Stop the Horrific Practice of Separating Children from Parents

The desperate sobbing of children who have been separated from their parents is horrific and shocking. As the children scream “Mami” and “Papa” over and over again, a Border Patrol agent booms above the crying: “Well, we have an orchestra here,” he jokes. “What’s missing is a conductor.”

The practice of separating families at the border is not only cruel and unconscionable, but it is in direct violation of the United States’ obligations under international and US law. As has been argued by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in its most recent lawsuit against the government, Ms. L v. ICE, this practice of forcibly separating families violates “the Constitution’s due process clause, federal law protecting asylum seekers, and of the government’s own directive to keep families intact.” The Texas Civil Rights Project, the Women’s Refugee Commission, the University of Texas School of Law Immigration Clinic, and Garcia & Garcia Attorneys at Law, P.L.L.C., have filed an Emergency Request for Precautionary Measures with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (“IACHR”), arguing that the United States is “violating internationally-recognized human rights and well-established Inter-American standards, including the rights to family, to seek asylum and protection, to minimum due process, among others.”

For those parents seeking asylum in particular, it is permissible under the Immigration and Nationality Act to apply for asylum even if you entered the US without inspection. Supporters of the zero-tolerance policy have decried that these asylum-seekers and migrants should “get in line” or “do it the right way” by applying at Ports of Entry (POEs). However, even when asylum-seekers present themselves at POEs, they are often prevented from making an asylum claim and are turned away. This is in direct violation of International Refugee law, where countries are required to refrain from “expel[ling] or return[ing]  (‘refouler’) a refugee in any manner whatsoever to the frontiers of territories where his life or freedom would be threatened on account of his race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion.” Others ‘lucky’ enough to get through to credible fear interviews are systemically found to not possess such a fear and are swiftly removed from the United States despite being eligible for asylum. Attorney General Sessions has now made this even more difficult after he overturned Matter of A-R-C-G-, 26 I&N Dec. 338 (BIA 2014) in Matter of A-B-, 27 I&N Dec. 316 (A.G. 2018), and in a footnote gratuitously asserts that few claims based on domestic violence or gang based persecution would satisfy the legal standard to determine whether a foreign national has a credible fear of persecution. And now these individuals seeking asylum, both at the POEs and who have entered without inspection, are being violent separated from their families before they can even attempt to adjudicate their claims.

The Trump Administration understands that what they are doing is shameful, and has deployed every public relations stunt in the book to try and distract the public from what is really going on. From blaming Democrats and the Obama Administration for the existence of a supposed law that mandates this violent separation, to claiming that a separation policy does not exist, to then defending such a policy – it is difficult to keep up. No matter which way you paint it, though, the policy is disgraceful and unlawful, and the Trump Administration has the power to stop its enforcement.

There is no law that requires the separation of immigrant families. The Administration has made the explicit decision to prosecute parents who enter the United States without inspection and to separate them from their children in the process. The government has appeared to bunker down on INA § 275 and 8 USC § 1325, which allow for the prosecution of the misdemeanor violation of illegal entry. Under Session’s so-called zero-tolerance policy, every person who crosses the border illegally is now being prosecuted under INA § 275.  The rationale is that those being prosecuted must be separated from their children during the pendency of the trial. Despite supposedly only separating those families who enter without inspection, there are also a number of cases where immigrant families are being separated after lawfully presenting themselves at POEs. Indeed, in  Ms. L v. ICE, supra, the federal judge presiding over the case determined that the plaintiff-parents had asserted sufficient facts and legal basis to establish that separation from their children while they are contesting their removal and without a determination they are unfit or present a danger to their children violates due process under the Fifth Amendment.

This Administration has made the choice to immediately subject asylum-seekers to prosecution prior to adjudicating their asylum eligibility. The UN and human rights advocates have rightfully called this practice unlawful. But more than that, the combination of being punished for fleeing violence and being violently separated from one’s children takes an ineffable mental toll and prevents them from effectively adjudicating their asylum claims, with one recent story of a father taking his own life under the stress of this policy and others discussing the developmental consequences of this separation to children. Once an asylum-seeker finally gets to adjudicate their asylum claim, after weeks or months of separation from their children, they are often so broken down that they cannot effectively argue their claims. If they do not have access to counsel, their chances of obtaining relief – despite clear eligibility – are next to none.  What also makes this practice so egregious is that the underlying motive of the Trump administration is to use the children as political fodder so that Trump can get what he desires in an immigration bill, including his wall and a reduction in legal immigration.  The whole crisis has been manufactured by Trump himself and he has the power to stop it right now.   Indeed, the separation of children as young as eight months old is so horrific that it is important to start viewing them as crimes against humanity, punishable under an international tribunal, rather than a shift in policy.

If you’re like us, and believe that this separation is wrong, we urge you to put pressure on your Congressperson to propose/support emergency legislation to stop the Trump Administration from cruelly separating children from the parents. Call the congressional switchboard at (202) 224-3121. There’s a Senate bill (S. 3036 – Keep Families Together Act) and a House bill (H.R. 5950 – the HELP Separated Children Act), which you can ask your Senators and Representatives to support. If your member is conservative and not likely to support any of these bills, then at least have the member speak out in order to urge the President to reverse the policy.  This violent policy of separating families at the border is not in line with the law and is not in line with American values. The United States has historically taken in hundreds of thousands of refugees from Eastern Europe, the Soviet Union, Haiti, Cuba and Vietnam, among many other countries. We can easily take in people fleeing persecution and violence in Central America once they qualify for asylum under our laws.  The Trump Administration and its supporters ought to take a good, long look in the mirror and ask themselves whether they in good conscience believe that separating children from their families is in-line with those values.

 

 

Can the Beneficiary Pay the Fee in Federal Court Litigation Challenging an H-1B Visa or Labor Certification Denial?

There is a clear prohibition to the foreign national beneficiary paying attorney fees and costs associated with labor certification. Similarly, fees and costs associated with the preparation of an H-1B petition and Labor Condition Application are considered unauthorized deductions from the beneficiary’s wage. These prohibitions are set forth in regulations of the Department of Labor that require the employer to bear such fees and expenses. Do these prohibitions extend to situations where the beneficiary seeks federal court review of a denial of an H-1B petition or labor certification application without the employer under the Administrative Procedures Act and pays the fees and costs of such litigation? Should not the Administrative Procedures Act trump DOL regulations that hinder the ability of a beneficiary to initiate and seek review by a federal court of an erroneous denial?

When a beneficiary sues without a petitioner, he or she must assert standing as well as whether the beneficiary’s claim fell within the zone of interests that the statute was supposed to protect. Under Article III of the Constitution, the plaintiff must have suffered an injury in fact that is fairly traceable to the challenged conduct and is likely to be redressed by a favorable decision. See Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 560-61 (1992). A plaintiff also has the ability to sue when his or her claim is within the “zone of interests” a statute or regulation protects. See Lexmark Int’l, Inc. v. Static Control Components, Inc., 134 S. Ct. 1377 (2014).

For example, in the H-1B context, Tenrec, Inc. v. USCIS, No. 3:16‐cv‐995‐SI, 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 129638 **21‐22 (D. Or. Sept. 22, 2016) held that H‐1B petition beneficiaries have standing because approval gives them “the right to live and work in the United States, and imposes obligations such as complying with “extensive regulations” on their conduct; they also have the potential for future employment with a new petitioner. Still, there is no guarantee that every court will recognize that a beneficiary has standing in a lawsuit challenging the denial of a nonimmigrant petition. In Hispanic Affairs Project v. Perez, 206 F. Supp. 3d 348 (D.D.C. 2016), the court decided that H-2A sheepherders lack standing because congressional intent was to protect U.S. workers.

With respect to labor certifications, in  Ramirez v. Reich, 156 F.3d 1273 (D.C Cir. 1998) the DC Circuit Court of Appeals recognized the foreign national’s standing to sue, but then denied the appeal since the employer’s participation in the appeal of a labor certification denial was essential. While the holding in Ramirez was contradictory, as it recognized the standing of the non-citizen but turned down the appeal due to the lack of participation of the employer, the employer’s essentiality may have been obviated if the employer had indicated that the job offer was still available. Still, in Gladysz v. Donovan, 595 F. Supp. 50 (N.D. Ill. 1984)  where the non-citizen sought judicial review after the employer’s labor certification had been denied, the court held that the beneficiary was in the zone of interests, but the labor certification denial was upheld as it was not arbitrary and capricious.

If the foreign national seeks review of the denied labor certification in federal court, would the DOL still expect the employer to bear the fees of the litigation pursuant to 20 CFR § 656.12(b)? It can be argued that 20 CFR § 656.12(b) should be limited to activity related to obtaining labor certification and not while appealing a denial to federal court where the employer has dropped out as a plaintiff.  If that is not the case, the DOL would be obliterating the alien’s ability to seek review in federal court assuming that the employer still had a job offer open for the alien. 20 CFR § 656.12(b) barring the alien from paying the attorney’s fee ought to also be challenged by the foreign national who has standing to seek review of the denied labor certification in federal court. Based on the above, it is both necessary and proper  to avoid any interpretation of  § 656.12(b) that conflicts with the beneficiary’s right under the APA from seeking judicial review in federal court, a right that Congress has not taken away. It can be argued that DOL cannot condition or restrict the full and complete exercise of the foreign national’s APA rights in any way. That being the case, the courts should be properly reluctant to impose by judicial fiat that which is not already found in the law with unmistakable clarity. See National Cable & Telecomms. Ass’n v. Brand X Internet Servs., 545 U.S. 967, 982 (2005)(“Chevron’s premise is that it is for the agencies, not courts, to fill statutory gaps”). Here, when we look at INA § 212(a)(5)(A) there is nothing for DOL to add. The statute is clear and unambiguous. If Congress wants to prevent the alien from going into court under the APA to challenge the denial of a labor certification, then Congress knows how to do it. If DOL wanted to stipulate that an employer always had to go to BALCA or forget about the APA, it could have said too.

Neither Congress nor the DOL has done so despite the fact that the INA has been amended many times and DOL has reinvented the labor certification process more than once. Their silence speaks volumes.  There is no need for DOL to clarify what Congress has made crystal clear. That being the case, it is even more transparent that a federal court must honor the intent of Congress and stay its hand against any temptation to take the APA arrow out of a beneficiary’s quiver. The silence of those most directly responsible for the creation and administration of the labor certification process suggests, indeed commands, that the foreign national’s rights under the APA not only be respected but nurtured and encouraged

The situation is somewhat analogous to the purported regulatory limitations period for federal court review of a naturalization denial, which the Tenth Circuit rejected in Nagahi v. INS, 219 F.3d 1166 (10th Cir. 2000).

The Tenth Circuit said of the INA’s broad grant of authority to the Attorney General to make rules that “while this delegation is a broad grant of authority, it does not extend to creating limits upon judicial review.”  Nagahi, 219 F.3d at 1170.  The Secretary of Labor has, if anything, less broad authority, and what authority the Secretary does have also does not extend to creating limits on judicial review, even indirect ones.

The regulation should not strictly apply to a situation where the attorney is representing the foreign national only and not the employer, which could happen if the alien is the only plaintiff in the APA action that we are contemplating.  20 CFR § 656.12(b)-(c) states:

(b) An employer must not seek or receive payment of any kind for any activity related to obtaining permanent labor certification, including payment of the employer’s attorneys’ fees, whether as an incentive or inducement to filing, or as a reimbursement for costs incurred in preparing or filing a permanent labor certification application, except when work to be performed by the alien in connection with the job opportunity would benefit or accrue to the person or entity making the payment, based on that person’s or entity’s established business relationship with the employer. An alien may pay his or her own costs in connection with a labor certification, including attorneys’ fees for representation of the alien, except that where the same attorney represents both the alien and the employer, such costs shall be borne by the employer. For purposes of this paragraph (b), payment includes, but is not limited to, monetary payments; wage concessions, including deductions from wages, salary, or benefits; kickbacks, bribes, or tributes; in kind payments; and free labor.

(c) Evidence that an employer has sought or received payment from any source in connection with an application for permanent labor certification or an approved labor certification, except for a third party to whose benefit work to be performed in connection with the job opportunity would accrue, based on that person’s or entity’s established business relationship with the employer, shall be grounds for investigation under this part or any appropriate Government agency’s procedures, and may be grounds for denial under § 656.32, revocation under § 656.32, debarment under § 656.31(f), or any combination thereof.

In this scenario, the employer is not seeking or receiving any payment.  The only sentence which that fact does not take out of the picture immediately is the one stating that “an alien may pay his or her own costs in connection with a labor certification, including attorneys’ fees for representation of the alien, except that where the same attorney represents both the alien and the employer, such costs shall be borne by the employer.”

But even when the employer is the plaintiff, along with the beneficiary, or both the employer and the beneficiary are plaintiffs, it can be argued with equal force that the prohibition against the foreign national paying the fees in a DOL regulation cannot override a claim under the APA that falls within the “zone of interests” that the statute was intended to protect. The beneficiary is paying attorney fees not to obtain labor certification but to seek redress against the DOL for erroneously denying his or her labor certification.

The same analysis can extend to prohibition of payments by the foreign national in the H-1B context. The relevant regulation involves the definition of authorized deduction at 20 CFR § 655.731(c)(9)(ii), which states in relevant part:

[T]he deduction may not recoup a business expense(s) of the employer (including attorney fees and other costs connected to the performance of H-1B program functions which are required to be performed by the employer, e.g., preparation and filing of LCA and H-1B petition).

Unlike 20 CFR § 656.12(b)-(c), there is no absolute prohibition towards payment of attorney fees and costs relating to the preparation and filing of an LCA and H-1B petition. They are treated as business expenses and have the effect of deducting the beneficiary’s wage. If the beneficiary’s wage falls below the required wage, it would result in violation.  A similar analysis would apply as in the PERM labor certification context.  If the lawsuit is being filed by the employee only, then it does not make sense to describe it as among the “H-1B program functions which are required to be performed by the employer”, because almost by definition, an employee-only APA action cannot be something required to be done by the employer. Even if the lawsuit is being filed by the employer on behalf of the employee, and the employee pays, it can be forcefully argued that the prohibition against this sort of unauthorized deduction is limited to the preparation and filing of an LCA and H-1B petition, and not when the fee is paid to challenge an arbitrary and capricious denial of an H-1B petition in federal court.

An action in federal court is authorized under the APA and should be distinguished from an administrative challenge of a denial to the Board of Alien Labor Certification Appeals or the Appeals Administrative Unit. Those challenges are not governed by the APA but by agency regulations, which insist that only the employer or petitioner may seek administrative review. The APA, on the other hand, allows the plaintiff, which may include both the petitioner and the foreign national beneficiary, to show that the claim falls within the “zone of interests” that the statute was intended to protect and the plaintiff has suffered injuries “proximately caused” by the alleged statutory violation. See Lexmark supra.  Even in the administrative review context, the USICS has recognized that the beneficiary of an I-140 may administratively challenge the revocation of an I-140 petition who has exercised job portability pursuant to INA 204(j). See Matter of V-S-G- Inc., Adopted Decision 2017-06 (AAO Nov. 11, 2017). While there has never been a prohibition against beneficiaries paying fees and costs associated with I-140s, and so the welcome development under Matter of V-S-G is not relevant to this discussion regarding fees, the DOL may still argue that it has latitude to prohibit payment of fees by the beneficiary whose employer is seeking administrative review at BALCA or the AAO of a denied labor certification or H-1B petition. However, this supposed latitude arguably diminishes or evaporates in the context of an APA action is filed in federal court where the beneficiary’s zone of interests that the statute was intended to project have been violated.

Under the Trump administration, there have been an increasing number of H-1B denials of petitions that were routinely approved previously. The stakes are extremely high for such beneficiaries who are caught in the crippling employment-based preference backlogs, and need to seek H-1B extensions well beyond the six year limitation. A denial of a routine H-1B extension can have a devastating impact on the beneficiary and the family. A beneficiary caught in this predicament may have no choice but to resort to suing the agency in federal court. An employer may be gun shy to sue or pay for the litigation, and thus the beneficiary would need to take the initiative and pay the fees and costs associated with such litigation. While we have not yet seen an increase in labor certification denials, they do happen and the stakes are equally high, if not higher, for the foreign national beneficiary who would need to seek redress in federal court. DOL regulations prohibiting payment of fees and costs associated with the preparation of applications should logically not apply to lawsuits in federal court against government agencies to challenge their denials. This is an issue of first impression, and if the DOL continues to assert that fees and costs paid by the foreign national relating to such litigation are prohibited, those rules – especially 20 CFR § 656.12(b)-(c) and 20 CFR §655.731(c)(9)(ii) – ought to also be challenged alongside the lawsuit to set aside a wrongful denial.

(The author thanks David Isaacson for his invaluable input).

 

 

State Department’s Change To Public Charge Guidance In Foreign Affairs Manual Will Result in Many More Visa Refusals

The Trump Administration has opened another front in its war on legal immigration to the United States, which is to broaden the definition of who is likely to become a public charge.  One who is likely to become a public charge can be refused a visa to enter the United States or denied adjustment of status to permanent residence within the United States.  This proposal is still in draft format and has not yet become a rule. However, if and when it does become a rule, foreign nationals who rely on government benefits will be more at risk of being found inadmissible under the public charge ground. Current policy allows officials to consider only two types of public benefits that would result in a negative public charge determination: cash assistance for income maintenance and institutionalization for long-term care at government expense.

While the Trump administration’s proposed regulatory change is winding its way through bureaucratic channels, the State Department’s Foreign Affairs Manual (FAM), which is not  codified law or regulation, but merely sub-regulatory guidance for consular  officials abroad, has already made it easier to find visa applicants inadmissible under the public charge ground. The State Department can freely change the FAM at its choosing without even providing notice to the public or an opportunity to comment.

Under INA 212(a)(4), a foreign national seeking to be admitted to the United States as either a nonimmigrant or an immigrant will be found inadmissible if he or she is likely to become a public charge at any time. The law allows officials to look at a foreign national’s age, health, family status, assets, resources and financial status; and education and skills.

Pursuant to INA 213A, a properly executed affidavit of support by a US sponsor, Form I-864, may overcome a public charge determination in all family immigration and in some employment-based cases. An I-864 clearly constitutes a contract between the sponsor and the government. See INA 213A(a)(1)(B).

The State Department at 9 FAM 302.8-2 (amended on 1/3/2018) broadened the ability of a consular officer to make a public charge determination, rendering it easier to refuse an immigrant visa. Specifically, new 9 FAM 3012.8-2(B)(2) provides:

  1. In General:
    1. In making a determination whether an applicant is inadmissible under INA 212(a)(4)(B), in every case you must consider at a minimum the applicant’s:
      1. Age;
      2. Health;
      3. Family status;
      4. Assets, resources, and financial status; and
      5. Education and skills.
    2. These factors, and any other reasonable factors considered relevant by an officer in a specific case, will make up the “totality of the circumstances” that you must consider when making a public charge determination.
    3. Value of the Affidavit of Support: A properly filed, non-fraudulent Form I-864 in those cases where it is required, is a positive factor in the totality of circumstances. The applicant must still meet the INA 212(a)(4) requirements and satisfy the “totality of circumstances” analysis, which requires the consideration of the factors listed in paragraph (1) above.

Under the new FAM guidance, a properly executed Form I-864 will only be considered “a positive factor in the totality of circumstances” even though it is a binding enforceable contract that allows the government agency to claim reimbursement of the cost of the benefit that was provided to the foreign national. Compare the new language with the January 19, 2017 version of the public charge definition in the FAM,  available at https://web.archive.org/web/20170119231252/https://fam.state.gov/FAM/09FAM/09FAM030208.html, which was just before the start of the Trump administration

The old 9 FAM 302.8-2(B)(3)(a.)(2) stated:

2. These factors, and any other factors thought relevant by an officer in a specific case, will make up the “totality of the circumstances” that you must consider when making a public charge determination.  As noted in 9 FAM 302.8-2(B)(2), a properly filed, non-fraudulent Form I-864 in those cases where it is required, should normally be considered sufficient to meet the INA 212(a)(4) requirements and satisfy the “totality of the circumstances” analysis.  Nevertheless, the factors cited above could be given consideration in an unusual case in which a Form I-864 has been submitted and should be considered in cases where Form I-864 is not required.

See also the old 9 FAM 302.8-2(B)(2)(c):

 Effect of Form I-864 on Public Charge Determinations:  A properly filed, non-fraudulent Form I-864, should normally be considered sufficient to overcome the INA 212(a)(4) requirements.  In determining whether the INA 213A requirements creating a legally binding affidavit have been met, the credibility of an offer of support from a person who meets the definition of a sponsor and who has verifiable resources is not a factor – the affidavit is enforceable regardless of the sponsor’s actual intent and should not be considered by you, unless there are significant public charge concerns relating to the specific case, such as if the applicant is of advanced age or has a serious medical condition.  If you have concerns about whether a particular Form I-864 may be “fraudulent”, you should contact CA/FPP for guidance.

Under the new FAM guidance, a non-fraudulent I-864 will no longer be considered sufficient to overcome the public charge requirements under INA 212(a)(4). Pursuant to the old FAM guidance, the credibility of an offer of support from a person who met the definition of a sponsor and who had verifiable resources was not a factor. A DOS official at the Federal Bar Association’s Immigration Conference on May 18 and 19, 2018 in Memphis, TN confirmed that the I-864 is now just one part of the holistic determination, which includes family ties, work history, health issues and other factors. DOS will look behind the affidavit of support if the consular officer believes that the sponsor is not likely to comply with his or her obligations. By way of an example, according to the DOS official, if a co-sponsor has already executed other I-864s in the past, then that will be viewed as an adverse factor. (See Lily Axelrod’s excellent summary of the proceedings of the FBA immigration conference on the Cool Immigration Lawyers page on Facebook).

The I-864 has always been thought of as a binding contract between the sponsor and the government, and thus discrediting an I-864 that is otherwise non-fraudulent seems to undermine the contractual nature of the I-864. Even if a sponsor has executed other I-864s in the past, that should not result in an adverse credibility determination if the sponsor has sufficient documented income to meet 125% of the federal poverty guidelines based on his or her household size. Under the new FAM provisions, deeming a properly executed I-864 as overcoming public charge will no longer be the case.

Indeed, the change to the public charge definition in the FAM is causing additional havoc to otherwise eligible applicants for immigrant visas. Those who already got approved I-601A provisional waivers to overcome the 3 or 10 year bars under INA 212(a)(9)(B)(i) and have proceeded overseas to process their immigrant visas are now finding themselves being found inadmissible for likely becoming a public charge under INA 212(a)(4). If the visa applicant is found inadmissible for another ground other than under INA 212(a)(9)(B)(i), the I-601A waiver is revoked and the applicant has to file a new I-601 to again overcome the 3 or 10 year inadmissibility bars under INA 212(a)(9)(B)(i) even if the applicant is able to overcome the public charge ground by providing additional evidence. This can cause a delay of at least a year and result in uncertainty until the new I-601 is approved. One suggested way to ameliorate this unnecessary hardship is to issue an INA 221(g) letter requesting evidence to overcome the public charge ground rather than a flat out refusal under INA 212(a)(4).

The new FAM assessment of public charge also appears to run contrary to 8 CFR 213a.2(c)(2)(iv), which provides:

Remaining inadmissibility on public charge grounds. Notwithstanding the filing of a sufficient affidavit of support under section 213A of the Act and this section, an alien may be found to be inadmissible under section 212(a)(4) of the Act if the alien’s case includes evidence of specific facts that, when considered in light of section 212(a)(4)(B) of the Act, support a reasonable inference that the alien is likely at any time to become a public charge.

While it may be permissible under 8 CFR 213a.2(c)(2)(iv), to find public charge inadmissibility despite a proper affidavit of support, it has to be based on “evidence of specific facts” that “support a reasonable inference that the alien is likely . . . to become a public charge.” The new FAM guidance on the other hand considers a non-fraudulent I-864 only as a positive factor in the totality of circumstances, which includes the foreign national’s age, health, family status, assets, resources and financial status and education and skills.

Applicants should no longer assume when they process an immigrant visa at a US consulate that an I-864 will be deemed to overcome a public charge finding. The visa applicant must also demonstrate his or her own history of employment, or ability to obtain employment, along with prior tax filings. The visa applicant must also be ready to demonstrate a meaningful relationship with a co-sponsor, if there is one.  Finally, the I-864 must be accompanied by the required corroborating documentation pertaining to the sponsor such as tax returns, employment documents and evidence of assets, if applicable. Nothing should be taken for granted under the Trump administration, whose avowed objective is to restrict legal immigration to the United States. Until the administration can get its way in Congress by restricting immigration to only a select few under a Merits-Based immigration system, it will try every other way to restrict immigration, including expanding the definition of public charge.

Those Who Cannot Remember the Past: How Matter of Castro-Tum Ignores the Lessons of Matter of Avetisyan

Attorney General Jefferson B. Sessions III recently ruled in Matter of Castro-Tum, 27 I&N Dec. 271 (A.G. 2018), that immigration judges cannot under most circumstances “administratively close” cases before them (other than in a few instances where this is specifically authorized by regulation or court-approved settlement), even though the practice has been followed for many years.  Administrative closure had previously allowed immigration judges to avoid spending time on cases that were awaiting action by another agency or were otherwise lower-priority, but Attorney General Sessions has generally removed this option.  Instead, he has insisted that Immigration Judges must either resolve cases before them promptly, or grant a continuance “for a fixed period” where justified.  Matter of Castro-Tum, 27 I&N Dec. at 289.

The Attorney General’s decision in Castro-Tum has been the subject of a great deal of justified criticism from various sources, including AILA Secretary Jeremy McKinney, the American Immigration Council, the National Immigrant Justice Center, retired Immigration Judge Paul Wickham Schmidt, and Judge Ashley Tabbador, the president of the National Association of Immigration Judges.  All of that criticism is worthy of review.  In this blog, however, I want to focus on something which struck me about Castro-Tum that has not been addressed as much in the public criticism to date: the degree to which it ignored the rationale of the leading case it overturned.  By ignoring the reasons that justified the expansion of administrative closure in the first place, Attorney General Sessions has set the table for a potentially substantial increase in the immigration courts’ backlog of cases that may defeat whatever goal he believed the abolition of administrative closure would accomplish.

As Attorney General Sessions recognized in Castro-Tum, the use of administrative closure expanded when, in its 2012 decision in Matter of Avetisyan, 25 I&N Dec. 688 (BIA 2012), the Board of Immigration Appeals held that cases could be administratively closed over the objection of one of the parties.  Notably absent from the Attorney General’s decision in Castro-Tum, however, is any discussion of the facts in Avetisyan that had led the BIA to come to this conclusion.

The respondent in Matter of Avetisyan had a U.S. citizen husband, who had naturalized during the first half of 2007 (after a January 29 hearing and prior to a June 14 one), and had previously filed an I-130 petition with USCIS to sponsor her for lawful permanent residence as his spouse.  This would have been the basis for the respondent to seek adjustment of status before the Immigration Judge, had the petition been approved.  As of September 2007, the respondent and her husband had been interviewed and had evidently provided all documents requested of them, but were waiting for USCIS to make a final decision on the petition.

Despite “five additional continuances” granted by the Immigration Judge, however, the I-130 petition at issue in Avetisyan was not adjudicated by USCIS.  “During the December 11, 2007, hearing, counsel for the DHS indicated that she did not have the file and that it was possibly with the visa petition unit.  On April 15, 2008, counsel for the DHS explained that the file was being transferred back and forth for each hearing before the Immigration Judge.”  Matter of Avetisyan, 25 I&N Dec. at 689690.  That is, it appeared to be the repeated immigration court hearings themselves that were preventing the I-130 petition from being adjudicated: in preparation for each hearing, the file was being shifted from the USCIS unit which would have adjudicated the petition, to the attorneys representing DHS in the immigration court.  The Immigration Judge in Avetisyan, affirmed by the BIA, sought to avoid this conundrum by administratively closing the case, so that the I-130 petition could be adjudicated without the file being diverted to a DHS attorney in preparation for yet another hearing.  The case could then have been restored to the Immigration Court’s calendar once the I-130 petition had been adjudicated.

The Attorney General’s decision in Matter of Castro-Tum does not address this fact pattern at all, and does not suggest what an Immigration Judge or the Board ought to do under circumstances similar to those at issue in Matter of Avetisyan.  Continuances for a fixed period of time would not solve the problem if each continued hearing caused the file to be pulled away from USCIS petition adjudicators, just as appears to have occurred five times in Avetisyan before the Immigration Judge called a halt to the absurdity.  The cycle of continuances and file movement could literally go on indefinitely.

The alternative which this author suspects Attorney General Sessions might prefer, ordering the respondent removed because USCIS had not yet finished adjudicating a petition on his or her behalf, would be even more absurd, and unlikely to survive review in an appropriate Court of Appeals.  USCIS, after all, is a branch of DHS, the very agency which takes the prosecutor’s role before the Immigration Court to argue that someone should be removed.  In opposing a continuance under the sort of circumstances at issue in Avetisyan, DHS would be in the position of asking that someone be removed from the United States because they, DHS, had not yet deigned to adjudicate a petition filed on that person’s behalf.  Even in Avetisyan itself, DHS did not dare go that far (instead requesting a further continuance).  The possibility brings to this author’s mind Leo Rosten’s classic definition of chutzpah, relayed in the ABA Journal as “a person charged with killing his parents who pleads for mercy because he’s now an orphan.”

In a different context relating to motions to reopen, the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, in Melnitsenko v. Mukasey, rejected “the imposition of a mechanism by which the DHS, an adversarial party in the proceeding, may unilaterally block [that relief] for any or no reason, with no effective review by the BIA.”  The same objection would apply if DHS, a party to the removal proceedings, could seek to block relief and effect removal simply by delaying adjudication of an I-130 petition indefinitely.  But in the Avetisyan scenario, absent administrative closure, it may be that the only other option besides allowing this sort of deeply problematic unilateral blockade by DHS would be an indefinite cycle of continuances.

Philosopher George Santayana wrote in The Life of Reason that “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”  Notwithstanding his expressed desire in Matter of Castro-Tum for more expeditious adjudication of immigration court cases, Attorney General Sessions may have put himself in the position described by Santayana.  He has abolished the tool used in Matter of Avetisyan to avoid an indefinite delay, without addressing, or seemingly remembering, the scenario which had caused that tool to be necessary in Avetisyan.  He may thereby have condemned himself, and the immigration court system, to repeat the sort of indefinite delays that gave rise to Avetisyan in the first place.

Assembly Line Injustice: How the Implementation of Immigration Case Completion Quotas will Eviscerate Due Process

The Executive Office for Immigration Review, under the direction of the Department of Justice, announced last year that it had reopened the Collective Bargaining Agreement with the National Association of Immigration Judges (NAIJ) to include case completion quotas in the performance evaluations of Immigration Judges. On March 30, 2018, James McHenry, the Director of the EOIR, formally announced these metrics, which require IJs to complete at least 700 cases per year, have a remand rate of less than fifteen percent, and meet half of the additional benchmarks listed in the evaluation plan, which can be found here. As pointed out by the Association of the Bar of the City of New York, “this quota translates into each judge hearing testimony and rendering decisions almost three cases per day, five days per week, 52 weeks per year.” According to several retired IJs and Former Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) Members, such quotas raise serious due process concerns and will result in a system that is less focused on justice and appearing “more like an assembly line.”

There are a number of issues with the EOIR case completion quotas. First, these quotas may force IJs to breach their ethical obligations. Specifically, the new completion quotas are tied to the financial incentives of IJs, where the performance evaluations affect IJs’ job security and eligibility for raises. IJs are not given life appointments and can be easily removed from the bench by the Attorney General if he finds them to not be meeting these performance thresholds. Thus, IJs may be encouraged to render hasty decisions in order to satisfy these case completion quotas and receive a good review (and thus a raise) instead of making decisions based on what is proper for the cases in front of them. Having such a financial incentive in the completion of a case arguably forces an IJ to violate 5 C.F.R. §§ 2635.401 to 2635.403,[i] which prohibits IJs from participating in proceedings where he or she has a financial interest. Additionally, IJs must be impartial in their decision-making under 5 C.F.R. § 2635.101(b)(8). It is hard for an IJ to remain impartial when pressured with impossible case completion standards especially when a case is meritorious but an IJ may not grant a continuance for legitimate reasons.

The case completion quotas also violate 8 C.F.R. § 1003.10(b), which provides: “In deciding the individual cases before them, and subject to the applicable governing standards, immigration judges shall exercise their independent judgement and discretion and may take any action consistent with their authorities under the Act and regulations that is appropriate and necessary for the disposition of such cases.” For example, an attorney may have been only recently retained by an asylum-seeker, and may request a continuance in order to gather and assemble evidence that is vital for the asylum-seeker’s claim. Under ordinary circumstances, an IJ would likely grant such a continuance as it would be considered proper under INA § 240(b)(4)(B) which affords a “reasonable opportunity…to present evidence” on one’s behalf. However, under the quota system, an IJ may feel pressure to deny the motion for continuance and may ultimately deny the asylum claim because the asylum-seeker was not afforded sufficient time to present their case. Such an outcome clearly violates 8 C.F.R. § 1003.10(b) and INA § 240(b)(4)(B) where the IJ is stripped of their independent decision-making authority where they feel pressured to quickly close out a case despite compelling reasons to grant a continuance, and where the asylum-seeker is not afforded a reasonable opportunity to be heard.

Another example is an individual placed in removal proceedings who is the intending beneficiary of a pending I-130 with USCIS. Typically, USCIS takes several months to adjudicate an I-130, and thus, attorneys for respondents file motions for continuance with the IJ until the USCIS has rendered a decision which will determine the respondent’s eligibility for relief from removal. Under the new case quota system, IJs will be less inclined to grant such continuances. This hypothetical similarly implicates 8 C.F.R. § 1003.10(b) and INA § 240(b)(4)(B), as described above. Moreover, the IJ’s denial of the continuance here would violate Matter of Hashmi, 24 I&N Dec. 785, 793-94 (BIA 2009) where the Board held that compliance with a IJ’s case completion goals “is not a proper factor in deciding a continuance request” where there is an meritorious pending I-130. We’ve previously blogged about AG Sessions’ stripping of judicial independence through his self-referral of  Matter of L-A-B-R- et al, 27 I&N Dec. 245 (AG 2018), which can be found here.

The case completion quotas will also lead to an unprecedented number of BIA and federal court appeals. This would needlessly increase the BIA’s backlog and indeed affect the dockets of the federal court systems, resulting in the tremendous waste of taxpayer’s dollars where a proper decision could have been rendered at the IJ level. In addition, the number of remanded cases may exceed fifteen percent, and thus, the IJ would again fail to meet the performance metrics in their performance evaluation.

There is no denying that the Immigration Courts face tremendous pressure to address the ballooning backlog of cases. As of this writing, there are 692,298 pending cases in Immigration Courts across the country, with only approximately 330 judges to hear them. Advocates during the Obama-era consistently advocated for the appointment of more IJs to address the backlog. However, in the Trump-era, advocate are now skeptical of such a move where it is clear that this Administration seeks to deport as many people as possible. Indeed, the Department of Justice, headed by Jeff Sessions, has celebrated deportations under the Trump Administration. Such an emphasis on deportation, as opposed to fair adjudication of claims, undermines the independence and impartiality of IJs. The implementation of the DOJ/EOIR case completion quotas will undoubtedly lead to a rise in unfair hearings and erroneous deportations, which is exactly what this Administration wants. The appointment of Trump-supporting IJs will only exacerbate the problem.

For many years, the NAIJ has advocated for the creation of an Article I Immigration Court that is independent of the political whims of the Department of Justice. Under the current Administration, and in light of the newly imposed DOJ/EOIR performance quota metrics, these calls have never been more relevant. The Immigration Court system should not be used as a political tool of the executive branch to effectuate anti-immigrant policies. Rather, it should be an independent system that is committed to the fair adjudication and implementation of our immigration laws. The case completion quotas will undoubtedly undermine the integrity of our immigration system and should be vigorously challenged by IJs and practitioners.

[i] The author acknowledges that 5 CFR § 2635.402 directly implicates 18 U.S.C. 208(a), a criminal statute. This author suggests that the EOIR case completion quotas may jeopardize an IJ’s ethical obligations where their financial interests are directly and predictably impacted by blind adherence to such arbitrary quotas. Criminal liability for these actions, however, goes beyond the scope of this article.

Reinterpreting the 90 Day Misrepresentation Provision in the Foreign Affairs Manual

As we previously blogged, the State Department abruptly amended the Foreign Affairs Manual in September 2017 to provide consular officers with broader grounds to find that foreign nationals misrepresented their intentions when they came to the United States on nonimmigrant visas. A finding of fraud or misrepresentation under INA § 212(a)(6)(C)(i) can result in a permanent ground of inadmissibility.

To reiterate, the updated FAM provision at 9 FAM 302.9-4(B)(3)(g)(2) covers instances of conduct that may be inconsistent with representations that visa applicants made to consular officers when applying for nonimmigrant visas or to DHS officers at US ports of entry at the time of admission. The inconsistent conduct must have occurred within 90 days of entry, and the FAM instructs consular officers to presume that the applicant’s representations about engaging in status compliant activity were willful misrepresentations of his or her intention to seek a visa or entry into the United States. If the foreign national engaged in conduct inconsistent with his or her nonimmigrant status more than 90 days after entry, no presumption of willful misrepresentation arises, although consular officers may still find facts that provide a reasonable belief that the foreign national misrepresented his or her purpose of travel at the time of applying for a visa or admission into the US. Although this provision is popularly known as the “90 Day Misrepresentation Rule ”, the FAM is not  codified law or regulation, but merely sub-regulatory guidance for consular  officials abroad.

The FAM cites the following examples of inconsistent conduct that can result in a presumption of willful misrepresentation:

    1. Engaging in unauthorized employment;
    2. Enrolling in a course of academic study, if such study is not authorized for that nonimmigrant classification (e.g. B status);
    3. A nonimmigrant in B or F status, or any other status prohibiting immigrant intent, marrying a United States citizen or lawful permanent resident and taking up residence in the United States; or
    4. Undertaking any other activity for which a change of status or an adjustment of status would be required, without the benefit of such a change or adjustment.

A literal reading of the four criteria seem to suggest that the inconsistent activity resulting in a presumption of misrepresentation must have occurred in the absence of filing an application for change of status or adjustment of status that would otherwise authorize such an activity.  The way the FAM provision literally reads is contrary to how this has previously been understood, which is that if a foreign national filed an adjustment or change of status application within 90 days of entry, it created a rebuttable presumption that the person misrepresented his or her intentions upon initial entry. Prior to the introduction of the new FAM provision, it was similarly understood that filing a change of status or adjustment of status application within 30 days created a rebuttable presumption of fraud or willful misrepresentation. If such an application was filed more than 60 days later, there would be no such presumption.

Let’s carefully start our analysis with the fourth criterion under 9 FAM 302.9-4(B)(3)(g)(2)(b)(iv):

Undertaking any other activity for which a change of status or an adjustment of status would be required, without the benefit of such a change or adjustment.

Assume that a person is admitted into the United States in B-2 status for purposes of tourism but who is also an exceptional violinist. Suppose this person begins to get paid for violin performances within 30 days of admission. Such an activity would likely be inconsistent with the purpose of the B-2 visa and she would probably be presumed to have misrepresented her intentions under the 90 day guidance. On the other hand, if this person’s employer first files a change of status from B-2 to O-1B (a visa for people who can show extraordinary ability in the arts or extraordinary achievement in the motion pictures or television industry) on the 30th day, and she only begins to concertize as a violinist after the O-1B petition and request for change of status from B-2 to O-1B is approved, a literal reading of the fourth criterion suggests that the 90 day rule has not been implicated. This person undertook the work activity “for which a change of status would be required” and should not be presumed to have misrepresented under INA § 212(a)(6)(C)(i) even though the change of status application was filed within 90 days.

It should be noted that this interpretation must be viewed from the State Department’s perspective that resulted in this guidance in the FAM. The USCIS, which adjudicates visa petitions within the US, will not be bound and the DOS is not trying to ask other agencies to follow this interpretation. Thus, what the DOS is really saying is that if the USCIS approves such a change of status petition that was filed within 90 days, a consular official will not find a person inadmissible for misrepresentation, if the USCIS already approved it. According to the way 9 FAM 302.9-4(B)(3)(g)(2)(b)(iv) literally reads, which a DOS official confirmed recently at a conference,  the 90 day guidance is not implicated if the foreign national files a change of status or adjustment of status application even within 90 days and then seeks to engage in conduct consistent with the new status. The guidance is implicated, rather, if the foreign national engages in conduct that is inconsistent with their present status such as working while in B-2 status without first filing and obtaining a change of status that would authorize such work activity. In other words, filing a change or adjustment of status application within 90 days of entry ought not create a presumption of willful misrepresentation for a consular officer especially if it was approved by the USCIS.

This interpretation, while at first blush appears not to square with the third criterion,  9 FAM 302.9-4(B)(3)(g)(2)(b)(iii) (“A nonimmigrant in B or F status, or any other status prohibiting immigrant intent, marrying a United States citizen or lawful permanent resident and taking up residence in the United States”)  may be harmonized if it is read in conjunction with the fourth criterion at 9 FAM 302.9-4(B)(3)(g)(2)(b)(iv)(Undertaking any other activity for which a change of status or an adjustment of status would be required, without the benefit of such a change or adjustment”).

This nuanced reading may run contrary to the way the presumption of misrepresentation has always been understood, which has meant that a nonimmigrant who entered on a B-2 visa, married a US citizen and applied for adjustment of status within 90 days would presumptively be found to have made a misrepresentation at the time of entry. Such a reading may not be universally accepted and obviously should not be relied upon until it gains more acceptance by all the agencies. It may never gain acceptance since the same language in current 9 FAM 302.9-4(B)(3)(g)(2)(b)(iv) existed under the old version of the 30-60 day rule too and was never interpreted in this way previously.   The USCIS has questioned adjustment applicants regarding their intention at the time of admission when they filed soon after entry into the US. Also, when one files a change of status from B-2 to F-1, the USCIS often questions when the applicant contacted the school from the time of admission in order to gage the applicant’s true intention and whether it was contrary to the purpose under the B-2 visa. Still, the literal reading ought to be invoked as a defense to those who have been accused of misrepresentation, but never engaged in inconsistent activity prior to filing an application for change of status or adjustment of status.

This reading also makes perfect policy sense. It makes little sense to penalize a student who has been living lawfully for years in F-1 status, and who after travelling abroad on a brief vacation marries his fiancée and files an adjustment of status application within 90 days. Under a literal reading of the FAM guidance, the presumption of fraud or misrepresentation is not implicated, although under the way it has been traditionally understood, it would be because the student unfortunately took this vacation abroad prior to his marriage and the filing of the adjustment application within 90 days. Moreover, the literal reading does not totally eviscerate the presumption of fraud or misrepresentation. The 90 day guidance would still apply to those who violate immigration laws. Thus, a person who enters as a tourist and starts working within 90 days without filing for a change of status to a nonimmigrant work visa status would implicate the rule when she next visits the US Consulate for a new visa. The prior activity would have resulted in a rebuttable presumption of fraud or misrepresentation, and she may be found inadmissible under INA § 212(a)(6)(C)(i). However, if this same person, like the violinist in our prior example, followed the law and started working only after the O-1B request for a change of status was approved, the 90 day rule ought not be implicated.

Furthermore, a person would not be able to get away when there is obvious evidence of a misrepresentation at the time of applying for a visa or upon admission. For example, if a person applies for a business visa supported by documentation to further a business purpose in the US, and upon entry, does not conduct any business activities whatsoever but instead seeks admission at a school and applies for change of status to F-1, that person would most likely be found inadmissible for misrepresenting that there was a business purpose to visit the US when there was none. A literal reading would only likely eliminate a presumption of misrepresentation where the person otherwise came to the US pursuant to the stated purpose and then applied for a change of status to perform another activity within 90 days.

The literal reading of the 90-day provision in the FAM also supports the dual intent doctrine. Notwithstanding the codification of dual intent in statute and regulation, there is a recognition of inherent dual intent in all nonimmigrant visa categories. In Matter of Hosseinpour, 15 I&N Dec. 191 (BIA 1975), the Board of Immigration Appeals following earlier precedents held that “a desire to remain in this country permanently in accordance with the law, should the opportunity to do so present itself, is not necessarily inconsistent with lawful nonimmigrant status.” Thus, conflating a desire to remain in the United States upon the occurrence of certain conditions is not inconsistent with any nonimmigrant visa classification at the time of applying for the visa or admission. See e.g. Garavito v. INS, 901 F.2d 173 (1st Cir. 1990) (the filing of an immigrant visa petition on behalf of a foreign national does not negate nonimmigrant intent). Even the most recent change in the F-1 nonimmigrant standard implicitly allows dual intent, specifically stating that “the hypothetical possibility that the applicant may apply to change or adjust status in the United States in the future is not a basis to refuse a visa application.” 9 FAM 402.505(E)(1). Thus, persons should not be penalized if they wish to enter the US to engage in activities that may be inconsistent with their initial visa provided they pursued activities consistent with the initial purpose and then successfully file change of status or adjustment of status applications that would permit them to pursue those other activities.

While our blog by no means should serve as a green light for people to file applications to change status or adjust status within 90 days, its purpose is to at least create awareness of another way of reading the 90 day provision that makes perfect sense as it encourages lawful conduct and awareness of a potential defense to those who are found inadmissible when they filed applications within 90 days to seek permission to engage in activities that may have not been consistent with their original visa.

 

Beware The Gap: USCIS’s Policy Changes Cause Headaches and Confusion for F-1 Change of Status Applicants

There’s never any good news coming from USCIS these days.  The agency’s treatment of applicants changing status to F-1 is another prime example of a confusing policy change that has no basis in law and regulation, and which severely hurts the U.S.’s ability to hold on to talented students.  To fully grasp the ridiculousness of modern day USCIS, we should take a trip back through relevant policy interpretations dating back to legacy INS.  We can start in April 2012 when the administration under President George W. Bush, frightened by the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, published an interim rule in the Federal Register.  You can see from the preamble to the interim rule exactly the kind of xenophobic policy the administration was trying to implement, which has only gotten worse today:

The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 highlight the need of the Service to maintain greater control over the ability of an alien to change nonimmigrant status once the alien has been admitted to the United States. This interim rule will allow the Service to fully review any request from a B nonimmigrant to change nonimmigrant status to that of full-time student before allowing the alien to enroll in a Service-approved school. The elimination of the ability of a B nonimmigrant to begin classes before receiving the Service’s approval of the change of nonimmigrant status is also consistent with the Act’s requirement in section 101(a)(15)(B) that a B nonimmigrant not be a person coming to the United States for the purpose of study.

The interim rule was effective upon publication, and was announced in a Memo from Johnny N. Williams, the Executive Associate Commissioner of the Office of Field Operations (Williams, Ex. Assoc. Comm. Field Operations, Requiring Change of Status from B to F-1 or M-1 Nonimmigrant Prior to Pursuing a Course of Study, HQISD 70/6.2.2 (Apr. 12, 2002)).  The new rule required a B-1/B-2 visitor to first obtain a change of status to F or M status before starting school.  If a visitor had already started school, the change of status application would be denied.  The rule became effective April 12, 2002 and the policy was codified in 8 CFR §214.2(b)(7).  Going further, the change of status application needed to be timely filed before the B-1/B-2 status expires and within 30 days of the start of school.  The latter requirement seems to stem from USCIS’s interpretation of 8 CFR §214.2(f)(5)(i), part of which states:

An F-1 student may be admitted for a period up to 30 days before the indicated report date or program start date listed on Form I-20.  The student is considered to be maintaining status if he or she is making normal progress toward completing a course of study.

Then, a case brought before the Maryland District Court in 2011 challenged USCIS’s interpretation of this regulation.  In Youseffi v. Renaud, 794 F.Supp.2d 585 (D. Md. Mar. 11, 2011), the Plaintiff Narges Youssefi entered the U.S. in B-2 status and was granted a B-2 extension through December 27, 2007.  After receiving a request from her employer back in Iran that she stay in the U.S. and take classes to improve her English language skills, Ms. Youssefi decided to apply to take English classes, acquired an I-20, and listed November 3, 2008 as the start date for her classes on the Form I-20.  She timely filed a change of status application from B-2 to F-1 on June 25, 2008.  USCIS denied her application, reasoning that she had failed to maintain her current nonimmigrant status up to 30 days before the start of classes and was therefore ineligible for a change of status.  The Plaintiff appealed the case all the way up to district court.  The court in Youseffi grappled with USCIS’s interpretation of 8 USC §1258, 8 CFR §248.1(b), and 8 CFR §214.2(f)(5)(i) that a B-2 to F-1 change of status applicant must maintain active B-2 status up to the 30 days before the school program start date, and not just until the change of status application is filed.  First and foremost, the court found that the statutory language at INA §248 is inherently ambiguous, as it “implies that the USCIS may not grant a change of status to someone who has failed to ‘maintain’ his or her nonimmigrant status, but it does not define what it means to ‘maintain’ status.  It is unclear from the statute whether a nonimmigrant must continue to maintain her status only until she petitions for a change in classification, or whether she must continue to maintain it until USCIS grants her new nonimmigrant status.”  Youseffi v. Renaud, 794 F.Supp.2d 585, at 593.  But then the court looked at 8 CFR §248.1(b) where it found language that clarified the ambiguity in favor of the applicant:

Section 248.1(b) states that “a change of status may not be approved for an alien who failed to maintain the previously accorded status or whose status expired before the application or petition was filed, except that failure to file before the period of previously authorized status expired may be excused in the discretion of the Service ….” 8 C.F.R. § 248.1(b). Under the plain language of the regulation, an applicant may be eligible for a change of status even if she failed to file before her previously authorized status expired. The ultimate decision of whether to excuse the applicant’s lapse lies within “the discretion” of the USCIS.

Id.  (Emphasis added).  The court concluded that 8 CFR §248.1 allows USCIS to use its discretion to excuse applicants who apply for a change of status and whose prior status remained valid at the time of filing but later expired.  Id.  The court went on to review this same regulation against 8 CFR §214.2(f)(5)(i), and found that the latter regulation is silent on situations like in Youseffi where the applicant’s prior status expired more than 30 days prior to the program start date.  It then remanded the case to USCIS which the court found could excuse a change of status applicant who filed while the prior status is valid but which later expired.

Since Youseffi, however, no higher federal court has addressed USCIS’s interpretation of these regulations.  And in the last few years, USCIS’s views have moved further away from a reasonable plain meaning understanding of the statute and regulations.

Case in point, a few years ago, immigration attorneys began reporting USCIS denials of applications to change status from B-2 to F-1 where the applicant had timely filed while his prior status was valid, the program start date indicated on the Form I-20 was within 30 days of the expiration of the underlying status, but then because of lengthy processing times at USCIS service centers, the school’s Designated School Official (DSO) had to defer the program date in SEVIS.  The effective result was that although it was still within 30 days of the initial start date listed on the Form I-20, the applicant’s prior status had expired more than 30 days before the new program start date.  There were so many incidents of this that the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) was prompted to send a letter to Leon Rodriguez, then-Director of USCIS and the agency’s Chief Counsel, Ur Mendoza Jaddou.  The letter, dated December 15, 2016 (and available here for AILA members), explained how USCIS was erroneously denying these applications by misinterpreting 8 CFR §248.1(b), 8 CFR §214.2(f)(5)(i), and Form I-539 instructions to require B-2 to F-1 change of status applicants to maintain their B-2 statuses up to 30 days before a new program start date even though the original start date was only deferred because of USCIS’s own extremely lengthy processing times.  AILA’s letter again reasoned that USCIS’s interpretation of these regulations went far beyond what they state, and that in fact nowhere in the regulations does it state that change of status applicants have to maintain their prior status so that they remain in that prior status until 30 days before the program start date.  AILA pointed to the fact that even the court in Youseffi cited Unification Church v. Attorney Gen. of the U.S., 581 F.2d 870, 877 (D.C. Cir. 1978) (stating, in dicta, that it “appears to be the position taken” in 8 CFR §248.1 that “an applicant nonimmigrant must continue to maintain his ‘status’ only until he petitions for a change in classification,” not “until his petition is granted”); and Salehpour v. INS, 761 F.2d 1442, 1447 (9th Cir. 1985) (“The plain regulatory language [of section 248.1] allows an applicant to file for change of classification up to the last day of his prior authorized stay.”).  Moreover, USCIS practice had been to routinely approve these types of change of status applications, and the I-539 instructions even stated that a change of status applicant “must maintain [his] current, or other, nonimmigrant status up to 30 days before the report date or start date of the course of study listed on Form I-20 or [the] requested change of status may not be granted.”  (Emphasis added).  The I-539 instructions clearly state that USICS is to rely on the date listed on the I-20 when adjudicating the application, and not a deferred start date that’s listed by the DSO on SEVIS.  AILA then argued that “bridge petitions” that the applicant would file to extend the B-2 even while the change of status to F-1 is pending are not only cost prohibitive, they cause confusion to applicants, force USCIS to adjudicate unnecessary applications, which in turn lengthen already long processing times, and additionally creates issues around the “intent” of the applicant who already filed to change a status from temporary visitor to temporary student and then has to file an extension of a temporary visitor status.  Moreover, at the time of the letter, AILA’s members found that USCIS’s bridge petition requirement for B-2 to F-1 change of status applicants was inconsistently applied, where some B-2 extension applications were denied because it went against B-2 intent, or returned because they were not required.

Seemingly in answer to all the complaints from stakeholders about the inconsistent application of the bridge application requirement, USCIS decided in April 2017 to formalize the new policy.  USCIS updated its website to formally require B-1/B-2 to F-1 or M-1 change of status applicants whose status will expire more than 30 days before the initial F-1 or M-1 program start date, or whose program start dates had to be deferred because of USCIS processing times, to file a second Form I539 requesting an extension of the B-1/B-2 status and pay a separate fee for that application.  By the way, if the change of status application takes so long that the first extension time runs out, the applicant must file another extension of status application with another fee, and keep going until the original change of status has been approved.

Then, to cause even more confusion, and in a completely unhinged and callous move, USCIS decided to apply this “new” policy to pending B-1/B-2 change of status applications that were filed before USCIS posted its guidance.  How do we know?  Because USCIS issued Requests for Evidence (RFEs) to these applicants!  In these RFEs, USCIS states that the applicant’s underlying B-1/B-2 statuses had expired and that the F-1/M-1 start date had been deferred to a date more than 30 days after the B-1/B-2 status expired.  And by virtue of the new policy, which again was posted after the change of status application had been filed, USCIS requests evidence through the RFE that either the applicant submitted the additional Form I-539 application to extend her B-1/B-2 status, or if the applicant had not (and let’s again recall that the policy was adopted after the application was filed, and there is no indication on the USCIS website that it would apply retroactively to pending applications), that the applicant file the new I-539 now and ask USCIS to excuse the late filing pursuant to 8 CFR §214.1(c)(4).

Let’s recap what we have so far.  USCIS decided in April 2017 that it will require B-1/B-2 extension of status applications filed even if an application to change status is already pending, and is applying this policy to already filed change of status applications, and all without issuing a formal policy memorandum or undergoing a normal notice and comment period.  USCIS merely posted new “guidance” on its website, provides no statutory or regulatory basis for this change, and does not explain what happens to the B-1/B-2 extension of status applications once they are filed.

The result of USCI’s failure (or perhaps refusal) to undergo a formal notice and comment period for a sweeping policy change is that applicants and other stakeholders are simply not well informed about USCIS’s requirements, usually to detrimental and often disastrous results.  What had started off as USCIS’s formalization of its policy toward B-1/B-2 to F-1/M-2 change of status applicants has recently expanded to affect all other nonimmigrants who want to change status in order to remain in the U.S. to study.  USCIS’s original website posting of the new “guidance” referred exclusively to B-1/B-2 status holders changing status to F-1 or M-1 (the original website post has been preserved by AILA, and can be viewed here by members).  A careful review of the most recent USCIS website discussing this policy, which was most recently updated in February 2018, shows that the policy has been extended to every nonimmigrant whose status will expire more than 30 days before the F-1 and M-1 program start date.  There is no specific mention of B-1/B-2 status holders.  The full relevant language from the website is pasted here:

What if I Have a Gap in Status?

If your current nonimmigrant status will expire more than 30 days before your F-1 or M-1 program start date and you wish to remain in the United States until your start date, you must find a way to obtain status all the way up to the date that is 30 days before your program start date (“bridge the gap”). For most people, you will need to file a separate Form I-539 to request to extend your current status or change to another nonimmigrant status, in addition to your other Form I-539 application to change to student status. If you do not file this separate request prior to the expiration of your status, USCIS will deny your Form I-539 request to change to F-1 or M-1 status. Please continue to check the USCIS processing times while your Form I-539 change of status request is pending to determine if you need to file a request to extend or change your nonimmigrant status.

  • Note that because of processing times, your F-1 or M-1 program start date may be deferred to the following academic term or semester because USCIS did not make a decision on your Form I-539 change of status application before your originally intended F-1 or M-1 program start date. In that instance, you will need to obtain status all the way up to the date which is 30 days before yournew program start date. If you had already filed an I-539 to bridge the original gap, you may need to file another I-539 to bridge the new gap.

Because extending or changing nonimmigrant status to bridge the gap and changing to F-1 or M-1 status are two distinct benefits, you must pay a separate filing fee for each request. See the User Fee Statute, 31 U.S.C. § 9701.

How does this expanded policy look in practice?  Let’s say that an H-4 child of an H-1B worker is going to age out because she is turning 21.  Meanwhile her parents intend to maintain their H-1B and H-4 statuses, extending them in 3-year increments, so that they can remain long-term in the U.S. until the H-1B parent’s I-140 priority date is current and they can adjust status to lawful permanent residents.  It bears noting that the reason why our H-4 applicant’s parents are still in H-1B and H-4 statuses and need to extend them in 3-year increments under §104(c) of the American Competitiveness in the 21st Century Act is because they are caught in the never-ending green card backlogs under the employment-based second (EB-2) or employment-based third (EB-3) preferences and by virtue of being born in India or China.  Otherwise, the parents, along with our H-4 applicant who was their minor child, would have long ago obtained their green cards and the H-4 student would not have had to go through this ordeal.  Our H-4 student has already been enrolled in college and has been otherwise maintaining her valid H-4 status.  Following prior USCIS guidance and the guidance of her DSO, she decides to timely file a change of status application to F-1 so that she does not have to interrupt her studies by applying for an F-1 abroad and then returning to the U.S.  As most stakeholders know, I-539 applications for a change of status notoriously take a long time for USCIS to process.  So she waits, even after her H-4 has expired, thinking that she is in a “period of stay authorized by the Attorney General” as she had timely filed her change of status application.  And then bam!  She is hit with a denial.  Why?  Because she did not maintain her status or seek a change of status to another nonimmigrant category so that she could be “in status” within 30 days of the program start date indicated on the I-20.  Yes, folks.  USCIS now requires even H-4 nonimmigrants applying to change status to F-1 to apply to change status to B-1/B-2 in order to stay “in status” until 30 days within the program start date.  And USCIS does not even bother with issuing RFEs requesting proof that the applicant has maintained status until within 30 days of the program start date.  The Service will simply issue a denial and it’s up to the applicant now to determine whether she can stay in the U.S. as her unlawful presence started tolling when the denial was issued, and whether it is even possible to appeal this nonsensical decision.

What is particularly irksome about USCIS’s policy changes is that the usual notice and comment period would have, even if brief, provided some notice to stakeholders.  But here, USCIS simply changed a bit of language on its website and everyone is expected to know the new requirements, abide by them, and live with harsh results for failing to follow them.  Empirically, we are aware that school DSOs were not given any notice or guidance by USCIS on this new policy and its expansion to other nonimmigrant categories.  Thus, our lowly applicant who relied on the advice of the DSO would not have known to request a change of status to B-2 to bridge the gap until her change of status to F-1 is approved.  She is instead punished with a harsh denial, the inability to continue her studies, and potentially having to leave the U.S. in order to apply for an F-1 abroad which comes with its own set of issues, not the least of which could be questions over the applicant’s nonimmigrant intent and problems with demonstrating ties to her home country if she has been living in the U.S in H-4 status since she was a young child.

There is already a brain drain occurring in the U.S. thanks to the Trump administration’s xenophobic policies combined with the EB-2 and EB-3 backlogs.  Fewer students want to come to study in the U.S.  It’s harder for companies to hire highly educated and skilled foreign workers.  The backlogs in the EB-2 and EB-3 preferences are also causing skilled immigrants from India to leave the U.S. for countries like Canada in total desperation.  Foreign born entrepreneurs are facing difficult challenges starting their businesses here in the U.S.  One prime reason that people have upended their lives to come to the U.S. is to pursue the “American dream” for their children – to give them a chance to obtain excellent education and take advantage of the economic, social, and cultural opportunities in the U.S.  This dream turns into a nightmare when the child on the H-4 visa ages out and is unable to seamlessly change status to F-1.  No immigrant parent wants his child to be in a worse off situation than him because of our Byzantine immigration system.  And now we will see even fewer nonimmigrants try to attend school because of USCIS’s new, cumbersome, and costly policy discussed in this blog.  Worse, if USCIS continues to issue new policy changes without a notice and comment period, we will likely see more confusion, more heartbreak, and more completely nonsensical and costly requirements all without the barest minimum in explanation from our government.  Beware the gap, indeed.

Making The Law Up As He Goes: Sessions Refers Another Case to Himself, This Time On Motions For Continuance

Attorney General Jeff Sessions has yet again referred an immigration case to himself for review in Matter of L-A-B-R- et al, 27 I&N Dec. 245 (AG 2018). This time, AG Sessions asks:

An Immigration Judge is authorized to “grant a motion for continuance for good cause shown.” 8 C.F.R. § 1003.29 (2017); see also id. § 1240.6 (2017) (authorizing an Immigration Judge to “grant a reasonable adjournment either at his or her own instance or, for good cause shown, upon application”). In these cases, Immigration Judges granted continuances to provide time for respondents to seek adjudications of collateral matters from other authorities. Under what circumstances does “good cause” exist for an Immigration Judge to grant a continuance for a collateral matter to be adjudicated?

As noted, 8 C.F.R. § 1003.29 empowers Immigration Judges (IJs) to grant motions for continuance “for good caution shown.” 8 C.F.R. § 1240.6, by contrast, allows IJs to grant reasonable adjournments either at their discretion, or “for good cause” upon request by one of the parties. Typically, these motions are filed by either the Respondent or the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) for a number of reasons. For example, the Respondent may motion for a continuance when they are awaiting adjudication of a case outside of Immigration Court, such as a pending I-130 or I-140 petition with USCIS or even an outside criminal or family law case that has bearing on the removal proceedings. Similarly, the government attorney for DHS may motion for a continuance when the attorney has an unexpected emergency, time conflict with the hearing date, or simply needs more time to prepare.

The BIA has sensibly addressed motions for continuance in several cases authorizing IJs to grant them when there is when there was a pending immigrant petition with the USCIS. In Matter of Hashimi, 24 I&N Dec. 785 (BIA 2009), for example, the IJ granted the respondent four continuances on his removal proceedings to allow for USCIS to adjudicate his family-based immigrant visa petition. The IJ denied the respondent’s fifth motion to continue because he was expected to meet the Department of Justice’s “case completion goals,” which required completing cases within a reasonable period of time. The Third Circuit determined that the IJ’s denial based on case-completion goals was arbitrary and an abuse of discretion. On remand, the BIA discussed relevant factors when “determining whether respondent should be allowed to continue ongoing removal proceedings pending the final adjudication of an I-130” filed concurrently with an adjustment of status application, given the conflicting needs of finality of removal proceedings and allowing the opportunity for respondent to apply for relief. Citing to Matter of Garcia, 16 I&N Dec. 653 (BIA 1978), the BIA stated that although the IJ should exercise favorable discretion when there is prima facie eligibility for a visa petition, this does not require that a continuance be granted in every case. The BIA held that in determining whether to continue proceedings where there is a pending visa petition, the IJ should consider a variety of factors, including, but not limited to: (1) the DHS response to the motion; (2) whether the underlying visa petition is prima facie approvable; (3) the respondent’s statutory eligibility for adjustment of status; (4) whether the respondent’s application for adjustment merits a favorable exercise of discretion; and (5) the reason for the continuance and other procedural factors. The focus is the apparent ultimate likelihood of success on the adjustment application. The IJ needs some basis to examine the viability of the underlying visa petition, the respondent’s statutory eligibility for adjustment, and the merits of the adjustment application. This may require the respondent to submit evidence, such as the visa petition, the adjustment application, any prior visa petitions denials, and any other supporting documentation. The BIA sustained the respondent’s appeal and remanded the record to the Immigration Judge to consider the factors and determine whether a continuance was warranted.

In Matter of Rajah, 25 I&N Dec. 127 (BIA 2009), the respondent was placed in removal proceedings after his employer filed for labor certification on his behalf. Over the period of 18 months, the respondent was granted 10 continuances for a variety of reasons, including to obtain counsel and prepare the case and to determine the status of the labor certification. The IJ denied the final motion to continue based on the pending labor certification because he “concluded that the respondent had had ‘sufficient time’ to obtain an approved labor certification.” While the matter was pending before the Second Circuit, the labor certification was approved but then later expired due to the respondent’s employer not filing a visa petition. On remand, the issue before the BIA was to provide a “reasoned set of standards explicating when continuances for labor certification are within the ‘range of permissible decisions’ available to an [IJ], and when they are not.” Id. at 129. The BIA held that as a general rule in the employment context, discretion in granting a motion to continue ongoing removal proceedings should be favorably exercised where there is a prima facie approvable visa petition and adjustment application. Furthermore, in determining whether good cause exists for a continuance in removal proceedings to await the adjudication of a pending employment-based visa petition or labor certification, an “Immigration Judge should first determine the alien’s place in the adjustment of status process and then consider and balance” the factors identified in Matter of Hashmi and any other relevant considerations. For example, a labor certification no longer being valid, and other similar types of evidence, might affect the case on remand or in the context of a motion to reopen. Furthermore, the BIA held that the pendency of a labor certification generally is not sufficient to grant a continuance in the absence of additional persuasive factors. Here, the BIA determined that remand was not warranted based on the new evidence that the labor certification, which was approved, had expired and there was no pending visa petition. While the respondent was a grandfathered alien who could have potentially been eligible for INA § 245(i) treatment, because there was no pending labor certification, the respondent could not establish prima facie eligibility for adjustment of status under INA § 245(i)(2)(A)-(B). The appeal was dismissed.

In Matter of Avetisyan, 25 I&N Dec. 688 (BIA 2012), an IJ repeatedly continued a removal hearing pending the filing and adjudication of a family-based immigrant visa petition. During the final hearing, despite DHS’s opposition, the IJ granted the respondent’s motion to administrative closure, and the DHS filed an interlocutory appeal. The issue here was whether an IJ or the BIA has the authority to administratively close a case when one of the parties to the proceeding opposes. The BIA determined that there was fault in the general rule stated in Matter of Gutierrez, 21 I&N Dec. 479 (BIA 1996) that “a case may not be administratively closed if opposed by either party.” The BIA, in overruling Matter of Gutierrez, held that affording absolute deference to a party’s objection is improper and that the IJ or the BIA, in the exercise of independent judgement and discretion, has the authority to administratively close a case, regardless of party opposition, if it is otherwise appropriate under the circumstances. The BIA further held that when evaluating a request for administrative closure, the IJ should weigh all relevant factors presented in the case, including, but not limited to: (1) the reason administrative closure is sought; (2) the basis for any opposition to administrative closure; (3) the likelihood the respondent will succeed on any petition, application, or other action he or she is pursuing outside of removal proceedings; (4) the anticipated duration of the closure; (5) the responsibility of either party, if any, in contributing to any current or anticipated delay; and (6) the ultimate outcome of removal proceedings (for example, termination of the proceedings or entry of a removal order) when the case is recalendared before the IJ or the appeal is reinstated before the Board. In Avetisyan’s case, the visa petition had been pending for a long time through no apparent fault of the respondent or her husband, and there was no obvious impediment to the approval of the visa petition or ability of the respondent to successfully apply for adjustment of status. The BIA determined that the circumstances supported the exercise of the IJ’s authority to administratively close the case.

In Matter of Castro-Tum, 27 I&N Dec. 187 (A.G. 2018), AG Sessions referred Avetisyan to himself questioning whether there was any authority for IJs or the BIA to administratively close cases. Even if AG Sessions was able to overrule Ayetisyan and deny IJs the ability to administratively close cases, it was hoped that their ability to grant continuances would not be undermined. After all, there is explicit authority pursuant to 8 C.F.R. § 1003.29 for an IJ to grant a continuance for good cause. Depriving an IJ that ability, especially when there is an application pending that would allow the respondent to obtain permanent residency and moot the removal proceeding, would lead to a complete and total evisceration of Ayetisyan. Sessions can only achieve this if the basis to continue proceedings under Hashmi and Rajah are also overturned.

It is clear AG Session seeks to discourage motions for continuance as a way to maximize the deportations of noncitizens even if they have a meritorious pending applications for permanent residency that would otherwise thwart their deportations. In the Department of Justice’s Backgrounder on EOIR Strategic Caseload Reduction Plan, for example, Sessions blames IJs’ low productivity levels and rising backlogs on “representatives of illegal aliens have purposely used tactics designed to delay the adjudication of their clients’ cases” such as motions for continuance. Moreover, in the July 2017 EOIR Operating Policies and Procedures Memorandum 17-01: Continuances, IJs were urged to limit the grant of continuances, stating that “the delays caused by granting multiple and lengthy continuances, when multiplied across the entire immigration court system, exacerbate already crowded immigration dockets.”

But limiting continuances in the name of efficiency is a smokescreen. Discouraging motions for continuances will not make delays go away in the immigration court system. Respondents will appeal the denial of continuances into the courts of appeal of each circuit, which will result in remands back to the immigration courts in addition to clogging the circuits. This used to be the case prior to Hashmi and Rajah, where remands from the circuit court resulted in the further clogging up of immigration dockets. Moreover, if the USCIS processes cases in a tardy manner, and respondents in removal are unable to legitimately seek a continuance, there will be an increasing number of mandamus lawsuits against the agency to compel USCIS to process the case more expeditiously. The BIA’s reasoning in Hashmi, Rajah and Avetisyan was based on common sense and fairness. If there was a reasonable basis for a respondents in removal proceeding to demonstrate that they would ultimately get permanent residency but for a delay in processing of the visa petition or the priority date not being current, why deprive respondents of permanent residency by deporting them?  The federal courts understood this too, and will continue to do so if we do so if respondents cannot get continuances for good cause in removal proceedings.

Thus, in Subhan v. Ashcroft, 383 F.3d 591 (2004), the Seventh Circuit found that an IJ had abused his discretion when the ground for the continuance was a pending labor certification.  The Court noted that the IJ’s denial was based simply on the fact that the labor authorities had not yet acted rather than issues particularized to the petitioner’s circumstances such as the lack of bona fides of the labor certification or other grounds pertaining to national security or criminal issues. In another Seventh Circuit decision, Ahmed v. Gonzales, 467 F.3d 669 (2006), the court went even further than Subhan in holding that the IJ’s denial of a continuance ignored the fact that the petitioner was the “grandfathered” beneficiary under INA 245(i) of an I-130 petition even though the petitioner had yet to have a labor certification filed on his behalf. Of course, some courts upheld an IJ’s decision to deny continuance if the respondent’s underlying applications were not meritorious, see e.g. Morgan v. Gonzales, 445 F.3d 549 (2006), but the frameworks established in Hashmi and Rajah for providing for a continuance based on the merits of the underlying applications for permanent residence are sound and should not be upset. They provide IJs with discretion to grant continuances, and at the same time, authorize IJs to deny continuances when the pending request for permanent residency lacks merit.

There is no need for Sessions to undermine a framework that is working, and also less need to further erode the independence of IJs to judiciously exercise discretion based on their own sense of fairness and efficiency. Decisions to not grant continuances of IJs have been upheld by federal courts post-Hashmi and Rajah when the priority date was a long way away or when an I-601 waiver supporting an adjustment was denied and its appeal was pending. See e.g. Luevano v. Holder, 660 F.3d 1207 (2011); Kwak v. Holder, 607 F.3d 1140 (2010). On the other hand, IJs’ decisions that did not follow the Hashmi and Rajah factors have been overturned. See e.g., Ferrera v. AG, No. 11-14074 (11th Cir. 2013); Simon v. Holder, 654 F.3d 440 (2011). This is clear evidence that the system is working and does not need Sessions’ interference.  Avetisyan along with Hashmi and Rajah also view the immigration system as a whole with all its warts and imperfections. These decisions take into account the inefficiencies resulting in delays of approving I-130s and I-140s, along with retrogression in priority dates. If the immigration system worked more efficiently, there would be less need to place people in removal proceedings. But if people are placed in removal proceedings as a result of these inefficiencies, why not continue their proceedings, or even temporarily close their proceedings, until such time that they can obtain the benefit and terminate proceedings – which should not have been started in the first place? If Sessions is unable to see it this way when he reconsiders BIA decisions to undermine Avetisyan, Hashmi and Rajah, he is not doing so to create efficiency but to further his animus and hostility against immigrants.

(The authors thank Eleyteria Diakopoulous for her assistance in providing research for this article. Ms. Diakopoulous is a student at Brooklyn Law School and is presently an Extern at Cyrus D. Mehta & Partners PLLC)

Sessions Likely to End Asylum Eligibility for Victims of Domestic Violence: How Courts Can Resist

Violence against women is the most pervasive and underreported human rights violation in the world. Whether you live on the Upper East Side or in Gugulethu, South Africa, you likely know a woman or girl who has been the victim of sexual or gender-based violence. Maybe you are that woman or girl.[i]

International asylum frameworks have long grappled with how to address this gender-based persecution. After years of debating whether victims of domestic violence have a legitimate claim to asylum, the US Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) finally recognized in 2014 that married women who are unable to leave their relationships may constitute a cognizable particular social group for the purposes of seeking asylum. Matter of A-R-C-G-, 26 I&N Dec. 388 (BIA 2014); see also Matter of D-M-R- (BIA June 9, 2015) (clarifying that a victim of domestic violence need not be married to her abuser). Although some advocates argue the decision does not go far enough, the protections and opportunities that Matter of A-R-C-G– have provided to thousands of women cannot be understated. Despite these advancements, Attorney General Jeff Sessions has questioned whether such claims to asylum are legitimate by referring to himself a BIA case, Matter of A-B- (BIA Dec. 8, 2016), where the Board found that a victim of domestic violence was indeed eligible for asylum. Pursuant to 8 C.F.R. § 1003.1(h)(1)(i) (2017), Sessions may refer a case to himself for review, and has asked each party to submit briefs on “[w]hether, and under what circumstances, being a victim of private criminal activity constitutes a cognizable ‘particular social group’ for purposes of an application for asylum or withholding of removal.” Matter of A-B-, I&N Dec. 227 (A.G. 2018).

As brief background, in order to be granted asylum, the applicant must show that they have suffered past persecution or have a well-founded fear of future persecution on account of their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion, and that he or she is unable or unwilling to return to, or avail himself or herself of the protection of, their country of origin owing to such persecution. 8 C.F.R. § 1208.13(b)(1) & (2). To be granted asylum based on one’s membership in a particular social group, the applicant must show that the group is “(1) composed of members who share a common immutable characteristic, (2) defined with particularity, and (3) socially distinct within the society in question.” Matter of A-R-C-G-, 26 I. & N. at 392. As set forth in Matter of Acosta, 19 I&N Dec. 211, 212 (BIA 1985), a “common immutable characteristic” is defined as “a characteristic that either is beyond the power of the individual members of the group to change or is so fundamental to their identities or consciences that it ought not be required to be changed.” Under  Matter of W-G-R-, 26 I&N Dec. 208 (BIA 2014) and clarified in Matter of M-E-V-G-, 26 I&N Dec. 227 (BIA 2014), the social group must be defined with “particularity,” or be defined by boundaries of who is actually a member of the group. Finally, as explained in Matter of W-G-R-, “social distinction” is defined as the ‘recognition’ or ‘perception’ of the particular social group in society. 26 I&N Dec. at 216. The applicant must also show that her persecution was on account of her membership in the social group, and that the government in her country of origin is unable or unwilling to afford her protection from such persecution.

In Matter of A-R-C-G-, the Board found that the lead respondent had met her burden in establishing eligibility for asylum, and held that “[d]epending on the facts and evidence in an individual case, ‘married women in Guatemala who are unable to leave their relationship’ can constitute a cognizable particular social group that forms the basis of a claim for asylum or withholding of removal.” 36 I&N Dec. at 388. In this case, the lead respondent was married to a man who regularly beat her, raped her, and on one occasion, burned her. She had contacted local authorities several times to escape her abuser, but was told that the police would not interfere with domestic matters. The respondent had even moved out, but her husband found her and threatened to kill her if she did return. Fearing for her life, and knowing that she could not be safe if she stayed in Guatemala, the respondent fled to the United States.

The Immigration Judge in Matter of A-R-C-G- found that the respondent’s abuse was the result of “criminal acts, not persecution,” and further found that the respondent was not eligible for asylum. On appeal, the BIA found that “married women in Guatemala who are unable to leave their relationship” is indeed a cognizable social group. First, the BIA asserted that the immutable characteristic in this matter was “gender,” and also found the marital status would satisfy the requirement where the woman is unable to leave the relationship. Second, the BIA found that the particular social group had been defined with particularity, where “married,” “women,” “who are unable to leave their relationship” have commonly accepted definitions in Guatemala, stating that it was particularly significant that the respondent had sought protection from the police but was denied protection due to her social group. Finally, the BIA found that the group was socially distinct in society, where Guatemala has a culture of “machismo and family violence,” where the respondent’s social group is easily perceived and recognized in Guatemalan society, and where Guatemala has created laws to protect the respondent’s social group, but has failed to successfully implement them. The BIA cautioned in their decision that particular social group analyses in cases that involve victims of domestic violence will depend heavily on the facts, including country conditions.

DHS conceded the nexus requirement by agreeing that the respondent had indeed suffered past persecution on account of her membership in a particular social group. The BIA noted that “the issue of nexus will depend on the facts and circumstances of an individual claim.” Id. at 395. The BIA then remanded to the Immigration Judge for determination of whether the Guatemalan government was “unable or unwilling” to stop the respondent’s abuser. On remand, the Immigration Judge granted asylum upon the stipulation of the parties (and thus did not provide a reasoned analysis as to the Guatemalan government’s inability or unwillingness to protect the respondent from her abuser).

Relying on the precedent in Matter of A-R-C-G-, the respondent in Matter of A-B- similarly contended that she was eligible for asylum based on her membership in a particular social group, namely “El Salvadoran women who are unable to leave their domestic relationships where they have children in common.” Matter of A-B-, at 2. The Immigration Judge below found that the respondent had not met her burden in establishing eligibility for asylum, finding that her proposed particular social group was not cognizable, that even if the social group was cognizable, that she did not establish a nexus between the harm suffered and her membership in the social group, and finding that the respondent had not demonstrated that the El Salvadoran government was unable or unwilling to protect her from harm. Id. at 3. On appeal, the BIA found that the proposed social group was cognizable, where it was “substantially similar” to the proposed group in Matter of A-R-C-G- and further found that the respondent had met her burden in establishing particularly and social distinctness by way of a submitted country conditions report. Id. at 2. Moreover, the BIA found that the respondent had indeed shown a nexus between her abuse and her membership in the particular social group where the “record indicates that the ex-husband abused her from his position of perceived authority, as her ex-husband and the father of her children…” Id. at 3. The BIA also found that the respondent had sufficiently demonstrated that the El Salvadoran government was unable and unwilling to protect her from harm where although the respondent had previously obtained two orders of protection against her abuser, there were several occasions where local police authorities refused to intervene and afford the respondent protection. Moreover, the respondent’s brother-in-law, who also frequently threatened violence against her, was a police officer, and thus strengthened respondent’s claim that the government would not provide her with protection. The BIA held that the respondent had demonstrated past persecution on account of her membership in a cognizable particular social group, and sustained the respondent’s appeal, remanding for completion of background checks.

Despite the BIA’s findings, and decades of tireless efforts by advocates, Attorney General Sessions now refers the case to himself and has asked parties to submit briefs on “whether, and under what circumstances, being a victim of private criminal activity constitutes a cognizable ‘particular social group’ for purposes of an application for asylum or withholding of removal.” Matter of A-B-, 27 I&N Dec. 227 (A.G. 2018). There may have been bad faith on the part of the Immigration Judge below who held up A-B-’s case on remand, then sent it back to the BIA eight months later by raising a “facially bogus legal issue,” only to have AG Sessions refer the case to himself and stripping the BIA of jurisdiction.

Sessions has made clear his animus against immigrants, especially those fleeing persecution and seeking asylum in the United States, along with their ‘dirty’ immigration lawyers. The referral of the A-B- case to himself is yet another instance of such xenophobia on full display, where he seeks to deny protection to some of the most vulnerable populations in the world. While we hope this is not the case, Sessions will likely reverse the BIA’s findings on the Matter of A-B- case and declare that victims of domestic violence are no longer eligible for asylum in the United States, thus uprooting Matter of A-R-C-G- and particular social group claims based on domestic violence. Indeed, attempting to reverse the ability of a victim of domestic violence to seek asylum goes beyond being anti-immigrant. It is a full-frontal attack on human rights and undermines international obligations to provide protection to people fleeing persecution.  The respondent in Matter of A-B- will thus need to appeal to a federal appellate court to overrule Sessions.

One can hope that if successful on appeal, Matter of A-B- has the potential to broaden asylum eligibility for victims of domestic violence by returning to the Acosta definition of particular social group, and clarify what Matter of A-R-C-G- left untouched, such as the nexus requirement and the inability or unwillingness of governments to provide victims protection from their abuses.

Returning to the Acosta definition of Particular Social Group

Before Matter of M-E-V-G- and Matter of W-G-R-’s additional particularity and social distinction requirements, Matter of Acosta dictated the proper particular social group analysis. The BIA in Matter of Acosta held,

“Persecution on account of membership in a particular social group” refers to persecution that is directed toward an individual who is a member of a group of persons, all of whom share a common, immutable characteristic. i.e., a characteristic that either is beyond the power of the individual members of the group to change or is so fundamental to their identities or consciences that it ought not be required to be changed

The shared characteristic might be an innate one such as sex, color, or kinship ties, or in some circumstances it might be a shared past experience such as former military leadership or land ownership.

19 I&N Dec. at 212, 233.

Applying the doctrine of ejusdem generis, the BIA reasoned that the particular social group category, like the other four enumerated grounds (race, religion, nationality, and political opinion), should be defined by immutable characters that cannot, or ought not to, be changed. Id. at 233.

While nothing is perfect, the Acosta particular social group analysis worked well for the next two decades. However, after the 2003 BIA purge of liberal-leaning judges, the asylum system experienced a dramatic shift in particular social group analysis. The BIA in Matter of C-A-, 23 I&N Dec. 951 (BIA 2006), for example, added that in addition to demonstrating the shared immutable characteristic that defines the particular social group, an asylum applicant would also need to show that the group was “socially visible” in society. Matter of C-A-, 23 I&N Dec. at 951. Social visibility was later refined in Matter of M-E-V-G- and W-G-R-, which clarified that the group needs to be “socially distinct” as to be perceived by society, and not necessarily “ocularly” visible. Matter of W-G-R-, 26 I&N Dec. at 216.

On appeal, Matter of A-B- ought to advocate for the return of the pure Acosta particular social group analysis and rejection of the Matter of C-A- social visibility requirement. Indeed, some circuits have rejected this requirement. In Gatimi v. Holder, 578 F.3d 611 (7th Cir. 2009), the Seventh Circuit declined Chevron deference to the BIA’s denial of an asylum case and rejected the social visibility requirement, finding that it “makes no sense.” Similarly in Valdiviezo-Galdamez v. Holder, 663 F.3d 582 (3d Cir. 2011), the Third Circuit found that the social visibility requirement had no place in particular social group analysis, reasoning that

[i]n the wake of Acosta, the BIA recognized a number of groups as “particular social groups” where there was no indication that the group’s members possessed “characteristics that were highly visible and recognizable by others in the country in question” or possessed characteristics that were otherwise “socially visible” or recognizable. Indeed, we are hard-pressed to understand how the “social visibility” requirement was satisfied in prior cases using the Acosta standard. By way of examples noted above, the BIA has found each of the following groups to constitute a “particular social group” for purposes of refugee status: women who are opposed to female genital mutilation (Matter of Kasinga), homosexuals required to register in Cuba, (Matter of Toboso-Alfonso), and former members of the El Salvador national police (Matter of Fuentes). Yet, neither anything in the Board’s opinions in those cases nor a general understanding of any of those groups, suggests that the members of the groups are “socially visible.” The members of each of these groups have characteristics which are completely internal to the individual and cannot be observed or known by other members of the society in question (or even other members of the group) unless and until the individual member chooses to make that characteristic known.

Although the BIA has since clarified in M-E-V-G- and W-G-R- that social distinction does not require ocular visibility, advocates have found this clarification disingenuous and that it often contradicts the particularity requirement.

Clarifying the Nexus Requirement

As explained above, DHS conceded the nexus requirement in Matter of A-R-C-G- by agreeing that the respondent had indeed suffered past persecution on account of her membership in a particular social group. 26 I&N Dec. at 395. The BIA noted that “the issue of nexus will depend on the facts and circumstances of an individual claim.” Id.

In the recent case, Matter of L-E-A–, 27 I&N Dec. 40 (BIA 2017), the BIA denied asylum to a respondent for failing to meet the nexus requirement. As we have previously blogged, the respondent here was a native and citizen of Mexico whose father owned a general store in Mexico City. Members of a drug cartel approached the respondent’s father to ask if they could sell drugs in the store as they viewed it as a favorable distribution location. The respondent’s father refused. The members of the drug cartel approached respondent to see whether he would sell drugs for them at his father’s store. Upon respondent also refusing, the members of the cartel tried to grab him and put him in their car, but he was able to get away. The respondent left for the border and successfully crossed into the United States. The BIA reasoned that the respondent was not entitled to relief because even if the persecutor had harmed the respondent, it was done so as a means to an end, i.e. to sell drugs. In other words, the persecution would not have been due to the respondent’s membership in a particular social group and animus towards the family, but rather because he was interfering in their drug trade.

The respondent in Matter of A-B- ought to distinguish the finding in Matter of L-E-A- preemptively on appeal, and seek to definitively establish what the nexus requirement ought to be in domestic violence cases. In particular, they will want to avoid an L-E-A-type finding which would reason that the persecution was not due to the woman’s membership in a particular social group, but rather because the persecutor was violent. This was the conclusion of the BIA in Matter of R-A-, 22 I&N 906 (BIA 1999), a decision pre-dating A-R-C-G-, which denied asylum to a victim of domestic violence. This erroneous finding continues to be encountered today, where Immigration Judges continue to find that it is an abuser’s jealousy or own violent behaviors that motivated the harm, not the victim’s membership in a particular social group. As pointed out by Blaine Bookey, “this rationale defies logic: an abuser’s ‘jealousy’ [or violence] is inherently linked to a woman’s gender and status in a relationship as the property of her partner.”

Clarification on this issue is imperative for uniform adjudication of domestic violence asylum cases. The Court handling the Matter of A-B- appeal may look at how other countries have interpreted the nexus requirement under international law. In New Zealand, for example, the Refugee Status Appeals Authority found,

[T]he words “for reasons of” require a causal nexus between actual or perceived membership of the particular social group and the well-founded fear of persecution.  It is not sufficient that a person be a member of a particular social group and also have a well-founded fear of persecution.  The persecution must be feared for reason of the person’s membership or perceived membership of the particular social group…

[T]he nexus between the Convention reason and the persecution can be provided either by the serious harm limb or by the failure of the state protection limb.  This means that if a refugee claimant is at real risk of serious harm at the hands of a non-state agent (e.g. husband, partner or other non-state agent) for reasons unrelated to any of the Convention grounds, but the failure of state protection is for reason of a Convention ground, the nexus requirement is satisfied.  Conversely, if the risk of harm by the non-state agent is Convention related, but the failure of state protection is not, the nexus requirement is still satisfied. In either case the persecution is for reason of the admitted Convention reason. This is because “persecution” is a construct of two separate but essential elements, namely risk of serious harm and failure of protection.

(emphasis added).

The United Kingdom came to a similar understanding of the nexus requirement in the seminal case, Islam and Shah v. Secretary of State for the Home Department, [1999] 2 A.C. 629 (H.L.), finding that the requirement is satisfied where the applicant can show that the harm was motivated by her membership in a particular social group, or by showing that the state failed to provide her with protection from that harm due to her membership in that particular social group. The US Courts have an opportunity to expand asylum eligibility for victims of domestic violence by adopting a similar understanding of the nexus requirement, where an applicant can satisfy the nexus requirement via the abuser’s conduct or by the state’s failure to provide protection from this conduct due to her membership in a particular social group.

Clarifying the State Protection Analysis

State protection, or the lack thereof, is critical in successfully arguing particular social group cases when the persecution is committed by private actors. However, Matter of A-R-C-G- did not provide definitive guidance for assessing the adequacy of state protection. As explained, the BIA remanded the case back to the Immigration Judge for determination of whether the Guatemalan government was “unable or unwilling” to stop the respondent’s abuser. On remand, the Immigration Judge granted asylum at stipulation of the parties and thus did not provide a reasoned analysis as to the Guatemalan government’s inability or unwillingness to protect the respondent from her abuser.

On appeal, Matter of A-B- can seek to clarify how adjudicators ought to analyze the lack of state protection for victims of domestic violence. Advocates have reported inconsistent adjudication in state protection analyses, where some Immigration Judges fail to take country conditions into consideration or fail to understand that although a woman obtained orders of protection against her abuser that the state nevertheless failed to protect her from future abuse when the partner violated the order. Accordingly, uniform guidance is warranted to allow for seamless and consistent adjudication, such as the consideration of country conditions evidence, testimony from the applicant about whether she reasonably could have sought protection in her home country, and evidence of lackluster implementation of domestic violence laws at the state and local levels.

AG Sessions will undoubtedly deny the applicant’s asylum in Matter of A-B- and seek to radically change the adjudication of asylum cases based on domestic violence, and perhaps all particular social group cases based on private criminal activity. However, Matter of A-B-, on appeal, can not only overcome Sessions’ erroneous reading of the law, but can help to expand the eligibility of asylum for victims of domestic violence and clarify those issues which were left untouched by Matter of A-R-C-G-. Critically, the respondent in Matter of A-B- can raise the question of where the Courts wish to fall morally. Do we want to be a country that denies asylum to victims of domestic violence whose countries do little to nothing to protect them? Do we want to stand in stark contrast to nations such as Canada, which has long recognized eligibility for victims of domestic violence, or the United Kingdom, which has similarly recognized such eligibility and does not impose stringent cohesive requirements in their particular social group analyses?  The eventual appeal of Matter of A-B- will grant the Courts another opportunity to resist the anti-immigrant policies of this administration that have undermined the notion of America as being the beacon of hope for the persecuted.

 

 

[i] It must be noted that men and boys are also severely affected by sexual violence. Women and girls, however, constitute the vast majority of victims worldwide and are the population of concern contemplated in Matter of A-R-C-G-, and are thus the population discussed in this article.

California’s New Laws Protecting the Rights of Immigrants Are Civil Rights and Should Never Be Found to Be Unconstitutional

The Trump administration has ramped up its ire against California by filing a lawsuit against three different California laws that aims to protect immigrants from the harsh effects of federal enforcement. The three laws are the Immigrant Worker Protection Act, which regulates the way private employers can respond to federal efforts to investigate workplace immigration law compliance; the California Values Act, which  limits communication from state and local law enforcement with federal immigration officials and prevents them from investigating people for immigration enforcement purposes; and  A.B. 103, which subjects local detention facilities to twice-yearly inspections by the Attorney General’s office.

The lawsuit, United States of America v. California, claims that the California laws render it impossible for the federal government to deport people not born in the United States who live in California. It alleges that California has obstructed the United States’ ability to enforce laws that Congress has created, and that the California protections violate the constitutional principle that federal immigration law is the supreme law of the land. All three laws were signed during the Trump administration. Governor Brown signed the Immigration Worker Protection Act and the California Values Act in October 2017, and A.B. 103 in June 2017.The lawsuit, which also names Governor Brown and AG Becerra as defendant, calls for a declaration that the provisions are invalid, as well as preliminary and permanent injunctions. Under the preemption doctrine, when a state law obstructs or conflicts with federal law, the state law is invalidated.

Remarkably the Trump administration has relied on Arizona v. United States, a 2012 Supreme Court decision that held that Arizona had overstepped its limits by enacting immigration laws that penalized non-citizens that undermined federal immigration law. When the Obama administration  launched this lawsuit against Arizona, it was criticized by Republicans as undermining state rights,  and it is thus ironic that the Trump administration is relying on Arizona v. United States to attack the laws of California that are the opposite of Arizona’s, which are friendly towards immigrants.

While advocates in favor of more friendly immigration laws, including yours truly, cheered when the Supreme Court found most of Arizona’s laws preempted by federal immigration law, this is not a case of double standards when the same advocates are critical of the Trump administration’s latest lawsuit against California. Arizona’s SB 1070 truly conflicted with federal immigration law, according to the Supreme Court, and were contrary to the federal immigration scheme that was enacted by Congress. Those laws literally usurped federal immigration law. For instance, Section 3 of SB 1070 penalized non-citizens for failure to carry registration documents even though there was a similar comprehensive federal requirement to carry registration documents. Section 5(c) criminalized unauthorized immigrants who applied for work. The federal scheme criminalized only employers, but not the individual for unauthorized work, and thus 5(c) stood as an obstacle to the objectives of Congress. Section 6 allowed Arizona police officers to make warrantless arrests based on probable cause that a non-citizen was removable from the United States. This too was preempted because under the federal scheme being removable is not a criminal offense. Still, Arizona was a mixed decision. Section 2(B), the most controversial provision of SB 1070 known as the “show me your papers” law, was upheld. The Supreme Court held that 2(B) was not creating a new state immigration law unlike the other provisions that were found unconstitutional; it only allowed Arizona police officers to determine if someone was unlawfully present by inquiring about person’s status with DHS, and such communication and exchange of information had not been foreclosed by Congress.

Would California’s laws, even if friendly towards immigrants, be preempted under Arizona v. US? The fact that a state may pass an immigrant friendly law rather than a punitive law is not determinative in analyzing whether the law has been preempted if those laws still pose an obstacle to the enforcement of federal law or are in conflict with it.

Under the doctrine of preemption, which is based on the Supremacy Clause in the US Constitution, federal law preempts state law, even when the laws conflict. Thus, a federal court may require a state to stop certain behavior it believes interferes with, or is in conflict with, federal law. Notwithstanding the sweeping Constitutional mandate in favor federal laws being the supreme law of the country, states too possess sovereignty concurrent with the federal government. Therefore, the Intent of Congress is the key. When there is an express preemption provision in a federal statute, courts will identify the domain expressly preempted by that language.

When there is no express provision in a federal statute, a state law can also be impliedly preempted under field preemption or conflict preemption. Under field preemption, it must be demonstrated that the federal government has fully occupied the field it has chosen to regulate. In the case of conflict preemption, if there is a conflict between the state law and the federal law, it must be demonstrated that compliance with both federal and state law is a physical impossibility or that the state law stands as an obstacle to the purposes of Congress.

Relying on Arizona v. United States, the complaint in United States v. California claims that the United States has broad authority to establish immigration laws, the execution of which states cannot obstruct or discriminate against. The complaint further asserts that Congress has created laws that provide broad authority to the federal government to investigate, arrest, detain and remove non-citizens suspected to being or found to be unlawfully in the US. The complaint also states that consultation between the federal and state governments is an important feature of the immigration system, and thus a state may not prohibit its official from providing information to the DHS regarding the citizenship or immigration status of an individual. Finally, the complaint notes that Congress has enacted a comprehensive framework for combatting the employment of illegal aliens, and can penalize employers for not verifying the employment status of employees or for knowingly hiring unauthorized workers.

Although California will make extensive arguments in defending its laws, some preliminary observations can be made. The California laws have been enacted to protect the constitutional and civil rights of all people living in the state of California. While the federal government is authorized to enforce the immigration laws, there have been many instances of egregious abuses by ICE agents that violate the rights of California residents. California is not interfering in the enforcement federal immigration laws or usurping them like Arizona did, but is providing a constitutional baseline for federal agents when enforcing federal law. A state can pass laws with the objective of protecting its residents. Thus, in De Canas v. Bica, the Supreme Court held that a state law regulating non-citizens is not per se preempted as a regulation of federal immigration law, which is essentially a determination of who should or not be admitted in the country. States possess broad police powers to regulate the employment relationship and to protect workers within the state. Even if the California laws mildly frustrate federal authority, they only ensure that the civil rights of California residents subjected to heavy handed enforcement are protected. According to its website, the Civil Rights Enforcement Section in the California Attorney General’s office is committed to the strong and vigorous enforcement of federal and state civil rights laws.  Thus, the California laws have been enacted to protect a legitimate state interest – the constitutional and civil rights of its residents – rather than to oust the federal government from enforcing immigration laws. Federal ICE agents are still free to enter California to enforce the immigration law in order to apprehend, detain and deport non-citizens who are not lawfully in the US.

The California Values Act prohibits state and local officials from providing information regarding a person’s release, unless there is a judicial warrant or a judicial probable cause determination or the individual has been convicted of certain felonies or other serious crimes. It is well within the constitutional rights of a state to refuse to provide such information.   Pursuant to Printz v. United States, 521 U.S. 898 (1997), the federal government cannot commandeer states to enact or administer a federal regulatory program under the Tenth Amendment.  In that case, sheriffs challenged the federal Brady Act, which required local sheriffs to conduct background checks for gun purchasers. Some sheriffs resisted because they objected to the federal regulation of firearms. Justice Antonin Scalia, writing for the majority, held that the sheriffs, as well as states, cannot be commandeered under federal law enforcement schemes with which they disagreed. Moreover, the underpinning behind the California Values Act is to keep communities safe by ensuring that local police can function effectively within the community by not betraying the trust of immigrants who may cooperate as crime victims. If local police were required to provide information regarding non-citizens, they would not be able combat crimes effectively.

The Immigrant Worker Protection Act prevents employers from voluntarily consenting to an immigration enforcement agent form entering the workplace or providing access to the employer’s records, unless the agent has a judicial warrant or consent is otherwise required by federal law. The law also requires employers to notify employees within 72 hours off receiving a notice of inspection. While the Trump administration argues that preventing an employer from voluntarily consenting to an agent from entering the workplace or providing records undermines the ability of enforcement agents from enforcing the employer sanctions provisions under the Immigration and Nationality Act, what the California law does is to again set a baseline that would protect the constitutional and civil rights of California workers. The law does not prevent the federal government from enforcing federal law, it only insists that agents obtain a judicial warrant and workers be provided notice. It is well settled that ICE needs a judicial warrant under the Fourth Amendment in order to enter a private place without consent. Although the Immigrant Worker Protection Act precludes an employer from providing voluntary consent, which may be viewed as interfering with the federal scheme, a judicial warrant could still be justified as the workers may not have consented to a federal agent entering the work place even if the employer may have.

Similarly, California’s AB 103 requiring state officials to review county, local or private locked detention facilities in which noncitizens are being detained is to ensure that the detention facilities meet the constitutional standards. There have been far too many cases of non-citizens being detained for purposes of civil proceedings being abused and mistreated. Again, AB 103’s motivation is not to prevent the detention of non-citizens but to ensure that their detention meets minimum constitutional standards.

Although Attorney General Sessions on behalf of the Trump administration believes that California’s laws ought to be preempted based on Arizona v. United States, they are essentially civil rights laws. A state may enact laws ensuring the civil rights of its residents, including non-citizens, whether legal or not. Civil rights flow from the US Constitution, as well as California’s Constitution, and they ought not to be preempted, especially in light of egregious abuses by ICE agents in enforcing federal immigration law.  Ensuring civil rights to all is a bedrock American principle. Some believe that California may have gone too far, but it can be legitimately argued that a state law upholding civil rights should never be in conflict with a federal law or be an obstacle to federal immigration law enforcement. Civil rights must be adhered to by all government officials, including federal immigration authorities. The preemption doctrine cannot be invoked by federal authorities as an excuse for violating civil rights.