the earth in some form, therefore, it should not have the same force and effect as a precedential opinion that has not been vacated, killed, by a Court of Appeals.
The somewhat obscure question of whether certain arson crimes constitute aggravated felonies is far from the only context in which zombie precedents play a significant role in immigration law.  The decision of former Attorney General Michael Mukasey in Matter of Silva-Trevino, 24 I&N Dec. 687 (A.G. 2008), for example, which altered the long-standing approach for determining whether certain convictions qualified as crimes involving moral turpitude, was vacated by the Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in Silva-Trevino v. Holder, 742 F.3d 197 (5th Cir. 2014).  The American Bar Association has written a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder urging him to withdraw Matter of Silva-Trevino, but Attorney General Holder appears content to let the process play out in the Courts of Appeals.  (Now that Attorney General Holder has announced his impending resignation, we may eventually get to see whether his successor feels differently.)  So for the moment, under the BIA’s conventional practice, Matter of Silva-Trevino would continue to govern in the circuits whose Courts of Appeals have not yet specifically rejected it.  Although vacated by the Fifth Circuit, Matter of Silva-Trevino may continue its existence as a zombie precedent.  If the Second Circuit, in a future case, were to address an unpublished BIA opinion purporting to rely on Matter of Silva-Trevino, one might expect, based on the Second Circuit’s decision in Luna-Torres, that the Second Circuit would continue to defer to the rule of Matter of Silva-Trevino despite that precedent’s zombie status, rather than refusing under Rotimi to give Chevron deference to the unpublished opinion which had purported to rely on Matter of Silva-Trevino. One might also hope, however, that the Second Circuit would handle the matter differently, if an alternative possibility were brought to its attention.
There is indeed an alternative to respecting zombie precedents, which would still allow the BIA to perform its functions as an administrative agency entitled generally to Chevron deference, while giving more appropriate weight to the actions of a Court of Appeals that has overturned a precedent decision despite such deference.  As discussed in Burning Down the House, the Second Circuit could in Luna Torres have vacated the nonprecedential decision in Luna Torres’s case and remanded to the BIA for the issuance of a precedential decision, just as it had vacated the nonprecedential BIA decision in Rotimi and remanded for the issuance of a precedent decision.  The Court of Appeals would thereby have said to the BIA, in effect, that it should, in light of the Third Circuit’s decision in Bautista, issue a new precedential decision, Matter of Luna Torres.  The BIA could then have determined in this new decision not only whether it continued to stand by its reasoning from Matter of Bautista in light of the Third Circuit’s contrary reasoning, but whether it was troubled by the prospect of its ruling being valid only in some judicial circuits but not others, and whether it might therefore find it appropriate to acquiesce in the Third Circuit’s ruling in the interest of national uniformity.  It does not appear that this possibility was considered by the Second Circuit in Luna Torres.
It is not as though the BIA’s action, when presented with such a choice, would necessarily be foreordained.  Admittedly, 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.  In Matter of E.W. Rodriguez, 25 I&N Dec. 784 (BIA 2012), for example, 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. However, in some instances, the BIA has also been known to reverse course following rejection of its precedent by one or more Courts of Appeals.
In Matter of Silva, 16 I&N Dec. 26 (BIA 1976), for example, 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) to certain lawful permanent residents who had not departed from the United States following a criminal conviction.  In so doing, the BIA declined to follow its own earlier contrary decision in Matter of Arias-Uribe, 13 I&N Dec. 696 (BIA 1971).
Similarly, in Matter of Marcal Neto, 25 I&N Dec. 169 (BIA 2010), the BIA overruled Matter of Perez Vargas, 23 I&N Dec. 829 (BIA 2005), which had barred Immigration Judges from evaluating the continuing validity of an I-140 petition following the exercise of portability under INA §204(j), after the rejection of Perez Vargas by several Courts of Appeals.  Matter of Perez Vargas had by that time been vacated by the Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in Perez-Vargas v. Gonzales, 478 F.3d 191 (4th Cir. 2007), and thus was already what I have called a zombie precedent.  The conventional view would say that Courts of Appeals should have deferred to Matter of Perez-Vargas until Matter of Marcal Neto was decided; I would argue that after Perez-Vargas v. Gonzales was decided, unpublished decisions relying on Matter of Perez Vargas were no longer entitled to deference, since Matter of Perez Vargas itself no longer existed.  In the end, the BIA did decide to retreat from its zombie decision and adopt the view of the Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit (as well as other Courts of Appeals that had addressed the matter).
In some cases, the BIA might, after a Court of Appeals decision rejecting its analysis of an issue, find some third approach that incorporated the wisdom of the Court of Appeals decision without following it exactly.  In Matter of Alyazji, 25 I&N Dec. 397 (BIA 2011), for example, the BIA overruled Matter of Shanu, 23 I&N Dec. 754 (BIA 2005), in part following its rejection by some circuit Courts of Appeals.  The BIA in Matter of Alyazji did not entirely adopt the theory of those Courts of Appeals that an adjustment of status was simply not an “admission” for purposes of determining deportability under INA §237(a)(2)(A)(i) for conviction of a crime involving moral turpitude committed within five years after the date of admission.  The BIA in Alyazji accepted a similar result in most contexts and retreated from Shanu, however, by holding that the date of admission for purposes of INA §237(a)(2)(A)(i) deportability was “the date of the admission by virtue of which the alien was present in the United States when he committed his crime”—so that the clock would run from a prior admission as a nonimmigrant that had been followed by an adjustment of status, and would not restart anew from the adjustment of status, unless the person being adjudged deportable had adjusted status after entering the United States without inspection (and thus had no prior admission by virtue of which he was present in the United States at the time). Here as well, therefore, the BIA did not simply insist that it would adhere to a prior precedent decision until that precedent decision was rejected by every Court of Appeals or by the Supreme Court, in the way that the conventional view of what I have called zombie precedents seems to suggest.
In a case where the zombie precedent was originally decided by an Attorney General, it seems even less likely that the BIA would continue to follow it in a precedential decision if informed by a Court of Appeals that it had that option.  Matter of Silva-Trevino was a departure by former Attorney General Michael Mukasey from many years of BIA precedent, and there is no apparent reason that the BIA, or current Attorney General Eric Holder, or his successor, should be so enamored of Silva-Trevino following its rejection by multiple Courts of Appeals as to insist on it in a new precedential decision.  A refusal by Courts of Appeals to defer to Matter of Silva-Trevino as a zombie precedent, unless its reasoning were reaffirmed in a precedent decision made free of the original decision’s binding force, might therefore hasten its demise substantially.
We know from fiction such as The Walking Dead and Night of the Living Dead that zombies are not, ordinarily, thought to be especially appealing or worthy beings.  For the reasons explained in this blog, zombie precedents should be given no more respect.  If the BIA wants courts to defer to the reasoning of a precedent decision that has already been given a proper burial by a Court of Appeals, the BIA should be required to afford that reasoning new life through a new precedent decision, which gives proper consideration to the contrary views of the Court of Appeals that vacated the original decision and explains why those contrary views have been disregarded.

October 13, 2014

EBOLA AND INADMISSIBILITY

By Cyrus D. Mehta and David A. Isaacson

The United States has started Ebola screenings at 5 major airports.  Will these screenings really be effective, or are they being implemented by the administration to demonstrate that it is doing something to assuage public fears?  The administration has also been criticized by Republican leaders who are pushing to restrict, if not completely block off, air travel from West Africa. The tragic death of Thomas Duncan in Dallas from Ebola who had flown into the United States from Liberia has further exacerbated these fears. 
While the airport screenings would apply to all travelers from affected West African countries, including U.S. citizens, non-citizens would certainly be more vulnerable. The fears stemming from the Ebola epidemic are redolent of an earlier time when immigrants who travelled to the shores of the United States were processed at Ellis Island and excluded for a host of diseases, notably including the eye infection trachoma. A Marine General recently warned about hordes of Ebola infected immigrants running for the U.S. border, stoking similar fears today. Anti-immigrant groups are using Ebola, along with ISIS, to further their argument that immigrants are dangerous to the United States, and several Republican politicians including former Massachusetts Senator and current New Hampshire Senate candidate Scott Brown, North Carolina Senate candidate Thom Tillis, and Senator Rand Paul, have cited Ebola to support increased border security along the U.S.-Mexico border
Pursuant to section 212(a)(1)(A)(i) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), aliens who are determined to have a communicable disease of public health significance are ineligible to receive visas and ineligible to be admitted in the United States. By regulation, under 42 CFR 34.2, the term “communicable disease of public health significance” includes “quarantinable communicable diseases as listed in a Presidential Executive Order,” a list which has included Ebola and other viral hemorrhagic fevers since President George W. Bush issued Executive Order 13295 in 2003. Under the authority of INA section 232, 8 U.S.C. 1222, aliens arriving in the United States may be subjected to detention and physical and mental examination to determine whether they are afflicted with a condition that would render them inadmissible, such as Ebola. 
Interestingly, however, under INA 232(b) and 42 CFR 34.8, an applicant for admission who was suspected of having Ebola and found inadmissible on that basis, who disputed the finding, could appeal to a board of medical officers. Presumably, even if one has been quarantined after showing signs of being infected but has recovered, he or she ought to be admitted into the United States.  And since INA §212(a)(1) is not among the grounds which can be a basis for expedited removal under INA §235, 8 U.S.C. §1225, this would presumably all take place, even for a nonimmigrant, in the context of regular removal proceedings before an Immigration Judge, unless DHS felt it could argue with a straight face that the nonimmigrant also fell under INA §212(a)(6)(C) or §212(a)(7) and was thus amenable to expedited removal.  The nonimmigrant might, for example, be said to have lied to a consular officer or DHS officer about their illness and thus become inadmissible under INA §212(a)(6)(C)(i). 
A Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR), on the other hand, at least if returning from a trip of less than 180 days and not having committed any crimes or taken any other actions which would otherwise cause them to be treated as an applicant for admission, would not be regarding as seeking admission to the United States, pursuant to INA section 101(a)(13)(C), 8 U.S.C. §1101(13)(C). That is, the LPR would be considered rather as if he or she had never left the United States at all, because under section 101(a)(13)(C), becoming medically inadmissible under section 212(a)(1) doesn’t cause an LPR to be regarded as seeking admission in the way that certain criminal conduct does. So the LPR would be allowed in, if perhaps under quarantine, not necessarily because he or she were admissible but because admissibility is irrelevant for someone who is not an applicant for admission. There does not appear to be any provision in INA section 237, regarding deportability, which would relate to those who become afflicted with contagious diseases after already having been admitted.
An LPR who had been out of the United States for more than 180 days could potentially be in a more troubling situation. Under INA §101(a)(13)(C)(ii), an LPR who “has been absent from the United States for a continuous period in excess of 180 days” is not entitled to the statutory protection against being regarding as seeking admission, so such an LPR could be found inadmissible under INA 212(a)(1)(A)(i) if infected with Ebola. And although a waiver of such inadmissibility is available pursuant to section 212(g)(1) of the INA, that section requires for a waiver of 212(a)(1)(A)(i) inadmissibility that the waiver applicant have a qualifying relative of one of various sorts, unless he or she is a VAWA self-petitioner.  So an LPR absent from the United States for more than 180 days who does not have a spouse, parent (if the LPR is unmarried), son, or daughter who is either a U.S. citizen, or an LPR, or someone who has been issued an immigrant visa, might not be allowed back into the United States after being infected with Ebola, having become an inadmissible applicant for admission and being ineligible for a 212(g)(1) waiver.  
We wonder whether such a loss of LPR status due to an infection would be constitutional, but we know that according to the Supreme Court, long-term absences from the United States can strip returning residents of some of their constitutional protections. The regrettable decision in Shaughnessy v. Mezei, 345 U.S. 2006 (1953), which upheld the refusal to admit a returning resident without a hearing and his resulting indefinite detention on Ellis Island, has never been overturned (though its practical effect with regard to the permissible length of detention under current statutes was limited by Clark v. Martinez, 543 U.S. 371 (2005)), and Mr. Mezei had lived in the U.S., apparently lawfully although before the INA of 1952 was enacted and the modern LPR status created, for many years before his 19-month absence. An LPR who is absent from the United States for more than 180 days and becomes infected with Ebola in the meantime may be at risk of becoming the modern Mezei. At the very least, however, the government should be held to the burden of showing such an LPR’s alleged medical inadmissibility by clear, convincing, and unequivocal evidence, as in Woodby v. INS, 385 U.S. 276 (1966), just as LPRs alleged to be inadmissible on other bases have been found entitled to the protection of the Woodby standard in such cases as Ward v. Holder, 733 F.3d 601 (6th Cir. 2013). (The BIA in Matter of Rivens, 25 I&N Dec. 623 (BIA 2011), has acknowledged that clear and convincing evidence is required to declare an LPR an applicant for admission under INA §101(a)(13)(C), although it reserved judgment on the question whether there is a difference for these purposes between clear and convincing evidence as mentioned in INA §240(c)(3)(A) and clear, unequivocal and convincing evidence as mentioned in Woodby.)

As a practical matter, it is unlikely that any non-citizen found to be infected with Ebola would be turned away on the next flight home, or even paroled into the US for a removal proceeding, as this would expose others to the Ebola virus.  He or she would be quarantined in a hospital and treated in the United States. If this person fully recovers, he or she should be found admissible.  Otherwise, this person will unfortunately under the current state of medical advances in the treatment of Ebola most likely not be alive.
While the United States should not be nonchalant about the spread of deadly infectious diseases such as Ebola, the question is whether screenings at airports are the right way to deal with the problem? Ebola can incubate in a person for up to 21 days before an infected person shows symptoms, as was the case with Mr. Duncan. It has recently come to light that Mr. Duncan’s treatment was less than satisfactory as he was discharged from the hospital when he had a high fever.  There are very few passengers who fly into the United States each day from the three countries that are at the epicenter of the Ebola epidemic – Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. Blocking off flights from these countries, due to political grandstanding, will hurt these countries’ economies even further, and will have an adverse impact on trade and investment. This will further hinder their efforts to stem Ebola, and one way to stem an epidemic is to keep people working and normal. In addition, perceived fears about who has Ebola can result in racial profiling of people of certain nationalities, resulting in wrongful denial of visas or admission into the United States. 
As a recent editorial in the Washington Post aptly stated, “The answer to Ebola is fighting it there, at the source, not at the U.S. border. No one is protected when a public health emergency is used for political grandstanding.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Thomas Frieden sensibly told reporters, “Though we might wish we can seal ourselves off from the world, there are Americans who have the right of return and many other people that have the right to enter this country.”  As The Economist noted in its recent article on the topic that Dr. Frieden and Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the infectious diseases component of the National Institutes of Health, have explained, “quarantining West Africa would be unwise.  It would weaken governments, trap Americans and spur travellers to move in roundabout ways that make them harder to track.” If the administration believes that screening those who arrive in the United States for Ebola symptoms may be a helpful component of a broader anti-Ebola strategy, it should not taken too far. We must also be careful not to exclude from the United States people who show no real signs of being infected, and accord those who do appear to have been infected full due process to either contest or overcome inadmissibility.


October 6, 2014

KERRY V. DIN: AN OPPORTUNITY FOR THE SUPREME COURT TO RECONSIDER THE DOCTRINE OF CONSULAR NON-REVIEWABILITY

By Gary Endelman and Cyrus D. Mehta

The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country.
President Abraham Lincoln, Second Annual Message (December 1, 1862)
Not since the landmark case of Kleindienst v. Mandel, 408 U.S. 753 ( 1972) has the Supreme Court revisited the well-settled doctrine of consular nonreviewability. That may be about to change as the Supreme Court has agreed to hear Kerry v. Din, Docket No. 13-1402. The vehicle for this doctrinal review is not the complaint of the unadmitted alien but that of the American citizens  the abridgement of whose constitutional rights provides the standing  to find out what happened and why. Indeed, it is precisely when denial of a visa impinges upon the free and full exercise of such constitutional freedoms that the courts have recognized a meaningful but limited exception to consular non reviewability.  Bustamanate v. Mukasey, 531 F. 3d 1059 (9th Cir. 2013).
It so often happens that a spouse or parent of a US citizen is denied an immigrant visa at a US consulate on opaque grounds. Although the I-130 petition was carefully reviewed and approved, the consular officer can use any number of grounds under INA section 212 to deny an application for an immigrant visa, thus causing the permanent separation of the relative with the US citizen. Worse still, the consul need not cite the factual basis for the denial and can only refer to the statutory provision. Take for example the “Security and related grounds” of inadmissibility under INA section 212(a)(3), which provide:
(A) In general – Any alien who a consular officer or the Attorney General knows, or has reasonable ground to believe, seeks to enter the United States to engage solely, principally, or incidentally in – 
(i) Any activity
(I) To violate any law of the United States relating to espionage or sabotage or  
(II) To violate or evade any law prohibiting the export from the United States of goods, technology, or sensitive information, 
(ii) any other unlawful activity; or
(iii) any activity a purpose of which is the opposition to, or the control or overthrow of, the government of the United States by force, violence, or other unlawful means is inadmissible
A consul can merely cite “section 212(a)(3)” when denying an applicant seeking an immigrant visa based on an I-130 petition filed by a US citizen relative. It is impossible to know whether this individual was denied the immigrant visa because the consul had reasonable grounds to believe that he or she was seeking to enter the United States to violate a law relating to espionage or prohibiting the export of some sensitive technology or some other unlawful activity. This individual in any event would find it difficult to contest the denial under the plenary power doctrine, which upholds the power of Congress to establish rules for the admission or exclusion of aliens. Given the absence of a factual basis, it would be even more difficult for this individual to challenge the denial even informally with a consular officer if no factual basis has been provided under section 212(a)(3). The absence of such disclosure seems in direct contradiction of the State Department regulation requiring consular officials in the event of an immigrant visa denial to “inform the applicant of the provision of law or implementing regulation under which administrative relief is available.” 22 C.F.R. section 42.81(b). It is worth noting that this minimum level of disclosure does not prevent a more complete explanation to the visa applicant or the US citizen petitioner.
As noted above, despite the existence of the doctrine of consular non-reviewability, a visa applicant may still seek review under limited circumstances when the denial implicates the constitutional rights of citizens. Under such circumstances, a consular officer must give a facially legitimate and bona fide reason for the denial. See Kleindienst v. Mandel, supra. The level of review in Kliendienst v. Mandel was highly constrained, and the Court refused to look behind the consular officer’s denial on the ground that Mandel espoused the doctrines of world communism. That in itself was sufficient under the facially legitimate and bona fide test. The US interest in Kliendienst v. Mandel that triggered this limited judicial review were the First Amendment rights of  US citizen professors who had invited Mandel to the United States to receive information and ideas from him.  The facts as recited by the consular officer need not necessarily be true, but, for consular non-reviewability to shield it from further challenge, they must be stated with sufficient specificity and the consul must have a good faith belief in their veracity.
Despite the highly constrained review of the facially legitimate and bona fide test, an Islamic scholar was able to demonstrate that the consul was unable to meet this test in denying him a nonimmigrant visa under the terrorism ground of inadmissibility pursuant to INA 212(a)(3)(B)(i)(1). See American Academy of Religion v. Napolitano, 573 F.3d 115 (2d Cir. 2009). There the Second Circuit acknowledged that there was little guidance regarding the application of the facially legitimate and bona fide standard, and described it as “the identification of both a properly construed statute that provides a ground of exclusion and the consular officer’s assurance that he or she ‘knows or has reason to believe’ that the visa applicant has done something fitting within the proscribed category constitutes a facially legitimate reason.” Id. at 126.    
The limited exception to the consular non-reviewability doctrine has also been extended to citizen’s who have a protected liberty interest in marriage that entitles them to seek review of the denial of a spouse’s visa. See Bustamante v. Mukasey, supra. Though not mentioned by the Ninth Circuit, it is perhaps not too large of a doctrinal enlargement to argue that the protection of such a liberty interest flows naturally from the recognition by the Supreme Court in Loving v. Virginia, 388 U.S. 1 (1967),  that the freedom to marry is a fundamental constitutional right. Surely, the opportunity to live together in marital union in the United States with their spouse is an integral exercise of such freedom by the US citizen visa petitioner. The same high value attached to immediate relative relationships should apply to visa applications by parents of US citizens. While the need to preserve the integrity of the marital union would not manifest itself under such slightly variant facts, the importance of facilitating the migration of older parents to live with their adult US citizen children should be given the same substantial deference. Nor should the wisdom of modifying the consular non-reviewability doctrine not enrich consideration of visa applications advanced by children, whether as immediate relatives, family first preference unmarried adult children or family third preference married adult sons or daughters of US citizens. A disciplined invocation of narrowly drawn statutory provisions and logical, if concise, factual summations brought in good faith are in the manifest interests of the consular corps and those it serves. 
Indeed, when a consular denial recites a broad ground of inadmissibility that contains numerous categories of proscribed conduct such as in INA §212(a)(3)(B), the denial does not meet the facially legitimate and bona fide standard as all that the denial does is to cite a 1,000 word statute without providing a factual basis. See Din v. Kerry, 718 F.3d 856 (9th Cir. 2013). In Din v. Kerry, the applicant whose visa was denied, Mr. Berashk was an Afghan citizen who married Ms. Din, a US citizen. Mr. Berashk had previously worked for the Afghan Ministry of Social Welfare from 1992 to 2003, and the Afghan Ministry of Education from 2003 to present. Since the Taliban ruled Afghanistan for some of the period during his employment with the Afghan government, his visa was initially denied because of INA section 212(a), without citing anything more specific. After contacting the Consulate for clarification, Mr. Berashk was told that his visa was denied under the terrorism related inadmissibility grounds in INA section 212(a)(3)(B). This provision exceeds 1000 words. No factual basis was provided to support the denial.  Therefore, the Ninth Circuit held that the government had not offered a facially legitimate and bona fide reason for the visa denial. The government must cite to a ground narrow enough to allow us to determine that it has been “properly construed” under the test set forth in American Academy, supra
The government appealed the Ninth Circuit’s decision to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court granted certiorari on October 2, 2014. See Kerry v. Din, Docket No. 13-1402. We fail to understand why the government chose to appeal this decision, which essentially upheld the highly constrained review of the facially legitimate and bona fide test set forth in Kleindienst v. Mandel. The Ninth Circuit insisted on the consul providing some factual basis for the denial rather than merely citing a broad statutory provision, but it did not articulate a test beyond what was established in Kleindienst v. Mandel, and further explained in Academy of Religion. As the provisions of inadmissibility get more verbose in INA 212, the applicant who is being denied a visa ought to know the factual basis so that he or she can endeavor to overcome it by trying to submit rebuttal evidence. The dissenting opinion in Din v. Kerry broadly upheld plenary power, and the nation’s desire to keep out persons who are connected with terrorist activities. It held that the citation of the statute, however broad, constituted a facially legitimate and bona fide ground.  In a post 9/11 world, while there are obvious security concerns, the government cannot be allowed to loosely cite terrorism related grounds, without further explanation, that would lead to the permanent separation of a spouse from a US citizen. 
It would be a set back if the Supreme Court reversed the limited review afforded to an applicant for a visa, especially when there is a legitimate US interest involved, by allowing the consul to broadly cite the statutory provision, or worse still, only INA section 212(a) as a basis for denial. While it is disappointing that the Obama administration chose to appeal the Ninth Circuit’s decision in Din v. Kerry, it is hoped that the Supreme Court affirm the limited ability for an individual to seek review of a visa denial that would affect a US interest, such as a spouse, a group of US citizen academics who would otherwise be denied the ability to hear and debate his or her views, or even a US employer who has sponsored a foreign worker for a work visa or for permanent residency. The liberty interest of a US citizen spouse who awaits marital reunion with keen anticipation should be deserving of the same minimal due process that an academic conference would trigger.  The issue is not the need to give due deference to consular visa denials but to put the consul to a minimal burden of proof where the reason for the denial is identified and the facts sustaining it are articulated with sufficient particularity to allow for intelligent review and reasonable challenge. Just as the Obama Administration wisely declined to defend DOMA even before the Supreme Court cast it aside, in wise recognition of its obvious constitutional infirmity, so a willingness to relax the doctrine of consular non-reviewability should inform the Administration’s posture in this litigation and future cases like it.   This may no longer be possible now that the Supreme Court has agreed to hear this case. Doubtless, however, this will not be the last time that the need for relaxation of the consular non-reviewability doctrine will present itself.  When this happens, we urge that the Administration then in power adopt a more enlightened attitude. A compassionate nation deserves no less.
(Guest writer Gary Endelman is the Senior Counsel at FosterQuan)

September 29, 2014

WOULD THE RELIGIOUS FREEDOM GROUND OF INADMISSIBILITY STILL APPLY TO INDIAN PRIME MINISTER NARENDRA MODI?

By Cyrus D. Mehta

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been welcomed by the Indian diaspora without reservations in the United States. This is his first trip to the United States after his tourist/business was revoked on May 18, 2005 under Section 212(a)(2)(G) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). Under INA Section 212(a)(2)(G), any alien who while serving as a foreign government official and who was responsible for or directly carried out particular violations of religious freedom is inadmissible. At that time, Mr. Modi was the Chief Minister of Gujarat state and was not eligible for the A-1 diplomatic visa. In May 2014, Mr. Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party won an outright majority in the Indian Parliament, and as the party’s leader, he became India’s Prime Minister. 
Mr. Modi, as India’s Prime Minister, has presently come to the United States under the A-1 visa, which is granted to diplomats, including heads of state. The A-1 visa overcomes grounds of inadmissibility pursuant to INA Section 102, including the religious freedom ground, but that is only when a person is admitted on the A-1 visa. If Mr. Modi ceases to be a head of state, and does not qualify for an A-1 visa as a diplomatic official under any other capacity, the Section 212(a)(2)(G) ground of inadmissibility may still apply with respect to a new tourist/business visa application that he may apply for, unless it is determined that the factual basis for the prior finding of inadmissibility have changed. The U.S. State Department may also reconsider a prior revocation of a visa, which it has not done so until now with respect to Mr. Modi’s revocation. 
The article that I co-wrote with Elizabeth Reichard on March 25, 2005, appended below, discusses how the religious freedom ground of inadmissibility was applied to Mr. Modi. Following the publication of this 2005 article, however, in December 2010, a special investigative team (SIT) appointed by the Supreme Court of India found “no substantial incriminating evidence” that Chief Minister Modi had let the rioters rampage against the Muslims in February 2002. A local court in India subsequently upheld the closure of the SIT in December 2013, although appeals from victims to reopen proceedings remain pending.  The Gujarat High Court has continued to criticize Chief Minister Modi for “inaction and negligence” during the violence. House Resolution 417 passed in the US Congress in 2013 continues to support the visa ban. Questions still linger about Mr. Modi’s passive role during the riots. 
So long as Mr. Modi enters on an A-1 visa, all grounds of inadmissibility will remain inapplicable. The President still has authority under INA Section 212(f) of any foreign national whom the President deems will be detrimental to the national interest, but it is readily obvious that this provision was not considered with respect to Mr. Modi’s present visit to the United States. Indeed, Mr. Modi is scheduled to have meetings with President Obama and other top US officials, and has also met with leading US industry executives. Mr. Modi also enjoys broad based support from many in the Indian-American community. The question is whether Section 212(a)(2)(G) will trigger if Mr. Modi applied for another nonimmigrant visa in the future? The United States has not officially declared that this inadmissibility ground will not be applied and has never reconsidered the prior revocation. A new visa application would have to be considered in light of the set of facts that apply at that time. The fact that Mr. Modi has been admitted on an A-1 visa to the United States does not in any way mean that the prior visa ban has been rescinded or will not apply in the future.

Published March 25, 2005 on  www.cyrusmehta.com  
RELIGIOUS FREEDOM INADMISSIBILITY GROUND INVOKED FOR THE FIRST TIME AGAINST NARENDRA MODI
by
Cyrus D. Mehta* Elizabeth T. Reichard**
On March 18, 2005, the U.S. Department of State issued a decision to deny a visa to the democratically elected Chief Minister of Gujarat, India, Narendra Modi. Mr. Modi, an important figure in the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), is one of the most divisive politicians in India – loved by Hindu nationalists and despised by others who uphold India’s secular ideals. The decision to deny his visa was largely based on his alleged role in the riots that occurred in Gujarat between February and May of 2002. The riots were spawned after an attack by Muslims on a train in Godhra that resulted in the deaths of 58 Hindus.1 Hindu mobs responded to this attack through violent riots, resulting in the deaths of some 2,000 Muslims and the displacement of some 100,000 Muslims.2
It has been alleged that the riots were supported and possibly encouraged by Mr. Modi, his government and the police in Gujarat. Many have asserted that Mr. Modi personally instructed police officers to allow “peaceful” reactions to the train attack.3 As a result of this instruction, police officials told victims of the riots that they had not been instructed to help them.4 In spite of these allegations, however, Mr. Modi has never been indicted or convicted for his involvement or encouragement in the Gujarat riots. India’s National Human Rights Commission implicated Mr. Modi’s government, but not him specifically, holding that there “there was a comprehensive failure on the part of the State Government to control the persistent violation of the rights to life, liberty, equality and dignity of the State.5 It further indicated that the government’s response to the violence was “often abysmal or even non-existent, pointing to the gross negligence in certain instances or, worse still, as was widely believed, a complicity that was tacit if not explicit.”6 The Indian Supreme Court has also implicated Mr. Modi’s government by transferring criminal prosecutions of persons connected to the riots out of courts in Gujarat.
Still, even with these findings, Mr. Modi has never been officially charged for his role in the riots. The closest documents assigning him blame are the U.S. Department of State’s 2002 Report on Human Rights Practices and International Religious Freedom Report.7 Both reports specifically mention the allegations brought against Mr. Modi in the Gujarat riots, and it was these reports that could have served as the basis for the denial of Mr. Modi’s admission to the United States.
I. Analysis of Section 212(a)(2)(G) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) 
Mr. Modi sought admission to the United States after having received an invitation as the keynote speaker for an event organized by the Asian-American Hotel Owners' Association (AAHOA) as well as other meetings organized by the Indian-American community in the U.S. He hoped to enter the country on either a diplomatic visa or his already issued B1/B2 tourist/business visa. The diplomatic visa was denied because according to INA §101(a)(15)(A), such visas are granted to those coming to the U.S. for official government business. A speech for the AAHOA does not qualify as official government business. This decision has not been met with controversy. The decision to deny his B1/B2 visa is actually what has attracted so much publicity in recent days. This denial was based on §212(a)(2)(G) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA).
Section §212(a)(2)(G) of the INA, which was first enacted in 1998, has never been invoked against a public official prior to the decision to revoke Mr. Modi’s visa. It maintains that an individual is inadmissible to the United States if “while serving as a foreign government official, was responsible for or directly carried out, at any time, particularly severe violations of religious freedoms.” Violations of religious freedoms are defined by the International Religious Freedom Act, as any of the following acts committed on account of an individual’s religious belief or practice: “detention, interrogation, imposition of an onerous financial penalty, forced labor, forced mass resettlement, imprisonment, forced religious conversion, beating, torture, mutilation, rape, enslavement, murder and execution.”8 
Prior to December 17, 2004, there was a two year statute of limitations attached to this ground of inadmissibility. So, for example, had Narendra Modi sought admission to the U.S. in November 2004, he would not have been denied a visa under §212(a)(2)(G) because the alleged violations of religious freedom were committed more than two years prior to admission. The Office of Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont), who introduced the amendment to remove the statute of limitation, prepared a section-by-section analysis of law.9 The analysis rationalized the removal of the statute of limitations because it was “not consistent with the strong stance of the United States to promote religious freedom throughout the world. Individuals who have commit[] particularly severe violations of religious freedom should be held accountable for their actions and should not be admissible to the United States regardless of when the conduct occurred.”10
Under this new broader statute, Mr. Modi was found inadmissible for being a government official responsible for violations of religious freedom. It is likely that the violations referred to are the murders, beatings and mass relocations of Muslims in Gujarat during the riots. The decision has been met with a tremendous amount backlash. Critics claim that the decision is baseless because Mr. Modi was never officially charged for violations of religious freedom. While it is true that Mr. Modi has never been officially charged for these acts; in the view of the authors, it was reasonable for the State Department to deny the visa because it was based on ample evidence against Mr. Modi. U.S. law allows the State Department to make a finding of inadmissibility based on a reasonable belief and without there being an actual conviction on the individual’s record. For example, a person can be found inadmissible if the consular officer knows or has reason to believe that the individual was a trafficker of controlled substances.11The consulate has no duty to provide due process for a visa applicant who desires entry to the U.S. It also is not required to conduct a “pseudo” hearing to determine if the act was actually committed. U.S. consulates all over the world deny thousands of visas every day, without giving the applicants due process rights or opportunities to contest the denials.
II. Factual Basis for Inadmissibility Finding 
Critics of the decision should note that any finding of inadmissibility under this ground cannot be made in haste. According to the Foreign Affairs Manual, consular officers must seek an advisory opinion if they “reasonably believe” the applicant was responsible for severe violations of religious freedom.12  The advisory opinion will be drafted by the country desk and any relevant offices at the State Department, assessing whether the individual in question was responsible for the violations. In other words, a visa denial on this basis involves a great deal of research and takes into account multiple factors. It is not based upon an actual conviction or admission, but rather an in depth assessment of the situation, resulting in a reasonable belief that the action was committed. 
In this case, such a reasonable belief existed. According to Len Scensy, Deputy Director, Office of Public Diplomacy, State Department Bureau of South Asian Affairs, the decision was made after looking at the law, the findings of the Indian Human Rights Commission, and the U.S. State Department Reports. Mr. Scensy in an interview with News India Times, indicated that these reports “say the same thing.” They are consistent with each other and take into consideration the overwhelming number of allegations against Modi. Therefore, it is safe to assume that it was reasonable to believe that Mr. Modi was responsible for the violations of religious freedom against Muslims in Gujarat. Mr. Modi was explicitly implicated in U.S. reports on the riots and while the Indian Human Rights Commission never explicitly named him, it did indicate that his government had tacit complicity if not explicit involvement in the violence.13
III. Consequences of the Decision 
The decision to deny Mr. Modi a visa is not without its consequences. This was the first time §212(a)(2)(G) has been invoked by the State Department, and it is likely that it will use it again against other government officials, former and present, who seek entry to the U.S. So, for example, in the case of India, former Congress party officials implicated in the killings of Sikhs after Indira Gandhi’s assassination in 1984 may find themselves inadmissible to the United States on this ground.
A decision under §212(a)(2)(G) is final and there is no room for appeal in a U.S. Court. Government officials found subject to this ground may find themselves permanently inadmissible to the U.S. The only possibility they have for admission is a discretionary waiver, granted by the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, under §212(d)(3). Such a waiver, however, may cause these officials further difficulties as the Secretary can prescribe conditions to the admission. For example, he/she may require an admission to the crimes committed. Such an admission is clearly deadly as it would open the floodgates to both criminal and civil liability under domestic and international law.
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Cyrus D. Mehta's current profile can be found at http://www.cyrusmehta.com/Sub.aspx?MainIdx=ocyrus200591701543&SubIdx=ocyrus200591721646) and 
Elizabeth T. Reichard's current profile can be found at http://www.fragomen.com/ourprofessionals/reichard-elizabeth/.  (The old profiles as existed in the original article have been deleted). 
1U.S. DEPT. OF STATE, INTERNATIONAL RELIGIOUS FREEDOM REPORT: INDIA (2002); U.S. DEPT. OF STATE, COUNTRY REPORTS ON HUMAN RIGHTS PRACTICES: INDIA (2002).
2 Id. 
3 Id 
4 Id
5 National Human Rights Commission, Order on Gujarat, *64 (31 May 2002).
Id. at 24. 
7 Supra note 1.
8 22 USC §6402.
Office of Sen. Patrick Leahy, Anti-Atrocity Alien Deportation Act of 2003: Section-By-Section Analysis, available at  http://leahy.senate.gov/press/200303/032603b.html.
10The December 17, 2004 amendment also removed a provision which made the spouse and children of a government official inadmissible under this ground.
11 INA §212(a)(2)(C)(ii).
12 9 FAM 40.26 N2.1.
13 Supra  note 5, at 24.