Dreaming in Arizona: Can Prosecutorial Discretion Co-Exist With Show Me Your Papers?

By Gary Endelman and Cyrus D. Mehta

In our blog, From Madison to Morton: Can Prosecutorial Discretion Trump State Action In USA v. Arizona?, we speculated whether the federal government’s ability to decide not to remove certain non-citizens from the US would be its trump card in Arizona v. USA, 567 U.S ___ (2012). A few days prior to Arizona v. USA, the Obama administration announced deferred action for young persons via a June 15, 2012 memorandum, which will prevent the deportation of over a million people who fell out of status of no fault of their own while Arizona’s SB 1070 aims at driving away these very people through an attrition policy. These young people who will benefit under administrative deferred action would have otherwise been eligible under the DREAM Act, which narrowly failed to pass Congress in December 2010.

We were almost correct. In a 5-3 ruling (with Justice Kagan recusing), the Supreme Court invalidated most of the provisions of SB 1070 on the grounds that they were preempted by federal law such as criminalizing the failure to carry registration documents (section 3), criminalizing an alien’s ability to apply for or perform work (section 5(c)), and authorizing state officers to arrest a person based on probable cause that he or she has committed a removable offense (section 6). On the other hand, the Supreme Court, 8-0, narrowly upheld section 2(B), the “show me your papers” law,  which requires state officers to make “a reasonable attempt….to determine the immigration status” of any person they stop, detain, or arrest on some other legitimate basis if “reasonable suspicion exists that the person is an alien and is unlawfully present in the United States.” Section 2(B) further provides that “[a]ny person who is arrested shall have the person’s immigration status determined before the person is released.”

Before we analyze the Court’s narrow upholding of section 2(B) and how it would impact the federal government’s prosecutorial discretion policies, the following extract from Justice Kennedy’s majority opinion acknowledging the federal government’s ability to exercise prosecutorial discretion is worth noting:

A principal feature of the removal system is the broad discretion exercised by immigration officials…… Federal officials, as an initial matter, must decide whether it makes sense to pursue removal at all. If removal proceedings commence, aliens may seek asylum and other discretionary relief allowing them to remain in the country or at least to leave without formal removal….

Discretion in the enforcement of immigration law embraces immediate human concerns. Unauthorized workers trying to support their families, for example, likely pose less danger than alien smugglers or aliens who commit a serious crime. The equities of an individual case may turn on many factors, including whether the alien has children born in the United States, long ties to the community, or a record of distinguished military service. Some discretionary decisions involve policy choices that bear on this Nation’s international relations. Returning an alien to his own country may be deemed inappropriate even where he has committed a removable offense or fails to meet the criteria for admission. The foreign state maybe mired in civil war, complicit in political persecution, or enduring conditions that create a real risk that the alien or his family will be harmed upon return. The dynamic nature of relations with other countries requires the Executive Branch to ensure that enforcement policies are consistent with this Nation’s foreign policy with respect to these and other realities.

 Arizona v. USA, supra, Slip Op. at pages 4-5.

It is indeed unfortunate that despite noting the role of the federal government in formulating immigration policy, the Court did not, at least for the moment, invalidate 2(B), which essentially legalizes racial profiling. See US v. Brignoni-Ponce, 422 US 873 (1975) (Mexican ancestry on its own cannot be an articulable fact to stop a person). The Court was obviously mindful of concerns relating to racial profiling, but the case that the United States brought against Arizona is more about whether federal immigration law preempts 2(B) and the other provisions of SB 1070. Both conservative and liberal justices did not think so since 2(B) was not creating a new state immigration law as the other invalidated provisions did. All that 2(B) does is to allow Arizona police officers to determine if someone was unlawfully present in the context of a lawful stop by inquiring about that person’s status with the federal Department of Homeland Security, and such communication and exchange of information has not been foreclosed by Congress.

The question is whether 2(B) will interfere with the federal government’s dramatic new prosecutorial initiative to not deport over a million young undocumented people if they met certain criteria. The June 15 memorandum on deferred action directs the heads of USCIS, CBP and ICE to exercise prosecutorial discretion, and thus grant deferred action, to an individual who came to the United States under the age of 16, has continuously resided in the US for at least 5 years preceding the date of the memorandum and was present in the US on the date of the memorandum, and who is currently in school, or has graduated from school or obtained a general education certificate, or who is an honorably discharged veteran of the Coast Guard or Armed Forces of the United States. Moreover, this individual should not be above the age of thirty and should also not have been convicted of a felony offense, a significant misdemeanor offense, multiple misdemeanor offenses, or otherwise poses a threat to national security or public safety. This directive further applies to individuals in removal proceedings as well as those who have already obtained removal orders. The grant of deferred action also allows the non-citizen to apply for employment authorization pursuant to an existing regulation, 8 CFR § 274a(c)(14).

Even though the new deferred action policy has not been implemented, the memorandum instructs ICE and CBP to refrain from placing qualified persons in removal proceedings or from removing them from the US. How does this very explicit instruction to ICE and CBP officials square with Arizona’s section 2(B)?  While Justice Scalia, who fiercely dissented and blasted the Obama administration from the bench, saw no need for preemption of any of Arizona’s provisions based on the federal government’s ability to exercise prosecutorial discretion, the majority, fortunately, were more mindful of this factor. Suppose a young DREAMer who prima facie qualifies under the deferred action program was stopped for jaywalking in Tuscon, and the Arizona police officer had a reasonable suspicion that her presence was unlawful, would it be reasonable for the police officer to detain this person even though she would not ordinarily be detained for the offense of jay walking? Even if the Arizona officer could query ICE about her status, how long would it take for ICE to respond? Moreover, even though she may qualify for the deferred action program, how would ICE be able to tell if there is no record of her application at all? DHS has yet to even create an application process, but it has instructed its officers from immediately refraining placing such persons in removal proceedings or removing them from the US. Even once an application is lodged, it may take weeks or months before the DHS is able to grant deferred action. While this person should not be apprehended by the federal government under its deferred action policy, Arizona could potentially hold her.

But not for long.The majority explicitly held that 2(B) should be read to avoid the hold of a person solely to verify his or her immigration status. The Court noted in connection with the jaywalker hypothetical, “The state courts may conclude that unless the person continues to be suspected of some crime for which he may be detained by state officers, it would not be reasonable to prolong the stop for the immigration inquiry.” Slip Op. at 22 (citation omitted). Even in a case where a person is held in state custody for a non-immigration offense, the Court cautioned that the delay in obtaining verification from the federal government should not be a reason to prolong that person’s detention. The Court also suggested that 2(B) ought to be “read as an instruction to initiate a status check every time someone is arrested…rather than a command to hold the person until the check is complete no matter the circumstances. Slip Op. at 23. This temporal limitation harkens back to the Court’s rationale for justifying warrantless stops by roving patrols in the border regions with Mexico in Brignoni-Ponce:

The intrusion is modest. The Government tells us that a stop by a roving patrol “usually consumes no more than a minute.” Brief for United States 25. There is no search of the vehicle or its occupants, and the visual inspection is limited to those parts of the vehicle that can be seen by anyone standing alongside…(citation omitted) . According to the Government ;”[a]ll that is required of the vehicle’s occupants is a response to a brief question or two and possibly the production of a document evidencing a right to be in the United States.  422 US at 880.

Finally the Court noted that its opinion did not foreclose other preemption and constitutional challenges as the law as interpreted and applied after it goes into effect. This is particularly the case if delay in the release of a detainee flowed from the requirement to check their immigration status. Indeed, it is only if such status verification took place during a routine stop or arrest and could be accomplished quickly and efficiently could a conflict with federal immigration law be avoided.

As for Justice Scalia, who concurred with the majority on 2(B), but also dissented as he would have upheld all of the other provisions, it is ironic that he is willing to have Arizona add to penalties imposed by Congress but not willing to let the President, a co-equal branch whose role in federal immigration policy is certainly less subject to challenge than that of the states, relieve the harsh impact of such penalties for a discretely delineated protected class. It is also ironic that theAdministration is actively moving ahead to find an administrative solution to our broken immigration system by granting DREAM act relief while Arizona seeks to uphold its right to put in place an enforcement mechanism it may not seek to enforce, if only to avoid further constitutional challenge.

It does not require a crystal ball to imagine that 2(B), if enforced,  will cause mayhem for young DREAMers and their ability to remain in the US through further administrative remedies, despite the Court’s narrow upholding of the provision. It will be difficult, if not impossible, for ICE to communicate with certainty to overzealous Arizona officials like Sheriff Joe that a young person who qualifies for the deferred action program is not unlawfully present. In fact, such a person continues to be unlawfully present even though he or she may qualify for deferred action presently, prior to the filing of the application. Moreover, even after an application is filed, it is not clear how long DHS will actually take to grant deferred action and such a person will still remain unlawfully present during the pendency of the application. Although the grant of deferred action stops unlawful presence for purposes of the federal 3-10 year bars to reentry, it is not clear whether the Arizona definition of lawful presence would recognize someone who has an outstanding removal order but who has also been granted deferred action.  This situation, and many others, such as a potential US citizen being detained for being suspected of being unlawfully present, will result in further challenges to 2(B), which hopefully, the next time around, will be successful.

The Court upheld 2(B) because there was no evidence that Arizona was yet enforcing it. Indeed, for all practical purposes, it had yet to go into effect. Given the natural judicial reluctance to fray the bonds of federalist comity, the Supreme Court stayed its hand for now so that state courts could determine whether SB 1070 could be consistently administered within the straitjacket of the Supreme Court’s ruling. So, in this sense, the issue was not ripe for a determination on pre-emption.  When will this change? How many will have to suffer the consequences before the Supreme Court will act? For this reason, knowing what the future will bring, the nation and its liberties would have been better served if 2(B) had been invalidated.   It is hard to imagine how Section 2(B) can survive if and when Arizona tries to make it come alive. Let us not forget that, despite Arizona Governor Brewer’s protestation to the contrary, the real guts of this law, the warrantless arbitrary arrest powers granted by Section 6, did not survive today. The rule of law did. The status check authorized by Section 2(B) can only happen after there is probable cause to believe that a non-immigration law violation has taken place, and they happen very quickly so as not to prolong any stop or detention. For all our concerns, and despite our fondest hopes for a more sweeping victory, the Supreme Court has reaffirmed our oldest national tradition, that here in America, there is still much room to dream- in Arizona and beyond.

Deferred Action: The Next Generation

By Gary Endelman and Cyrus D. Mehta

President Obama at last came through with a bold memorandum on June 15, 2012, executed by DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano, granting deferred action to undocumented people. The Administration has always had authority to grant deferred action, which is a discretionary act not to prosecute or to deport a particular alien. While critics decry that Obama has circumvented Congress, the Administration has always had executive branch authority to exercise prosecutorial discretion, including deferred action, which is an expression of limited enforcement resources in the administration of the immigration law. It makes no sense to deport undocumented children who lacked the intention to violate their status and who have been educated in the US, and who have the potential to enhance the US through their hard work, creativity and determination to succeed.

We have always advocated that the Administration has inherent authority within the INA to ameliorate the hardships caused to non-citizens as a result of an imperfect and broken immigration system. In Tyranny of Priority Dates, we argued that the Administration has the authority to  allow non-citizens who are beneficiaries of approved family (I-130) or employment-based (I-140) petitions affected by the crushing backlogs in the priority date system to remain in the US through the grant of parole under INA 212(d)(5) based on “urgent humanitarian reasons or significant public benefits.” When the DREAM Act passed the House in 2010, but narrowly failed to garner the magic super majority of 60 in the Senate, we proposed that the President could also grant similar parole to DREAM children as well as deferred action in our blog, Keeping Hope Alive: President Obama Can Use His Executive Power Until Congress Passes The Dream Act.

The new memorandum directs the heads of USCIS, CBP and ICE to exercise prosecutorial discretion, and thus grant deferred action, to an individual who came to the United States under the age of 16, has continuously resided in the US for at least 5 years preceding the date of the memorandum and was present in the US on the date of the memorandum, and who is currently in school, or has graduated from school or obtained a general education certificate, or who is an honorably discharged veteran of the Coast Guard or Armed Forces of the United States. Moreover, this individual should not be above the age of thirty and should also not have been convicted of a felony offense, a significant misdemeanor offense, multiple misdemeanor offenses, or otherwise poses a threat to national security or public safety. This directive further applies to individuals in removal proceedings as well as those who have already obtained removal orders. The grant of deferred action also allows the non-citizen to apply for employment authorization pursuant to an existing regulation, 8 CFR § 274a(c)(14).

While this memorandum is indeed a giant step in providing relief to a class of immigrants who have been out of status for no fault of their own, we propose other incremental administrative steps so that such individuals, even after they have been granted deferred action and work authorization, can obtain permanent residence. We are mindful, as the accompanying FAQ to the memorandum acknowledges, that the grant of deferred action does not provide the individual with a pathway to permanent residence and “[o]nly the Congress, acting through its legislative authority, can confer the right to permanent lawful status.”  But just as people were skeptical about our ideas for administrative action when we first proposed them, some of which has come to fruition, we continue to propose further administrative steps that the President can take, which would not be violative of the separation of powers doctrine.

There are bound to be many who have been granted deferred action to also be on the pathway to permanent residence by being beneficiaries of approved I-130 or I-140 petitions. Unless one is being sponsored as an immediate relative, i.e. as a spouse, child or parent of a US citizen, and has also been admitted an inspected, filing an application for adjustment of status to permanent residence will not be possible for an individual who has failed to maintain a lawful status under INA § 245(a). Such individuals will have to depart the US to process their immigrant visas at a US consulate in their home countries. Although the grant of deferred action will stop unlawful presence from accruing, it does not erase any past unlawful presence. Thus, one who has accrued over one year of unlawful presence and departs the US in order to process for an immigrant visa will most likely face the 10 year bar under INA § 212(a)(9)(B)(i)(II). While some may be able to take advantage of the proposed provisional waiver rule, where one can apply in the US for a waiver before leaving the US, not all will be eligible under this new rule.  A case in point is someone who is sponsored by an employer under the employment-based second preference, and who may not even have a qualifying relative to apply for the waiver of the 10 year bar.

We propose that the USCIS extend the holding of the Board of Immigration Appeals in Matter of Arrabally and Yerrabelly, 25 I&N Dec. 771 (BIA 2012) to beneficiaries of deferred action. In Arrabelly and Yerrabelly, the BIA held that an applicant for adjustment of status, who leaves the US pursuant to a grant of advance parole, has not effected a departure from the US in order to trigger the 10 year bar under INA § 212(a)(9)(B)(i)(II). If a beneficiary of deferred action is granted advance parole, this person’s trip outside the US under this advance parole ought not to be considered a departure. Such facts would square with Matter of Arrabelly and Yerrabelly if the individual returned back to the US under advance parole. However, here, the individual may likely return back on an immigrant visa and be admitted as a permanent resident. That might be hard to sell to the government – how can you apply for a visa at a consulate in a foreign country and still not leave USA? Still, this idea has merit as it is the initial “departure” under advance parole that would not be a trigger for the bar to reentry, not the subsequent admission as an immigrant. In the leaked July 2010 memorandum to USCIS Director Mayorkas, the suggestion is made that the USCIS “reexamine past interpretations of terms such as ‘departure’ and ‘seeking admission again’ within the context of unlawful presence and adjustment of status.” Using  Matter of Arrabally and Yerrabelly in the manner we propose seeks to do just that. Once again, as with the concept of parole, we seek to build on past innovation to achieve future gain.

As an alternative we propose, as we did in The Tyranny of Priority Dates, that the government, in addition to the grant of deferred action, also grants parole in place on a nunc pro tunc or retroactive basis under INA 212(d)(5).  For instance, the USCIS informally allows spouses of military personnel who would otherwise be unable to adjust under INA § 245(a) if they were neither “inspected and admitted or paroled” to apply for “parole in place.” The concept of parole in place was also proposed in the leaked memo. Interestingly, in this memo, a prime objective of granting parole in place was to avoid the need for consular processing of an immigrant visa application: “By granting PIP, USCIS can eliminate the need for qualified recipients to return to their home country for consular processing, particularly when doing so might trigger the bar to returning.”  This would only be the case, however, where the adjustment applicant is  married to a US citizen, or is the minor child or parent of a US citizen,  and need not be barred due to lack of an inspection or admission. Because we advocate a much wider extension of parole in place, the need for retroactivity, both for the parole and companion employment authorization becomes readily apparent. The use of parole in place, while not common, is certainly not without precedent and, as the leaked memo recites, has been expansively utilized to promote family unity among military dependents. For our purposes, “applicants for admission who entered the US as minors without inspection” were singled out as a class for whom parole in place was singularly suitable.

Upon such a grant of parole in place retroactively, non-immediate relatives who have not maintained status may also be able to adjust status.   Such a retroactive grant of parole, whether in the I-130 or I-140 context, would need to be accompanied by a retroactive grant of employment authorization in order to erase any prior unauthorized employment.  We acknowledge that it may be more problematic for the individual to be eligible for adjustment of status through an I-140 employment-based petition rather than an I-130 petition, since INA § 245(c)(7), requires an additional showing of a lawful nonimmigrant status, in the case of an employment-based petition under INA § 203(b).  Still,  the grant of nunc pro tunc parole will wipe out unlawful presence, and thus this individual can leave the US and apply for the immigrant visa in the US Consulate in his or her home country without the risk of  triggering the 3 or 10 year bar.

One conceptual difficulty is whether parole can be granted to an individual who is already admitted on a nonimmigrant visa but has overstayed. Since parole is not considered admission, it can be granted more readily to one who entered without inspection.  But this impediment can be overcome: It may be possible for the government to rescind the grant of admission, and instead, replace it with the grant parole under INA § 212(d)(5). As an example, an individual who was admitted in B-2 status and is the beneficiary of an I-130 petition but whose B-2 status has expired can be required to report to DHS, who can retroactively rescind the grant of admission in B-2 status and be retroactively granted parole.

There may be other obstacles for individuals in removal proceedings or with removal orders, but those too can be easily overcome. If the individual is in removal proceedings, if he or she is also eligible for deferred action, such removal proceedings can be terminated and he or she can also receive a grant of nunc pro tunc parole, thus rendering him eligible for adjustment of status in the event that there is an approved I-130 or I-140 petition. Even a person who already has a removal order can seek to reopen the removal order through a joint or consent motion with the government for the purposes of reopening and terminating proceedings, and this person too could potentially file an adjustment application, if he or she is the beneficiary of an I-130 upon being granted  nunc pro tunc parole, and the beneficiary likewise could travel overseas for consular processing without risking the 10 year bar.

We of course would welcome Congress to act and pass the DREAM Act, as well as Comprehensive Immigration Reform, so that this memorandum does not get reversed or discontinued in the event that a new Administration takes over from January 2013. However, until Congress does not act, the June 15, 2012 memo does provide welcome relief for young people, but it still leaves them in a limbo with only deferred action. The elephant in the room may be whether the USCIS has the capacity to deal with hundreds of thousands of requests for deferred action. In the absence of congressional action, the agency lacks the capacity to charge special fees for this purpose. Consequently,  all relevant federal agencies, including ICE and CBP, must willingly but swiftly reassign existing personnel now devoted to less urgent tasks so that the President’s initiative of last Friday does not become a dead letter. Our proposal for an additional grant of nunc pro tunc parole in place to individuals who have already been conferred deferred action will at least allow them to enter the regular immigration system and hope to adjust status to permanent residence, or consular process, and thus on the path to citizenship, should they become the beneficiaries of approved family or employment-based petitions. Again, as we noted earlier, and as we noted in Tyranny of Priority Dates, we are not asking for the executive branch to create new forms of status. We are only asking for the Executive to remove barriers to the ability of otherwise deserving applicants for permanent residents to take advantage of the existing system. We want to emphasize there is nothing in the INA that prevents the immediate adoption of our recommendations just as there was nothing in the INA that prevented last Friday’s memorandum. We also want to emphasize that I-130’s and I-140s will still be necessary. We do not want to create a new system, only to allow the old one to work more effectively. The future is ours to shape. For those who lack faith, we remind them of Tennyson’s injunction in Ulysses: “Come my friends, ‘tis not too late to seek a newer world.”

Matter Of O. Vazquez: BIA Issues Precedential Decision on “Sought to Acquire” Under the Child Status Protection Act

In Matter of O. Vasquez, 25 I&N Dec. 817 (BIA 2012), the first precedential decision on this issue, the Board of Immigration Appeals has clarified the “sought to acquire” provision under the Child Status Protection Act (CSPA).  The CSPA artificially freezes the age of a child below 21 years of age so that he or she is not deprived of permanent residency when the parent is granted the same status. One of the requirements is for the child to seek permanent residency within one year of visa availability. Often times, a CSPA protected child falls through the cracks by failing to meet the prevailing rigid filing requirements within the one-year deadline. Thus, the meaning of the term “sought to acquire” permanent residency has been hotly litigated in recent times. Does it encompass only a filing of an application or can it encompass something less than a filing of an application for immigration status?

 According to the BIA in Matter of O. Vazquez, an alien may satisfy the “sought to acquire” provision of section 203(h)(1)(A) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (“Act”) by filing an application for adjustment of status or by showing that there are other extraordinary circumstances in the case, particularly those where the failure to timely file was due to circumstances beyond the alien’s control. The BIA further elaborated that the “sought to acquire” requirement could still be met if the applicant filed an adjustment application, but was rejected for technical reasons, such as the absence of a signature. With respect to a showing of extraordinary circumstances, the BIA indicated that an applicant could show that he or she paid an attorney to prepare an application prior to the one year deadline, but the attorney then failed to take the ministerial step of actually filing the application, thus effectively depriving the aged out child from the protection of the CSPA for no fault of its own.

While the BIA did provide examples of “sought to acquire” just short of a filing; unfortunately, the BIA’s interpretation in Matter of O. Vazquez is more restrictive than its earlier interpretations in unpublished decisions discussed in a prior blog, BIA Continues To Reaffirm Broad “Sought To Acquire” Standard Under CSPA.  The BIA stopped short of holding that the term can encompass other actions not associated with the filing of an adjustment application, such as seeking the advice of an attorney or other similar sorts of efforts. In Matter of O. Vazquez, the “aged out” child argued that he sought to acquire permanent residency by consulting a notario organization within one year of the visa availability. The BIA held that such an action did not fall under the “sought to acquire” definition. Given that the CSPA is a remedial statute to ameliorate the hardships caused to children who age out, the facts in this case were also sympathetic as the alien was wrongly advised by an organization not authorized to practice law in the first place, and thus deprived of the chance to be protected under the CSPA.

As a background, INA §203(h), introduced by Section 3 of the CSPA, provides the formula for determining the age of a derivative child in a preference petition even if the child is older than 21 years. To qualify as a child under INA §101(b)(1), one must be below the age of 21 and unmarried. The age is determined by taking the age of the alien on the date that a visa first became available (i.e. the date on which the priority date became current and the petition was approved, whichever came later) and subtracting the time it took to adjudicate the petition (time from petition filing to petition approval). Based on this formula, if the child’s age falls below 21, the child is protected under the CSPA. Specifically, §203(h)(1)(A) also requires the alien to have “sought to acquire” LPR status within one year of visa availability. It is the interpretation of the term “sought to acquire” that was the subject of the Board’s holding in Matter of O. Vazquez.

The BIA unfortunately arrived at this more restrictive interpretation by agreeing with DHS’s position that the reason for Congress not including the term “filed” is because § 203(h) applies to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Department of State (DOS), both of which adjudicate requests for immigration status. The DHS adjudicates applications for adjustment of status from within the US while the DOS adjudicates applications for immigrant visas from outside the US. Under DOS immigrant visa processes, one generally does not “file” an immigrant visa application, DS-230, but rather, the DOS regulations use the word “submit” or “submission” rather than “file” when referring to a DS-230 visa application. See 22 C.F.R. § 42.63 and 22 C.F.R. § 42.63(c). The “filing” of an application in DOS occurs after it is submitted and much later in the process, the BIA noted. See 22 CFR § 42.67(b). According to the BIA, it was due to the difference in the usage of terms in the DOS and DHS regulations that Congress compelled Congress to use the term “sought to acquire” permanent residency rather than to allow for broader actions such as consulting with a notario organization, as was done in Matter of O. Vasquez, to satisfy the “sought to acquire” definition.

Still, it can be argued that the discussion in Matter of O. Vazquez of the use of the word “filing” in DOS regulations, and the multi-step DOS process more generally, does seem to leave room for the possibility that something other than submission of a DS-230 can qualify as seeking to acquire permanent residence for CSPA purposes.  Matter of O. Vazquez holds that “it is reasonable to expect the proper filing of an application, when it comes to DHS cases, as a way to unquestionably satisfy the ‘sought to acquire’ element of the Act.”  25 I&N Dec. at 820.  This holding is limited by its terms to “DHS cases”, in which the formal application process is in the ordinary case more unified into a single step of filing an application form (or that single filing step plus an interview).  The taking of any substantial step in the multistage DOS immigrant-visa process, such as the payment of the immigrant visa fee, as we pointed out in State Department Takes Broader View Of “Sought To Acquire” Provision Under CSPA, or the making of a written request that a particular derivative child be added to a consular case, should arguably still be sufficient to meet the “sought to acquire” requirement even under Matter of O. Vasquez.

Another aspect worth exploring further may be footnote 3 of the decision, on page 821.  The BIA analogizes its “extraordinary circumstances” standard to that applicable to termination-of-registration cases under INA 203(g).  In practice,  DOS has not applied the 203(g) standard as strictly as, say, some IJs apply the asylum one-year “extraordinary circumstances” standard.  If that is so, the linkage of the new Matter of O. Vazquez CSPA sought-to-acquire standard to the 203(g) standard may be significant: the Matter of O. Vazquez standard for extraordinary circumstances is apparently supposed to be interpreted no more strictly than 203(g).

In the view of this author, Congress probably intended the “sought to acquire” requirement to apply more broadly than interpreted in Matter of O. Vazquez. In a prior unpublished decision In re Jose Jesus Murillo, A099 252 007 (October 6, 2010), the BIA interpreted the legislative history behind the CSPA as being expansive, which is worth reproducing here:

The congressional. intent in enacting the CSPA was to “bring families together” (Rep. Sensenbrenner, 148 Congo Rec. H4989-01, H49991, July 22, 2002) and to “provide relief to children who lose out when INS takes too long to process their adjustment of status applications”(Rep. Gekas, id. at R4992); see also, Rep. Jackson-Lee, “where we can correct situations to bring families together, this is extremely important.’.’ ld. atH4991. In enacting the CSPA, Congress expressed its concern that alien children “through no fault of their own, lose the opportunity to obtain immediate relative status.” H.R. Rep. 107-45, H.R. Rep. No.4 5, I 07th Cong., 1st Sess. 2001, reprinted in 2002 U.S.C.C.A.N. 640, 641 (Apr. 20, 2001). Indeed, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit has held that the CSPA should “be construed so as to provide expansive relief to children of United State citizens and permanent residents.” Padash v. INS,358 F.3d 1161, 1172 (9th Cir. 2004).

However, since Matter of O. Vazquez is a precedential decision, we will need to now live and work with it when dealing with instances under which our clients have “sought to acquire” permanent residency in order to protect their age under the CSPA.

(The author thanks David A. Isaacson for his thoughtful input)



U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services’ (USCIS) Administrative Appeals Office (AAO) issued a binding precedent decision in Matter of Skirball Cultural Center, 25 I&N Dec. 799 (AAO 2012) addressing the term “culturally unique” and its significance in adjudicating P-3 visa petitions for performing artists and entertainers. This decision is significant in light of a growing trend where the culturally unique artistic tradition of one country or ethnicity is influenced by artistic traditions from elsewhere. For instance, musicians trained in Indian classical music have incorporated Western jazz and rock influences. The most famous example of such a fusion band was Shakti, which incorporated South Indian Carnatic music and jazz elements, featuring guitarist John McLaughlin, South Indian violinist L. Shankar and Zakir Hussain on tabla and T.H Vikku Vinayakram on the ghatam (an earthen pot). Examples of hybrid groups abound all over the world, and a contemporary example is Afro Celt Sound Systems, which is a hybrid of African and Celt music. Afrobeat is another classic example of a fusion genre that originally fused American funk music with African rhythms, and its main exponent has been Fela Kuti. Until this decision, there was a risk that such groups would not be considered to be “culturally unique” as they did not incorporate the music which is unique to a particular country, nation, society, class, ethnicity, religion, tribe, or other group of persons.

The Skirball Cultural Center filed a P-3 nonimmigrant petition on behalf of a musical group from Argentina that was denied a performing artists’ visa for failing to establish that the group’s performance was “culturally unique” as required for this visa classification. USCIS noted that “due to the unusually complex and novel issue and the likelihood that the same issue could arise in future decisions, the decision was recommended for review.”

The AAO approved the petition after its review of the entire record, which included expert written testimony and corroborating evidence on behalf of the musical group. USCIS said that the regulatory definition of “culturally unique” requires the agency to make a case-by-case factual determination. The decision clarifies that a “culturally unique” style of art or entertainment is not limited to traditional art forms, but may include artistic expression that is deemed to be a hybrid or fusion of more than one culture or region.

The petitioner had sought classification of the beneficiaries as P-3 entertainers for a period of approximately six weeks. The beneficiaries were musicians in the group known as Orquesta Kef. The ensemble of seven musicians from Argentina had been performing together for between four and eight years, according to a letter dated September 2009, and performed music that blended klezmer (Jewish music of Eastern Europe) with Latin and South American influences. The group’s biography stated that the band had developed “its own and unique musical style” based on “the millenary force of tradition and the powerful emotion of the Jewish culture, mixed in with Latin American sounds.” The petitioner also provided a letter from an associate professor at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication supporting the band’s claim to cultural uniqueness, among other submitted expert opinion letters and published materials.

The decision noted that Congress did not define the term “culturally unique” and the former Immigration and Naturalization Service (now USCIS) defined it in regulations as “a style of artistic expression, methodology, or medium which is unique to a particular country, nation, society, class, ethnicity, religion, tribe, or other group of persons.” See 8 C.F.R. § 214.2(p)(3)(2012).

In her decision denying the petition, the director stated that a hybrid or fusion style of music “cannot be considered culturally unique to one particular country, nation, society, class, ethnicity, religion, tribe, or other group of persons.”

The AAO said that the director’s reasoning was not supported by the record, noting:

[T]he fact that the regulatory definition allows its application to an unspecified “group of persons” makes allowances for beneficiaries whose unique artistic expression crosses regional, ethnic, or other boundaries. While a style of artistic expression must be exclusive to an identifiable people or territory to qualify under the regulations, the idea of “culture” is not static and must allow for adaptation or transformation over time and across geographic boundaries. The term “group of persons” gives the regulatory definition a great deal of flexibility and allows for the emergence of distinct subcultures. Furthermore, the nature of the regulatory definition of “culturally unique” requires USCIS to make a case-by-case factual determination based on the agency’s expertise and discretion. Of course, the petitioner bears the burden of establishing by a preponderance of the evidence that the beneficiaries’ artistic expression, while drawing from diverse influences, is unique to an identifiable group of persons with a distinct culture. To determine whether the beneficiaries’ artistic expression is unique, the director must examine each piece of evidence for relevance, probative value, and credibility, both individually and within the context of the entire record.

The AAO pointed out that the director’s decision failed to note that the beneficiary group was a klezmer band and “seemed to struggle to identify the nature of the group’s musical performance, focusing instead on the group’s musical influences. Here, the evidence establishes that the beneficiaries’ music is, first and foremost, Jewish klezmer music that has been uniquely fused with traditional Argentine musical styles.” The AAO said it found particularly persuasive an expert opinion explaining that klezmer music, “while often associated with ethnically Jewish people, is an artistic form that has migrated and is continually mixed with and influenced by other cultures.” The AAO also noted the fact that the beneficiaries were South Americans born to Eastern European immigrants and therefore were influenced by both cultures to create something new and unique to their experience. All the opinion letters submitted also recognized the existence of a distinct Jewish Argentine culture and identity that was expressed in the beneficiary group’s music. Furthermore, the AAO noted, the published articles submitted recognized a musical movement in Argentina that fuses Argentine styles with influences from Jewish music and other Eastern European styles, and the articles and opinion letters placed the beneficiary group at the forefront of this trend.

Accordingly, the AAO found that the petitioner had established by a preponderance of the evidence that the modern South American klezmer music performed by the beneficiary group was representative of the Jewish culture of the beneficiaries’ home country of Argentina and that the group’s musical performance therefore fell within the regulatory definition of “culturally unique.” The AAO added that the petitioner had submitted an itinerary showing that the beneficiary group would be performing at Jewish cultural centers and temples during its U.S. tour, which provided further evidence that the performances would be culturally unique events.

Matter of Skirball Cultural Center remarkably recognizes the significance of crossover cultural trends and that “the idea of culture is not static,” which is increasing in our globalized world, where people have access to music from anywhere on an iPhone and have learned to enjoy fusion and hybrid forms. The favorable impact of this decision can extend to other art forms such as dance and drama too. Thanks to this decision, audiences in America need not fear of being deprived of hearing their favorite fusion bands live!