EB-5 Green Card, Ethics and Trump

The EB-5 green card program for foreign investors is very much in the news due to its connection with President Trump!

A series of news reports have highlighted the Kushner family’s attempt to raise funds through the EB-5 green card program from Chinese investors by suggesting Trump’s connection to one of its real estate projects through his son in law, Jared Kushner. Qiaowai  is a Chinese agency that acts as an intermediary between Chinese EB-5 investors and EB-5 projects, including the Kushner EB-5 project called One Journal Square in Jersey City. Qiaowai has touted this project’s close links to President Trump.  When Qiaowai did a road show in China recently, Nicole Kushner Meyer, Jared Kushner’s sister, was promoted as the event’s “heavyweight honored guest”.  According to the New York Times, Ms. Meyer told prospective investors that the Journal Square development project “means a lot to me and my entire family,” and that her brother served as chief executive of Kushner Companies before leaving the company to work for the president. Qiaowai’s founder, Ding Ying, has boasted about being close to Trump. Its website stated, “The fact that Ms. Ding has once again been invited to attend a presidential inauguration shows that the U.S. Congress values and approves of the Qiaowai group.” The US Immigration Fund, is the Regional Center promoting this project in the United States.

This close connection between an EB-5 project, the foreign migration agency, the Regional Center and Trump has resulted in a barrage of criticism as it once again brings up the specter of conflicts of interest. There has already been widespread concern about Trump’s businesses violating the Emolument Clause of the Constitution. At the same time, there has been scant commentary on the dilemma that such conflicts involving Trump and his family members pose for the immigration lawyer who represent EB-5 investors. Must the immigration lawyer, when providing a list of viable EB-5 projects that have resulted in green cards for the investor, now also recommend projects of the Kushner family because of their close proximity to President Trump? While an immigration lawyer should not be acting as an investment advisor, unless licensed, an immigration lawyer may still conduct “immigration due diligence” on behalf of the client. The immigration due diligence assesses the viability of the project, not with regard to whether it will deliver a rate of return, but from the perspective of whether the investor has a reasonable chance of getting the green card. Such diligence includes evaluating the past I-526 approvals through the project and whether the project will create the requisite 10 indirect jobs per investor to satisfy the EB-5 statutory requirement. It also includes whether the project is in a targeted area that qualifies for the $500,000 investment, whether the investment capital is at risk, the investor’s place in the queue regarding job allocations and a host of other considerations that are unrelated to investment advice. Conducting such immigration diligence is part of the immigration attorney’s ethical obligation to be competent under ABA Model Rule 1.1, which provides:

A lawyer shall provide competent representation to a client. Competent representation requires the legal knowledge, skill, thoroughness and preparation reasonably necessary for the representation

The immigration lawyer must also consider other ethical rules, besides the duty of competence, when representing EB-5 investors:

Rule 1.2 addresses the scope of representation and the allocation of decision-making authority. According to this allocation, the client establishes the objectives, and the lawyer controls the means to pursue them.

Rule 1.4 on communication overlaps with 1.2: “A lawyer shall explain a matter to the extent reasonably necessary to permit a client to make informed decisions regarding the representation.”

Rule 1.0 defines informed consent: “The agreement by a person to the proposed course of conduct after the lawyer has communicated adequate information and explanation about the material risks of and reasonably available alternatives to the proposed course of conduct.”

Rule 1.3 on diligence emphasizes the lawyer’s commitment to the client. “A lawyer shall act with reasonable diligence and promptness in representing a client.” The first comment to Rule 1.3 expands on this statement. “A lawyer must also act with commitment and dedication to the interests of the client and with zeal in advocacy upon the client’s behalf.”

As part of the lawyer’s competent representation and other ethical considerations on behalf of a prospective EB-5 investor client, must the ethical lawyer factor into consideration the EB-5 project run by the Kushner company due to its close relationship to President Trump? This is especially true when an intermediary such as a foreign migration agency in China has enticed the client to invest in a project that is close to the president. The lawyer may need to consider whether there is a likelihood of such an EB-5 project being treated more favorably, for example, by receiving less scrutiny with respect to its job creation plan, thus increasing the chances of a green card for the client? Hopefully, the answer should be “No,” but in the age of Trump, expectations have been defied and turned upside down many times over. In the not too distant past, then USCIS Director Mayorkas was investigated for appearing to show favoritism for EB-5 projects that had connections to Hillary Clinton’s brother and Senator Reid. Although Director Mayorkas did not face any sanction at the conclusion of the investigation, in an ideal world, an EB-5 project’s connection to Trump or his family ought not to matter. Both the financial advisor and immigration attorney should independently evaluate the project without regard to any political connections. By the same token, even the USCIS should independently evaluate the project, without regard to whether it is connected to a close family member of the president. It is also worth noting that the success or failure of an EB-5 application depends, not so much on the project, but on whether the investor can demonstrate the source of funds. In other words, is the investor able to demonstrate he or she was the owner of the funds from the very beginning? If the investor cannot demonstrate that he owned the funds, as opposed to an uncle depositing the money in the investor’s bank account, the EB-5 application will fail regardless of the strength of the EB-5 project. Therefore, the immigration lawyer can ethically advise that the success or failure of an investor’s EB-5 application may have nothing to do with how connected it is to the president.

Still, Flaubert said, “There is no truth. There is only perception.” If an investor hears that someone who invested in an EB-5 project connected to the Trump name got approved before she did in another EB-5 project, there will always be this lingering doubt in the mind of that investor. While Trump and his family members may yet be unaffected by their conflicts of interest, immigration attorneys have been left scratching their heads when representing EB-5 investors whether to ask clients to consider EB-5 projects close to Trump. Of course, while we are all witnessing a breathtaking compromise of ethics at the presidential level, it still behooves a lawyer to comply with the ethical rules when representing EB-5 investor clients. It is quite often the case that a foreign migration agent in China, such as Qiaowai, will hire the immigration lawyer to prepare and file EB-5 applications on behalf of its clients. Foreign migration agents play a crucial role in assisting the investor in assembling the documentation to demonstrate lawful source of funds, assisting in communications and translations and monitoring the statuses of all processes and filings of the investor. Still, as New York State Bar Ethics Opinion 1116 recently stated, it is imperative that the lawyer maintain her independence from the migration agent and that the lawyer’s judgment not be compromised. Therefore, if the migration agent has steered the investor into an EB-5 project with a close connection to Trump, it is incumbent on the lawyer to still maintain professional independence and to ensure that the lawyer’s judgment has not been compromised. The lawyer may wish to advise the client that the foreign migration agencies’ claims may be mere puffery.  If the lawyer accepts referrals from a foreign migration agent knowing that the investment selected by the agent will not be in the client’s best interest, the lawyer may be conflicted and must get informed consent from the EB-5 client under Rule 1.7(b). The client must acknowledge that the lawyer has a relationship with a foreign migration agent who may be steering the client to a project that may ultimately not be in the client’s best interest. Under no circumstances may a lawyer pay a referral fee to the foreign migration agent. If the foreign migration agent insists that the referral fee is for payment for expenses for services it provides, those services and expenses have to be identified and disclosed to the EB-5 investor client and should not cost more than services that could be found elsewhere.

Trump can remain in office for four years, and if he wins reelection, for a maximum of eight years, unless he is impeached before that! While Trump and his family members may disregard conflicts of interest and the truth, a lawyer cannot and should not follow suit. The lawyer must stay within the ethical rules – which includes not lying, not being compromised by conflicts and being competent – in order to outlast Trump by many decades.

Hazards of Various Forms of Leave At the Point of Termination of H-1B Employment

In most cases, termination of H-1B employment by either the at-will employer or employee is fairly straightforward. Once termination takes place, the employer in most cases is required to offer to pay the reasonable costs of the H-1B worker’s return transportation abroad, and the employer also should inform USCIS of the termination in order to withdraw the H-1B. For further details about the employer’s obligations at the point of termination, see Employer Not Always Obligation To Pay Return Transportation Costs Of An H-1B Worker.  Since USCIS published its Final Rule “Retention of EB-1, EB-2, and EB-3 Immigrant Workers and Program Improvements Affecting High-Skilled Nonimmigrant Workers” in January 2017, workers in H-1B status can now benefit from a 60-day grace period during which they may try to get employment at another company or prepare to leave for their home countries. See 8 CFR 214.1(2).

And then there are the unique situations that require a more nuanced look at the rules and laws around various forms of leave. What happens when there is a contract for a garden leave, non-compete, or long-term notice period?  How do various forms of employment contracts affect this?  How does the recent USCIS announcement of increased fraud investigations affect how employers and workers alike prepare for potential site visits?  These are questions that H-1B employers and employees alike should explore.

USCIS has long recognized leaves of absences for H-1B employees to be valid, and these employees would still maintain status even during a lengthy leave of absence. Legacy INS policy is that an alien employed by the H-1B employer may take an extended leave and still be considered to maintain status ( See Letter of Efren Hernandez II, Director, then Business and Trade Services Branch of the Office of Adjudications, to Wendi S. Lazar, Esq. (March 27, 2001), reprinted, 78 INTERREL 616, Appx. II (Apr. 2, 2001)).  So long as the employer-employee relationship exists, the employee will maintain in status, and “the employer-employee relationship continues to exist when there is an identifiable tie between the employer and the alien.”  Thus, paid or unpaid leaves of absence, such as maternity or paternity leave, or for health or other personal reasons, would be recognized and the H-1B worker can maintain status throughout the leave so long as the employer-employee relationship continues.

As a policy memo or advisory letter does not have the same effect as a statute or regulation, USCIS could still decide that even an employee who is fully compensated while in non-productive status has failed to maintain lawful nonimmigrant status. In fact, in a 1999 advisory opinion concerning reductions in force, USCIS indicated that a severance package that offered terminated H-1B and L-1 employees their normal compensation and benefits for a 60-day period did not preserve the beneficiaries’ nonimmigrant status. Specifically, Branch Chief Simmons wrote, “An H-1B nonimmigrant alien is admitted to the United States for the sole purpose of providing services to his or her United States employer. Once H-1B nonimmigrant alien’s services for the petitioning United States employer are terminated, the alien is no longer in a valid nonimmigrant status” (See Letter of Thomas W. Simmons, Brach Chief, Business and Trade Branch to Harry J. Joe, HQ 70/6.2.8, HQ 70/6.2.12, reprinted in 76 NO. 9 Interpreter Releases 378 (March 8, 1999)). However, an H-1B worker who has not been terminated, but is on leave, can distinguish his or her situation from one who has indeed been terminated.

Non-compete clauses or restrictive covenants are common in highly competitive industries where intellectual property is extremely valuable. They are sometimes also called garden leaves when the employee, usually highly compensated, is paid throughout the non-compete period.  Non-compete agreements restrict employees from directly or indirectly engaging in employment with any competitor during a certain agreed-upon time period. Although non-compete arrangements are frowned upon when they apply to lesser compensated employees who are not paid during the restricted period, thus preventing them from taking new jobs, these garden leave arrangements are distinguishable as they apply to highly compensated employees who are fully paid during the restricted period and who possess valuable knowledge of the company.  They are often enforced after termination of employment, meaning they can adversely affect nonimmigrant workers who cannot start employment at a competing firm for upwards of 12 months in some cases.  Although an H-1B employee subject to a 12-month non-compete might be able to stay in the U.S. during the 60-day grace period, after that time, he would no longer have status in the U.S. because H-1B employment has been terminated and he could not violate the non-compete agreement by starting work at a competing firm.  That H-1B employee would have to leave the U.S., upend his life, and move himself and perhaps family members abroad to wait out the non-compete period.  This can cause tremendous chaos and uncertainty.  And it matters not whether the employee is being paid by the employer during the non-compete period: if it is taking place after termination of the H-1B employment, the employee has no choice but to leave the U.S. or else risk being in violation of status and even accrue unlawful presence once the 60-day period lapses.  Ideally, non-competes enforced after termination of employment should last 60 days so that the grace period can cover it.  If at all possible, H-1B employees should negotiate down the non-compete periods if they wish to avoid having to leave the U.S. for an extended amount of time to wait out the non-compete.

In some cases, the non-compete period takes place before formal termination of employment. In essence, the H-1B worker is in the U.S. not permitted to work for her employer, yet also not permitted to seek employment at a competing firm.  Usually the employee is also paid the H-1B wage throughout this period.  In such a situation, even if the leave is in connection with an eventual termination of employment, it is nonetheless arguably permissible so long as the H-1B worker is treated as an employee and receives the regular paychecks.  In the event the worker is terminated before the H-1B petition expires, the 60-day grace period begins and the worker maintains H-1B status in that time. The employer at that point should effectuate a bona fide termination by offering the return transportation, if applicable, and sending notification to the USCIS regarding the termination.

Further, this unique situation begs the question: must the employer pay the H-1B worker throughout this pre-termination non-compete period? The answer is “yes’, according to this author. The DOL “no benching rule” requires employers to pay the H-1B worker who is not working due to a nonproductive status brought about at the direction of the employer (benching because of lack of work or a lack of permit/license).  See 20 C.F.R. §655.731(c)(7)(i); INA §212(n)(2)(B)(vii).  But if the nonproductive period is due to conditions unrelated to employment at the employee’s voluntary request and convenience, such as to take care of a sick relative, or maternity leave, employers do not have to pay a salary.  Id.  Non-competes may not necessarily fit neatly into either category since this was not a period requested voluntarily by the employee and it is also not similar to a stop in the employment for lack of work.  However, since the employer considers the H-1B worker to still be employed and is the party imposing the non-compete, the employer should be paying the salary in order to avoid being held liable for back wages during the non-compete period.  Is it also problematic that someone is being paid an H-1B salary for effectively not working for many months?  It seems counterintuitive to allow this to occur because much of the H-1B’s regulations are meant to ensure that foreign workers do not displace or hurt the wages or working conditions of U.S. workers.  However, under the LCA regulations, there is no violation so long as the H-1B worker continues to be paid the required H-1B wage as listed on the LCA, whether or not the individual is performing the tasks of the position.

Recently the USCIS announced that it would increase site visits to find H-1B visa fraud and abuse. The approach involves targeting H-1B dependent employers and instances where employers have placed their H-1B workers at customer or client worksites.  Increased site visits will likely mean that sometimes they will involve the H-1Bs of workers who might be spending time in a non-compete or garden leave period.  During such a site visit, the employer must be prepared to answer questions about all of its nonimmigrant employees, including those who may be away from the office due to an enforced non-compete.  If possible, the employer should present copies of the non-compete agreement in writing, whether it was a clause in the employment agreement or a separately negotiated contract.  The employer should also monitor the date the non-compete period started, and also have ready access (if possible) to pay statements in order to demonstrate that the H-1B worker is still paid the required LCA wage and remains employed.

Lastly, it should be noted that the H-1B worker who is subject to a non-compete should be very careful about travel. Even with a valid visa and ongoing salary payments, it would be difficult for an H-1B worker to explain upon reentering the U.S. that he or she is not going to be performing work, even if employed at the H-1B employer.  On the other hand, if the still employed H-1B worker can justify that he or she is maintaining H-1B status even under the non-compete, then the H-1B worker has a good argument to being admitted into the United States in H-1B status.  While the law relating to H-1B status at the point of termination is grey, this blog points out situations that allow nonimmigrant workers to compete with US workers for highly compensated jobs, and thus participate in its rewards and risks, including being able to maintain status during paid garden leave. The same logic can apply to highly compensated nonimmigrant workers in other statuses such as L-1, TN, O-1, E-3 or H-1B1.

(This blog is for informational purposes only and should not be viewed as a substitute for legal advice)

Cross Currents In Federal Preemption of State and Local Immigration Law Under Trump

Preemption of federal immigration law over punitive state immigration laws was a hot topic until very recently, especially when Arizona enacted a tough enforcement law known as SB1070. The Obama administration fiercely challenged the law under the preemption doctrine, which ended up in the Supreme Court in Arizona v. USA. Although the majority opinion found most of the provisions of SB1070 preempted, the Supreme Court nevertheless upheld Section 2B, popularly referred to as the “show me your papers law.” The Court’s logic of upholding Section 2B was that it did not create a new state immigration law, but merely allowed state enforcement personnel to obtain a federal determination as to whether a person they had lawfully apprehended was lawfully present in the United States. Many other states introduced copycat “show me your papers laws.”

Texas just passed a law SB 4 that includes not only “show me your papers” provisions, but also imposes sanctions on sheriffs, local police and even campus police departments if they do not share information with federal immigration authorities, do not honor a detainer or prevent a state enforcement officer from seeking a determination of immigration status of a person under a lawful detention or arrest. The sanctions include civil penalties and criminal penalties, as well as removal of persons holding elective or appointed positions who violate the law.

Will the Trump administration challenge similar state encroachments on federal immigration law like President Obama did? Or do we need to be writing the obituary of the preemption doctrine when it relates to federal immigration law? Even if the Texas law goes unchallenged by the federal government which it likely will, will private plaintiffs be able to challenge the law under the preemption doctrine? Preemption stems from the Supremacy Clause of the United States Constitution (Article VI, Clause 2), which establishes that the Constitution, federal laws made pursuant to it, and treaties made under its authority, constitute the supreme law of the land. While there are notable exceptions when a state immigration law is not preempted, a state law that conflicts with federal immigration law stands a good chance of being preempted under the Supremacy Clause.

A good test of how preemption will play out in the future is Arizona’s appeal of the Ninth Circuit decision in Arizona Dream Act Coalition v. Brewer. The Ninth Circuit held that Arizona was precluded from discriminating against an employment authorization document (EAD) issued to a recipient under President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) program as valid proof of eligibility for an Arizona driver’s license. Under DACA, young people who came to the United States before the age of 16 and fell out status could apply for deferred action and an EAD.

On August 15, 2012, when DACA took effect, Arizona’s then Governor Janet Brewer tried everything in her book to de-legitimize DACA in Arizona. DACA would not confer lawful or authorized status, according to an Arizona executive order signed by Governor Brewer. Arizona’s Motor Vehicle Division announced that it would not accept an EAD issued to DACA recipients pursuant to 8 CFR 274a.12(c)(14) with code C33 as proof that their presence was authorized under federal law for purpose of granting a driver’s license.

In 2013, the Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT) further tried to justify its animus toward DACA by revising its policy to only recognize EADs if 1) the applicant has formal immigration status; 2) the applicant is on a path to obtain formal immigration status; or 3) the relief sought or obtained is expressly pursuant to the INA. Under these new criteria, Arizona refused to grant driver’s licenses not only to DACA recipients but also to beneficiaries of traditional deferred action and deferred enforced departure. It continued to grant driver’s licenses only from applicants with EADs pursuant to 8 CFR 274a.12(c)(9), those who had filed adjustment of status applications, or 8 CFR 274a.12(c)(10), those who had applied for cancellation of removal. Under this revision, even one who received deferred action other than DACA under 8 CFR274a.12(c)(14) would now be deprived of a driver’s license.

On April 5, 2016, the Ninth Circuit in Arizona Dream Coalition found that these arbitrary classifications defining authorized status were preempted under federal law and put to rest Arizona’s “exercise in regulatory bricolage.” Although the Ninth Circuit also found that these distinctions between different EADs likely violated the Equal Protection Clause, in order to avoid unnecessary constitutional adjudications, the Court found that these arbitrary classifications under Arizona’s law were preempted as they encroached on the exclusive federal authority to create immigration classifications. While Arizona sought to exalt the status of an EAD that was obtained when one sought adjustment of status or cancellation of removal, the Ninth Circuit gave short shrift to such arbitrary classification. There is no difference if one receives an EAD though cancellation of removal or through deferred action as submitting a cancellation application does not signify that the applicant is on a clear path to formal legal status. Such an application could well be denied. In this regard, noncitizens holding an EAD under C9 or C10 are in no different a position than one who has received an EAD pursuant to DACA under C33. The following extract from the Ninth Circuit’s opinion is worth quoting:

Arizona thus distinguishes between noncitizens based on its own definition of “authorized presence,” one that neither mirrors nor borrows from the federal immigration classification scheme. And by arranging federal classifications in the way it prefers, Arizona impermissibly assumes the federal prerogative of creating immigration classifications according to its own design

Since the Ninth Circuit’s ruling in Arizona Dream Act Coalition, there has been a dramatic shift in the way unauthorized immigrants are viewed since Trump’s presidency. As part of his election campaign against unauthorized immigrants, Trump railed against DACA as a vivid example of President Obama’s unconstitutional usurpation of powers from Congress. But after his inauguration, Trump did a volte face stating that he would not immediately rescind DACA and would deal with these kids “with heart.” DACA’s fate tenuously hangs in balance, and completely subject to the whims of a tempestuous president. Still, unauthorized immigrants who crossed the border are conflated with criminals, and any crimes that may have been perpetrated by such a noncitizen is viewed as preventable if the individual was either deported before the crime occurred or was not let in at all. The Trump administration issued an Executive Order that beefs up enforcement, essentially reverses carefully calibrated enforcement priorities of the Obama administration and threatens to sanction sanctuary jurisdictions by cutting off federal funds.

Arizona, perhaps emboldened after Trump’s presidency, recently challenged the Ninth Circuit ruling in the Supreme Court. In its March 29, 2017 petition for a writ of certiorari, Arizona contended that the Ninth Circuit erred by assuming that President Obama’s DACA program that granted deferred action to young adults brought to the U.S. illegally as minors was a valid “federal law” that can trump state police power. The granting of licenses is a state concern and cannot be preempted by an unlawful exercise by Obama, Arizona further argued.  Fourteen states have joined Arizona’s bid to overturn the Ninth Circuit ruling by filing an amicus brief. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton affirmed when unveiling the amicus brief, “We stand with Arizona against illegal federal overreach by the former president, who bypassed Congress to enact an immigration program he did not have the authority to create.” It is unlikely that the Trump administration will come in the way of these states in their challenge.

Still, despite the Trump’s administration’s reluctance to defend preemption and DACA, the rule of law ought to trump presidential caprice. Although Texas v. USA challenging President Obama’s Deferred Action for Parental Accountability (DAPA) ended up as a 4-4 draw in an 8-member Supreme Court after Justice Scalia’s death, there are other robust decisions that uphold preemption by virtue of the fact that the federal government has the ability to exercise discretion regarding immigration enforcement.  In Villas at Parkside Partners v. Farmers Branch, 726 F.3d 524 (5th Cir. 2013), the conservative Fifth Circuit struck down a Farmers Branch, TX, ordinance on preemption grounds because it conflicted with federal law regarding the ability of aliens not lawfully present in the United States to remain in the US. The Fifth Circuit also noted that the federal government’s ability to exercise discretion relating to removal of non-citizens is a key reason for a state or local regulation of immigration being preempted under the Supremacy Clause of the US Constitution:

Whereas the Supreme Court has made clear that there are “significant complexities involved in [making] . . . the determination whether a   person is removable,” and the decision is “entrusted to the discretion of the Federal Government,” Arizona, 132 S. Ct. at 2506; see also Plyler, 457 U.S. at 236 (Blackmun, J., concurring) (“[T]he structure of the immigration statutes makes it impossible for the State to determine which aliens are entitled to residence, and which eventually will be deported.”), the Ordinance allows state courts to assess the legality of a non-citizen’s presence absent a “preclusive” federal determination, opening the door to conflicting state and federal rulings on the question.

However, the lower Fifth Circuit decision in Texas v. USA upholding the preliminary injunction still provides ammunition to those who wish to bolster state immigration laws. The states’ amicus brief in support of Arizona’s challenge in Arizona Dream Coalition draws heavily from the Fifth Circuit decision in asserting that DACA, like DAPA which conferred deferred action on undocumented parents of citizen or resident children, was viewed as unlawful. The states amicus argues that President Obama created a category that gave lawful presence to aliens who were otherwise not authorized to remain in the United States. Like DAPA, which was successfully challenged, DACA, according to the amicus brief, also cannot bestow lawful presence by the Executive, and thus DACA cannot preempt Arizona state law in not recognizing an EAD of a DACA recipient. If the Supreme Court decides to hear Arizona Dream Coalition, it will be pitted against Arizona v. United States.

Till then, notwithstanding the Trump administration disavowing prosecutorial discretion to broad classes of people, the federal government’s discretionary authority as a basis for preemption still stands, as poignantly articulated by the Supreme Court in Arizona v. United States:

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.

Given strong precedents in favor of preemption, there is hope that state immigration enforcement laws can still be successfully challenged. On the other hand, it is not clear whether the broad discretion in federal immigration enforcement as recognized in Arizona v. USA be applicable to a federal program like DAPA or even DACA, and if DAPA or DACA is viewed as overstepping executive authority, whether they could be used as a basis for preempting a state law that does not accord recognition to recipients of such programs for state benefits such as driver’s licenses. Now that Justice Gorsuch is the ninth nominee, it remains to be seen whether the Supreme Court’s majority will uphold the reasoning of the Fifth Circuit in Texas v. USA or continue to uphold the federal government’s broad discretion, as recognized in Arizona v. USA. Clearly, the current Trump administration would have no interest in again pursuing Texas v. USA on its merits even though it has not rescinded President Obama’s DAPA memorandum of November 20, 2014. The current decision in Texas v. USA is a preliminary injunction and not a decision on the merits.

There is yet another emerging trend that is worthy of observation. In the Trump era, immigration friendly states and localities, known as sanctuary jurisdictions, have decided not to cooperate with federal immigration authorities with respect to routinely sharing information of foreign nationals who may be arrested in the state penal system or honoring a federal immigration detainer. In San Francisco v. Trump, San Francisco and Santa Clara Country successfully challenged  Executive Order 13768, “Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States,” which, in addition to outlining a number of immigration enforcement policies, purports to “[e]nsure that jurisdictions that fail to comply with applicable Federal law do not receive Federal funds, except as mandated by law” and to establish a procedure whereby “sanctuary jurisdictions” shall be ineligible to receive federal grants.” In the preliminary injunction order, the court in San Francisco v. Trump, among other things, held (citing Printz v. United States, 521 U.S. 898 (1997)) that the federal government cannot compel the states to enact or administer a federal regulatory program under the Tenth Amendment. The new Texas law SB 4 was enacted by the state, and so it will be difficult to argue under Printz v. US that the federal government cannot compel a state to do its bidding. It is uncertain whether the show me your papers part of SB 4 can be preempted in light of Arizona v. USA upholding s similar show me your papers provision, Section 2B of SB 1070. A challenge will have to be brought by a private plaintiff that the Texas SB 4 law is preempted as it forces state entities to get into the business federal immigration enforcement, which is a purely federal matter. It also makes the state’s compliance with a detainer mandatory, when federal courts have held that such compliance is not mandatory. See e.g. Galazara v. Szalezyj. At the same time, because Section 2B was upheld in Arizona v. USA, it may be difficult to challenge the similar show me your paper provision in SB 4. Still, a way to challenge this is to demonstrate that it penalizes an entity for preventing an officer from making such a determination, and so challenging the penalty rather than the ability of a local enforcement authority to make the determination of the immigration status may be a way to thread the needle. Moreover, Arizona’s 2B was upheld as a preliminary injunction before the law took effect. If there are instances of egregious violations, 2B and other similar provisions can be challenged again.

There is some irony that those who disfavor Arizona style immigration enforcement laws, including yours truly, cheered when the federal district court ruled in favor of San Francisco and Santa Clara County. Upon careful reflection, this is not a case of double standards. From a policy perspective, state immigration enforcement laws ought to be preempted as they can lead to discrimination and uneven enforcement when untrained state police mistakenly detain people, including potentially US citizens, who may be here lawfully. Even state laws that “indirectly” enforce immigration law through landlord-tenant ordinances or by penalizing employers who hire unauthorized immigrants, state enforcers are more likely to make errors in determining who is authorized to remain in the United States and who is not. In Chamber of Commerce v. Whiting, the Supreme Court upheld Arizona’s employment sanction law as it fell under a savings clause of a federal statutory provision, 8 U.S.C. § 1324a(h)(2), that otherwise preempted state law. Even in Whiting, Chief Justice Roberts assumed that there would be no errors in verifying the status of employees as the state would check with a federal database pursuant to 8 USC 1373(c). If the federal determination revealed the person was a US citizen, that would make it obvious that the person was authorized to work. Conversely, if the federal determination revealed that the person has been removed, the Chief Justice erroneously assumed that this would reveal that the person is not authorized to work. However, even those with removal orders can obtain work authorization in many instances, a prime example being one who is under an order of supervision pursuant to 8 CFR 274a.12(c)(18).  David Isaacson astutely points out, “The fact that even the Chief Justice of the United States could make this mistake may shed some light on why the prospect of state officials attempting to implement immigration law strikes many attorneys who work in the immigration field as highly inadvisable.” On the other hand, the federal government should not be compelling states to share information as it would undermine trust in local the local policy who may need to work with local communities, including undocumented immigrants, in preventing crime. Even if there are a few cases of undocumented immigrants who have perpetrated crimes, using the immigration system as a pretext for preventing crimes is not the solution. Crimes are committed in every community, and even by Americans.  Immigrants do not have a propensity to commit more crimes. Indeed, a Cato Institute report establishes that immigrants, even undocumented immigrants, commit lesser crimes than native Americans. There is a role for immigration enforcement under the INA by the federal government and states should not be in the same business.

There is a lot of turbulence in preemption doctrine, with some states passing immigrant unfriendly laws and others passing immigrant friendly laws. The prior Obama administration directed its ire at immigrant unfriendly states while the Trump administration is directing its ire at immigrant friendly states. Now is certainly not the time to close the book on the tumultuous story of preemption as a new chapter is being written.

You Ask a Silly Question, and You Get a Silly Answer: Speeding, Terrorist Babies, and Why DHS Should Consider Revising or Eliminating Certain Form Questions

During the recent Supreme Court oral argument in Maslenjak v. United States, Chief Justice John Roberts pointed out that the government’s interpretation of the statute at issue there implies that a naturalization applicant who has driven 60 miles per hour in a 55-mile-per-hour zone, and does not reveal this on the application form, could be subject to prosecution and denaturalization years later. The government argued in Maslenjak that even an immaterial misstatement on a naturalization application, if proven to have been intentional, is a basis for criminal conviction under 18 U.S.C. § 1425, which automatically results in revocation of naturalization under INA § 340(e). As Chief Justice Roberts pointed out, Question 22 on the Form N-400, Application for Naturalization, asks whether the applicant has “EVER committed, assisted in committing, or attempted to commit a crime or offense for which you were NOT arrested?”  This is, as even the government admitted at oral argument, an extremely broad question.  (A wonderful amicus brief filed by Professor Nancy Morawetz and Mitchell Kane of Washington Square Legal Services, on behalf of the Immigrant Defense Project and several immigrant-rights organizations, highlighted the existence of this and several other questions that are extremely expansive, unclear, or both.)

In what may at first seem to be unrelated news, Britain’s The Telegraph recently reported on an incident in which “[a] three month old baby was summoned to the US embassy in London after his grandfather accidentally ticked a box claiming the youngster was a terrorist.”  Harvey Kenyon-Cairns evidently had to go to a visa interview, and missed his scheduled flight, when his grandfather accidently selected the “yes” answer on the ESTA application for travel under the Visa Waiver Program to the question: “Do you seek to engage in or have you ever engaged in terrorist activities, espionage, sabotage, or genocide?”.  It is, of course, highly unlikely that a three-month old baby would have such a history or such intentions.  Nonetheless, this electronic selection apparently caused CBP to deny young Mr. Kenyon-Cairns authorization to travel under the Visa Waiver Program, meaning that he instead needed to apply for a visa at a U.S. consular post.

The briefs and oral argument in Maslenjak discuss many reasons why immaterial misrepresentations should not be considered a ground for criminal conviction or denaturalization.  For one thing, the statute speaks of procuring naturalization contrary to law, and as Justice Ginsburg asked in oral argument: “how can an immaterial statement procure naturalization?” Based on the oral argument, several commentators have suggested that the Supreme Court is likely to reject the government’s broad position.   Moreover, it does not seem likely that Harvey Kenyon-Cairns will be subject to any consequence of similar magnitude to denaturalization owing to his grandfather’s error, though he may face difficulty in seeking to use the Visa Waiver Program in the future.  Even if neither the government’s position in Maslenjak nor the Kenyon-Cairns incident prove to have lasting serious consequences, however, they do raise a different concern in this author’s mind: why are questions like these being asked in the first place?

It would be a rather unusual combination of evil intent and scrupulous honesty that would result in someone answering “yes” to a question like the one on the ESTA form that inquires whether they “seek to engage in . . . terrorist activities, espionage, or genocide?”  Perhaps the backward-looking portion of the ESTA question might gather more affirmative responses from honest and repentant former terrorists, although it still seems unlikely that this scenario arises often.  Even if the government does want to screen out that small population of honest former terrorists, spies, or mass murderers, however, the portion of the question referring to future intentions seems superfluous.  It might also be worth configuring the ESTA system so that it does not act on answers purporting to show terrorism by children under a certain age—a record which shows an infant as a terrorist is obviously the result of some kind of error.

It also seems unlikely that very many people answer Question 22 on the Form N-400 in the affirmative, and then disclose something which the government would actually find useful in adjudicating their citizenship application. To start with, most non-lawyers, unlike the learned Chief Justice of the United States, may not be in a position to determine whether they have committed a “crime or offense” for which they have not been arrested.  Of the people who do understand the question and are able to make such a determination, some very honest applicants might then disclose the sort of list of speeding incidents of which Chief Justice Roberts spoke in his hypothetical—incidents which should not bear on their naturalization in any event.  Only a rare combination of legal acumen, past bad behavior, and current honesty would result in an applicant disclosing, in response to Question 22, a past crime which could potentially preclude their naturalization.

Nor are these the only questions on DHS application forms to which useful affirmative answers are likely quite rare. For example, Question 7 of Part 3 of the Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status, asks whether the applicant, “during the period from March 23, 1933 to May 8, 1945, in association with either the Nazi government of Germany, or any organization or government associated with the Nazi government of Germany, ever order, incite, assist, or otherwise participate in the persecution of any person because of race, religion, national origin political opinion?” Nearly 72 years after the end of the period mentioned, the number of initial applicants for immigration benefits old enough to have culpably engaged in such activity is likely vanishingly small, although it is possible that some teenage persecutors now in their 80s, or people who were in their 20s during the 1940s and are now in their 90s, might apply for adjustment.  Question 5 of Part 3 of that same Form I-485 asks whether the applicant “intend[s] to engage in the United States in: a. Espionage?  b. Any activity a purpose of which is opposition to, or the control or overthrow of, the Government of the United States, by force, violence, or other unlawful means?  c. Any activity to violate or evade any law prohibiting the export from the United States of goods, technology, or sensitive information?”  It seems unlikely that anyone with such malevolent intent would be so forthright as to admit it in the application.  There are many other examples as well.

It may be that DHS includes these questions not so much in the hope of eliciting an affirmative response, but in the hope of being able to charge those who answer “no” with fraud or misrepresentation in the event that the answer ought to have been “yes”. Given the sorts of circumstances in which this would come up, however, it does not seem worth the hassle and potential for error that the inclusion of such questions imposes on the rest of the applicant population (and, for that matter, on the adjudicating officers who must review the answers).  The underlying substantive points being asked about would generally, if proven, suffice to justify later adverse action; trying to get a terrorist, Nazi, or criminal on the record lying about their terrorism, Nazism or criminality is in some sense redundant.

Someone who committed acts of terrorism or Nazi persecution in the past, or does so in the future, is inadmissible and deportable on that basis alone, pursuant to INA §212(a)(3)(B), §212(a)(3)(E), §237(a)(4)(B) and §237(a)(4)(D). One who engages in attempts to overthrow the government by unlawful means, or espionage, sabotage or violation of export-control laws, as asked about on Question 5 of Part 3 of the I-485, would be deportable under INA §237(a)(4)(A) even if an immigration officer had not previously detected their intent and declared them inadmissible under INA §212(a)(3)(A). With respect to the infamous Question 22 at issue in Maslenjak, one who is naturalized despite having committed crimes which they did not reveal has either concealed a crime which would be material and grounds for denial of naturalization on the basis of lack of good moral character, in which case the broad request that they admit to it is beside the point, because their later conviction will show that they lacked good moral character; or has concealed only minor crimes or offenses which would not be a basis for denial of naturalization, in which case trying to denaturalize them for that concealment is problematic for the reasons explored at length in the Maslenjak oral argument.

DHS should reconsider whether what is gained by asking these sorts of questions outweighs what is lost in terms of time and opportunity for farcical error (as with young Mr. Kenyon-Cairns the infant terrorist). If the answer to a question on a form is a foregone conclusion in all but a vanishingly small percentage of cases involving improbable combinations of malfeasance and honesty, the question probably should not be on the form in the first place.