Indeed, this Court denied Shabaj’s petition for review of his removal order over two years ago. See Shabaj, 602 F.3d at 106. Although Shabaj is ineligible to reopen his removal proceedings and file a petition for review because of his participation in the Visa Waiver Program, see 8 U.S.C. § 1187(b), we do not mean to preclude a petitioner who is otherwise eligible to reopen proceedings from attempting to reopen those proceedings in order to raise legal challenges to hardship rulings by the AAO. Under those circumstances, as permitted by § 1252(a)(2)(D), we would have jurisdiction over any “constitutional claims or questions of law” raised by petitions for review to this court.
The process that this footnote seems to contemplate, in which a Court of Appeals could review an AAO decision in a petition for review from a removal order even though the authorities that issued the removal order did not themselves have any ability to address the AAO decision, would not be unprecedented. Judicial review of an AAO decision denying an application for legalization under the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 or the related LIFE Act Legalization provisions proceeds in this way, as explained in Orquera v. Ashcroft, 357 F.3d 413 (4th Cir. 2003): the legalization applicant must become subject to an order of removal or deportation, and then petition for review of that order, to seek judicial review of the legalization denial, even though the immigration judge and the BIA cannot review the legalization denial during the removal proceedings. If an arriving alien whose adjustment application or related waiver application is denied by USCIS later becomes subject to an order of removal, footnote 4 of Shabaj suggests that they could seek review of the USCIS determination on petition for review of the removal order, analogously to the process discussed in Orquera.
The government contends that a petitioner could never file a “petition for review” of a CIS hardship determination because petitions for review are only available for challenges to orders of removal, and CIS determinations are not made as part of removal proceedings. However, we need not decide whether a petitioner could file a “petition for review” of a CIS hardship determination directly with this court because, in this case, Shabaj filed his legal challenge in the district court, which indisputably lacked jurisdiction under § 1252.
Certainly, the new Shabaj footnote 5 does not purport to preclude the sort of petition for review that the original Shabaj footnote 4 endorsed. Rather, the Court of Appeals has explicitly chosen not to address the issue of whether such a petition for review is possible, while noting that the government, as one might expect, contends that it is not. Thus, it still remains possible for others, under appropriate circumstances as described in my previous blog post, to argue for judicial review of a USCIS determination that is in some sense either incorporated into an order of removal, as in Orquera, or constitutes a refusal to reopen an order of removal, such that the USCIS denial is “the functional equivalent of a removal order,” Kanacevic v. INS, 448 F.3d 129, 134-135 (2d Cir. 2006). The Court of Appeals would then need to face the issue that it avoided as unnecessary in its amended Shabaj opinion.
Also interestingly, the new footnote 5 does not preclude the possibility that Mr. Shabaj or someone else in a similar position could have reopened his removal proceedings, in the way that the old footnote 4 seemed to assert such reopening was necessarily impossible. Assume, for example, that Mr. Shabaj or someone else who had entered under the Visa Waiver Program had not actually waived his right to review in the way that the statute and regulations suggest he should have been required to. Like the petitioner in Galluzzo v. Holder, 633 F.3d 111 (2d Cir. 2011), whom the Second Circuit held could not simply be assumed to have waived his rights to removal proceedings, such a petitioner would properly be able to attack his removal order despite his Visa Waiver Program entry.
Thus, while the amended Shabaj decision has deleted language which seemed to give the blessing of the Court of Appeals to a creative strategy for seeking judicial review of certain USCIS decisions, it has not precluded such a strategy. In addition, it may implicitly have acknowledged that some Visa Waiver Program entrants, in circumstances similar to Mr. Shabaj’s, could in fact reopen their removal proceedings and seek relief in that way.