USCIS Finalizes Unlawful Presence Policy Putting F, J And M Nonimmigrants In Great Jeopardy

The USCIS finalized its unlawful presence policy for F, J and M nonimmigrants on August 9, 2018. The final policy makes no significant changes from the draft policy of May 10, 2018. My earlier blog noted the flaws in the draft policy, which persist in the final policy. The final policy incorrectly breaks down the distinction between violating status and being unlawfully present in the US. As of August 9, 2018, F, J and M nonimmigrants who have failed to maintain nonimmigrant status will start accruing unlawful presence.

Individuals who have accrued more than 180 days of unlawful presence during a single stay, and then depart, may be subject to 3-year or 10-year bars to admission, depending on how much unlawful presence they accrued before they departed the United States. See INA § 212(a)(9)(B)(i)(I) & (II).  Individuals who have accrued a total period of more than one year of unlawful presence, whether in a single stay or during multiple stays in the United States, and who then reenter or attempt to reenter the United States without being admitted or paroled, are permanently inadmissible. See INA § 212(a)(9)(C)(i)(1).

Prior to August 9, 2018,  foreign students (F nonimmigrants) and exchange visitors (J nonimmigrants) who were admitted for, or present in the United States in, Duration of Status started accruing unlawful presence on the day after USCIS formally found a nonimmigrant status violation while adjudicating a request for another immigrant benefit or on the day after an immigration judge ordered the applicant excluded, deported, or removed (whether or not the decision was appealed), whichever came first. F and J nonimmigrants, and foreign vocational students (M nonimmigrants), who were admitted until a specific date certain accrued unlawful presence on the day after their Form I-94 expired, on the day after USCIS formally found a nonimmigrant status violation while adjudicating a request for another immigration benefit, or on the day after an immigration judge ordered the applicant excluded, deported, or removed (whether or not the decision was appealed), whichever came first.

This will no longer be the case. Under the new policy effective August 9, 2018, any status violation will start the accrual of unlawful presence. The nonimmigrant will not be provided with any formal notice of a status violation, and any violation from the past that has been discovered would have already started the accrual of unlawful presence. According to the policy memo, the USCIS officer should consider information relating to the alien’s immigration history, including but not limited to:

  • Information contained in the systems available to USCIS;
  • Information contained in the alien’s record; and
  • Information obtained through a Request for Evidence (RFE) or Notice of Intent to Deny, if any.

The final policy purports to make one concession from the draft policy, which is that if a nonimmigrant in F, J or M nonimmigrant classification makes a timely filing for reinstatement of status, then unlawful presence will not accrue during the pendency of this request. In the case of students in F-1 status, a reinstatement application will be considered timely filed if the applicant has not been out of status for more than 5 months at the time of filing for a request for reinstatement under 8 CFR § 214.2(f)(16).  If the reinstatement request is approved, then the period of time an F-1 nonimmigrant was out of status prior to filing the application, along with the period of time during the pendency of the request, will not be counted as unlawful presence. If the reinstatement application is denied, the accrual of unlawful presence resumes on the day after the denial. Whether or not the application for reinstatement is timely filed, USCIS said, an F, J, or M nonimmigrant “whose application for reinstatement is ultimately approved will generally not accrue unlawful presence while out of status.”

USCIS also noted that the Department of State (DOS) administers the J-1 exchange visitor program, to include reinstatement requests. If DOS approves the reinstatement application of a J nonimmigrant, “the individual will generally not accrue unlawful presence from the time the J nonimmigrant fell out of status from the time he or she was reinstated,” USCIS said.

Unfortunately, most students may never know that they fell out of status until it is too late and they may never have an opportunity to file for reinstatement. Students will also likely be found to have violated status if they pursued practical training that is perceived as not being consistent with the regulations.

Esteemed colleague and immigration law expert Stephen Yale-Loehr has compiled a list of 50 examples how an international student might inadvertently or unknowingly fall out of status and start to accrue unlawful presence under the new guidance. Many of these examples arise from mistakes by the school.  For instance, a designated school officer (DSO) may mistakenly complete a record, which will indicate to a USCIS officer that the student has remained in the United States beyond the end date of the program, and may have also worked on campus in violation of F-1 status. Status violations can also result from inadvertent miscommunications between school officials. An undergraduate student receives permission from an academic advisor (but not the DSO) to drop a course. The student is now registered for 11 rather than 12 semester credit hours. Later, the USCIS deems her to be in violation of status and accruing unlawful presence.

The USCIS has already begun to lay traps in order to nab students who may have unwittingly violated status. Recent RFEs issued after the filing of a change of status request from F-1 to H-1B require a student to meticulously demonstrate that he or she maintained status during post-completion practical training, including proving that the student was not unemployed for more than the requisite amount of time. The student must also prove that the employment, including an unpaid internship, was related to the major field of study.  Here is one example inquiring whether a student maintained status during a routine period of optional practical training:

F-1 OPT: Students engaging in initial F-1 post-completion Optional Practical Training (OPT) may not accrue an aggregate of more than 90 days off unemployment during the initial post-completion OPT period. Students granted the 17-month OPT extension may not accrue an aggregate of more than 120 days of unemployment during the total OPT period including any initial OPT and the 17-month OPT extension. Students granted the 24-month OPT extension may not accrue an aggregate of more than 150 days of unemployment during the total OPT period including any initial OPT and the 24-month OPT extension. Further, students engaging in F-1 post-completion must engage in at least 20 hours or more per week of employment that is directly related to the student’s U.S. major of study. Lastly, unpaid internships may meet the OPT employment requirements if the internship is directly related to the student’s U.S. major of study and the internship complies with all labor laws. Please provide evidence that the beneficiary maintained the beneficiary’s F-1 status during post-completion OPT. Evidence may include but is not limited to the following:

-A list of all employers the beneficiary has worked for under post-completion OPT and the periods the beneficiary worked for those employers;

-Copies of all pay records/stubs for the beneficiary from the starting date of post-completion OPT to the present time; and

-Evidence that the beneficiary worked at least 20 hours or more per week in a position is directly related to the beneficiary’s U.S. major of study.

Similarly, maintaining status through Curricular Practical Training (CPT) is frequently challenged in RFEs by asking for evidence that the CPT was an integral part of the beneficiary’s degree program. The regulation at 8 CFR § 214.2(f)(1)(i) leaves undefined “curricular practical training program that is an integral part of an established curriculum” thus leaving it open for a subjective interpretation.  Also, where the CPT commenced immediately upon the student’s enrolment in the program, the USCIS questions whether immediate participation in CPT was required for the beneficiary’s studies.

A student can also be found to have violated status due to an ambiguity in the rules providing for the maximum amount of time in practical training. 8 CFR § 214.2(f)(10) provides that a student may be authorized a total of 12 months of practical training, and becomes eligible for another 12 months when the student changes to a higher educational level. 8 CFR § 214.2(f)(10)(i) further provides that “students who have received one year or more of full time curricular practical training are ineligible for post-completion academic training.” This could be interpreted to mean that a student can receive more than one year of CPT, and such CPT is routinely granted by DSOs through the SEVIS system that is administered by ICE. But USCIS is now interpreting this to mean that the total time that a student is entitled in any sort of practical training is 12 months even though ICE, its sister agency, authorized more than 12 months of CPT. USCIS is disregarding the suggestion in 8 CFR § 214.2(f)(10)(i) that a student may be entitled to more than 12 months of CPT.

Upon receiving such an RFE, it is important to submit evidence to overcome USCIS’s doubts. Still, it may be difficult to challenge USCIS’s interpretation that the regulation at 8 CFR § 214.2(f)(10) only authorizes a total of 12 months of practical training, even though 8 CFR § 214.2(f)(10)(i) appears to suggest that CPT can be granted in excess of 1 year. It may also be difficult to demonstrate to the USCIS’s satisfaction that the CPT was an integral part of an established curriculum. If the request for a change of status is not granted, the F-1 nonimmigrant would have started accruing unlawful presence as of August 9, 2018. In the event of the student departing later than February 5, 2020, he or she will be barred from entering the US for 3 years. After February 5, 2020, there will be no such grace period, and prior status violations that were in excess of 180 days will result in 3 year or 10 year bars to reentry upon the student departing the United States. The student may not be able to change or adjust status in the United States, and thus will be caught in a federally imposed Catch-22 situation.

The unlawful presence policy compounds the plight of the nonimmigrant who may also receive a Notice to Appear and be placed in removal proceedings under yet another USCIS policy designed to make life more difficult for law abiding nonimmigrants. Some are deciding to withdraw the request for change of status, upon receiving difficult to overcome RFEs, and leave the United States, prior to February 5, 2020, so that they can process their H-1B visas at a US consulate abroad. While such a strategy may allow the applicant to escape being issued a Notice to Appear, it could cause issues at the US consulate where a consul may still want the applicant to justify whether the CPT program was bona fide. On the other hand, if the applicant is placed in removal proceedings, and if voluntary departure is issued by an Immigration Judge prior to the accrual of unlawful presence of one year or more, then there is an escape hatch pursuant to INA § 212(a)(9)(B)(i)(I). The 3 year bar does not apply to those who departed after the commencement of proceedings and before the accrual of 1 year of unlawful presence (as there is explicit language to this effect in the provision). If the voluntary departure order is issued after 1 year of unlawful presence,  then the ten-year bar would trigger under INA § 212(a)(9)(B)(i)(II) would apply. There is no escape hatch to the 10 year bar as there is to the 3 year bar whilst in removal proceedings. Further ethical and strategic considerations regarding representing beneficiaries of denied requests in removal proceedings can be found in my blog here.

The final policy will not just cause havoc to nonimmigrants snared with technical or perceived violations of status, but schools will also face liability for errors by DSOs. Challenging the policy in federal court is indeed the need of the hour, and there is an urgent need for universities, hospitals and research institutions to come forward as plaintiffs! The 3 and 10 year bars, or the permanent bar under INA § 212(a)(9)C), are extremely draconian and should only be triggered when the nonimmigrant goes beyond a date certain expiration date. This is consistent with the statutory definition of unlawful presence under INA § 212(a)(9)(B)(ii), which provides:

“…an alien is deemed to be unlawfully present in the United States if the alien is present in the United States if the alien is present in the United States after the expiration of the period of stay authorized by the Attorney General or is present in the United States without being admitted or paroled.

The new policy blurs the difference between being out of status and unlawfully present, and thus violates INA § 212(a)(9)(B)(ii). If the USCIS wanted to so radically change its prior interpretation of unlawful presence for F, J and M nonimmigrants, it ought to have promulgated a rule through a more formal notice and comment under the Administrative Procedure Act. Finally, the policy violates the due process rights of these nonimmigrants as it imposes draconian penalties, 3 and 10 year bars, for status violations for which they never received formal warning and notice. All these are ripe grounds, among many others, for a successful challenge to this flawed policy in federal court!

 

Administrative Review Versus Judicial Review When an Employment-Based Petition Is Denied

Under the Trump administration, there have been an increasing number of denials of employment-based petitions, especially of H-1B visas. To reverse what Trump sees as American carnage, his administration has unleashed carnage on the H-1B visa program, and indeed, all legal immigration. It does not matter that employment-based visas help facilitate American competitiveness globally by attracting worldwide talent, or that foreign workers complement the US workforce rather than replace them, resulting in greater overall efficiency, productivity and jobs. Rather, the administration continues to attack all pathways to legal immigration under its misguided America First philosophy.

The stakes for an approval have become even higher, as USCIS recently announced that it will “issue an NTA [Notice to Appear] where, upon issuance of an unfavorable decision on an application, petition, or benefit request, the alien is not lawfully present in the United States.” In yet another recent policy, USCIS instructs adjudicating officials to deny applications based on the lack of “sufficient initial evidence” without the issuance of an RFE or notice of intent to deny. This could be subjectively viewed as resulting in more denials followed by NTAs.

Upon the USCIS Service Center denying an employment-based petition, the petitioner may file Form I-290B, Notice of Appeal or Motion in order to appeal to the Administrative Appeals Office (AAO) within 30 days (plus 3 days if received in the mail) of the decision. Alternatively, the petitioner may request a motion to reopen or a motion to reconsider or both with 33 days of the decision. The petitioner may also opt to seek judicial review in federal court without going to the AAO. In addition, a petitioner may also wish to re-file the petition, which may at times be the best strategy. However, the re-filing option may not always be available, such as when the H-1B cap for the fiscal year has already been reached or the beneficiary’s nonimmigrant status has ended and consular processing would be problematic for whatever reason.

This blog will discuss the advantages and disadvantages of administrative review over judicial review.

Advantages of Seeking Administrative Review

Filing Form I-290B is more administratively convenient, efficient and less costly for the client. If the USCIS has made an obvious error, requesting that the USCIS either reopen or reconsider or do both may be an effective and simple strategy. For example, if an H-1B is erroneously denied without an RFE or NOID, and it was clearly an error, the filing a motion to reopen may make more sense over judicial review.

In the event that the petition has been denied on substantive grounds, filing an appeal to the AAO allows one to supplement the record by providing additional evidence such as a more detailed expert evaluation. The process is less formal than going to federal court. Writing the brief in support of the appeal or motion is an extension of what was already said in the response to the Request for Evidence prior to denial, although the new brief must make new and creative arguments to overcome the denial.

Even when the intention is to file an appeal on Form I-1290B, the official who made the initial decision, according to agency regulation, will first review the appeal and determine whether to take favorable action and grant the benefit request. This process is called “initial field review.” Thus, every appeal is first treated as a motion to reopen or reconsider. There are many occasions where a case based on an egregious denial can be reopened and reversed without going through the AAO.

There is nothing to lose and a chance of a favorable result – the AAO could either outright reverse a denial or remand back to the USCIS Service Center, which in turn, could issue another RFE. If the AAO dismisses the appeal, one can still seek review in federal court.

Disadvantages of Seeking Administrative Review

The success rate at the AAO is very low. In FY2017, with respect to H-1B petitions, the AAO dismissed 598 appeals, sustained only 22 and remanded 44. With respect to L-1 petitions, the AAO dismissed 181 appeals, sustained only 15 and remanded 6.

The process is also not expeditious. If the beneficiary is already in the US and does not have another underlying nonimmigrant status, he/she will start accruing unlawful presence for purposes of triggering the 3/10 year bar upon the denial of the request for change or extension of status. If the individual’s appeal is not successful after 180 days of unlawful presence have accrued, the beneficiary will be subject to the bars upon departing the US.  (If the individual’s appeal is successful, any related application for change of status or extension of stay is likely to be reopened on Service motion following the granting of the petition, but one cannot know for sure in advance whether this will happen.)

The AAO may not just affirm the USCIS denial, but may also improve upon it by providing better reasoning or even affirming for different or additional reasons. This would render it more difficult to seek judicial review.

Advantages of Seeking Judicial Review

The case is reviewed by a judge who is not part of the USCIS and is not influenced by its prevailing policy as an adjudicator within the AAO is.

There may also be an opportunity to have the case resolved with an Assistant US Attorney who may advise his/her client, the USCIS, to reverse the decision rather than fight it out in court.

If the plaintiff prevails, the attorney may seek fees under the Equal Access to Justice Act.

One can ask for extraordinary remedies through a preliminary injunction (or temporary restraining order followed by a preliminary injunction) to maintain the nonimmigrant status of the beneficiary during the pendency of the matter, or at least prevent the beneficiary from accruing unlawful presence during the pendency of the matter.

Moreover, if an NTA is issued upon the denial of petition, then one potential advantage in federal court litigation is to ask the court in the preliminary injunction to restore the status of the beneficiary, which could then be grounds for termination of the removal proceedings. It should be noted that business immigration attorneys will also need to either hone in or develop their litigation skills for beneficiaries who are placed in removal proceedings, which was discussed in our previous blog, “Heightened Ethical and Strategic Considerations for Business Immigration Attorneys Under USCIS’s New Removal Policy.” Attorneys will need to simultaneously navigate the removal process while challenging the denial of the underlying petition.

In a few cases, the beneficiary has been able to establish standing as a plaintiff in litigation involving nonimmigrant visas. See e.g., Tenrec, Inc. v. USCIS, No. 3:16‐cv‐995‐SI, 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 129638 **21‐22 (D. Or. Sept. 22, 2016). 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).

Disadvantages of Seeking Judicial Review

Seeking judicial review can be far more expensive and time consuming. In addition, a federal court may exercise a more deferential standard, where under the Administrative Appeal Act (APA) a denial may be set aside only if  it is “arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with law.” See 5 U.S.C. § 706(2)(A); United States v. Bean, 537 U.S. 71, 77 (2002). Factual findings may be set aside by a federal court only if “unsupported by substantial evidence”—which is not quite the same thing as review for “clear error” as in appellate review of a lower court’s fact-finding, but is still far from de novo review. See 5 U.S.C. § 706(2)(E); Dickinson v. Zurko, 527 U.S. 150 (1999).  The AAO, on the other hand, can undertake a de novo review of all issues of fact, law, policy, and discretion, and can also address new issues that were not addressed in the prior decision. See AAO Practice Manual, Chapter 3 Appeals.

New evidence cannot be introduced into the record.

Some employers also fear government retaliation, although this may be anecdotal and not necessarily official policy. Employers also are shy about unwanted publicity when they become plaintiffs.

The stakes have never been higher for employment-based immigration. With the very real threat of deportation looming, practitioners and employers alike must weigh the benefits and risks with any of these options when seeking review of a denial. For some, a motion to reopen and reconsider may be sufficient for a more obvious error. Others may wish to resolve a recurring, systemic issue by seeking judicial review in a district court. Regardless, it is clear that the role of the immigration practitioner, especially those practicing business immigration, must be prepared to increasingly litigate these petitions in order to prevent further carnage of the existing immigration system.

“Vague Laws Invite Arbitrary Power”: Making the Case for Crimes Involving Moral Turpitude Being Void for Vagueness

The Supreme Court in Sessions v. Dimaya, 138 S. Ct. 1204 (2018) dramatically held that one aspect of the crime of violence definition contained within the aggravated felony provision of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) was unconstitutionally vague. An aggravated felony conviction can result in a non-citizen’s swift removal from the United States, and thus the Supreme Court’s decision in Dimaya provided much needed respite to non-citizens who have been charged with removability under the vague clause of the residual clause in the crime of violence provision. This led one to question whether a crime involving moral turpitude (CIMT) could similarly be challenged for being impermissibly vague under the Supreme Court’s reasoning in Dimaya.

Unfortunately, on July 17, 2018, the Ninth Circuit in Martinez-de Ryan v. Sessions denied a petition for review of a foreign national’s denied application for cancellation of removal based on a finding that she had committed a CIMT. No. 15-70759 (9th Cir. 2018). The Ninth Circuit rejected the Petitioner’s arguments that the phrase ‘crime involving moral turpitude’ is unconstitutionally vague, and distinguished the Supreme Court’s decisions in Dimaya and its predecessor, Johnson v. United States, 135 S. Ct. 2551 (2015). The relevant aggravated felony provision in Dimaya was the residual clause of the crime of violence definition at 18 U.S.C. § 16(b), which provides that “any other offense that is a felony and that, by its nature, involves a substantial risk that physical force against the person or property of another may be used in the course of committing the offense”. The relevant provision in Johnson was the residual clause of “violent felony,” as defined by 18 U.S.C. § 924(e)(2)(B), in the Armed Career Criminal Act, which similarly provides that a violent felony is one that “involves conduct that presents a serious potential risk of physical injury to another.” The Supreme Court found in each respective case that the residual clauses created “grave uncertainty about how to estimate the risk posed by a crime” because it “tie[d] the judicial assessment of risk” to a speculative hypothesis about the crime’s “ordinary case,” but provided no guidance on how to figure out what that ordinary case was. Dimaya at 1213; Johnson at 2557. The residual clauses had resulted in reliance upon judge’s “guesswork and intuition,” and “fail[ed] to give ordinary people fair notice of the conduct it punishes,” which invited “arbitrary enforcement” by judges. Johnson at 2557. Such arbitrary enforcement, the Court held, was determinative of impermissible vagueness.

Instead of following Dimaya and Johnson, the Ninth Circuit in Martinez-de Ryan found that it should follow precedent in Jordan v. DeGeorge, 71 S. Ct. 703 (1951) (finding that “whatever else the phrase … may mean,” crimes involving fraud “have always been regarded as involving moral turpitude”) and its Ninth Circuit corollary decision, Tseung Chu v. Cornell, 247 F.2d 929 (1957), which came after the enactment of the 1952 Act (which slightly changed the wording of the CIMT provision from the 1917 Act which controlled in DeGeorge). Though acknowledging that Johnson and Dimaya “cast some doubt on [DeGeorge’s] general reasoning,” the Ninth Circuit nevertheless reasoned that Johnson and Dimaya dealt with residual clauses, whereas the definition of CIMTs are “tethered to common law principles.” Martinez-de Ryan, at *2.

It is unclear what the Ninth Circuit means when it states that CIMTs are tethered to common law principles. The impermissible vagueness of CIMTs are evident in courts’ ongoing failure to establish a consistent framework to evaluate whether a crime involves ‘moral turpitude,’ and inconsistent outcomes when dealing with the same crimes. In Johnson, the court acknowledged that the failure of persistent efforts to establish a legal standard can provide evidence of vagueness. 135 S. Ct. at 2558 (citing United States v. L. Cohen Grocery Co., 255 U.S. 81, 91 (1921)). As applied to CIMTs, the persistent failure to delineate a clear analytical framework that apprises people of common intelligence, and indeed learned judges, of its meaning is a clear indication of unconstitutional vagueness.

Courts have attempted to define moral turpitude in varying degrees, typically with reliance on Black’s Law Dictionary, which currently defines the phrase as:

shameful wickedness — so extreme a departure from ordinary standards of honest, good morals, justice, or ethics as to be shocking to the moral sense of the community. It has also been defined as an act of baseness, vileness, or depravity in the private and social duties which one person owes to another, or to society in general, contrary to the accepted and customary rule of right and duty between people.

MORAL TURPITUDE, Black’s Law Dictionary (10th ed. 2014); see also, e.g., United States v. Smith, 420 F.2d 428, 431 (5th Cir. 1970). The Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) has added that a CIMT is “per se morally reprehensible and intrinsically wrong, or malum in se so it is the nature of the act itself and not the statutory prohibition of it which renders a crime one of moral turpitude.” Matter of Franklin, 20 I&N Dec. 867, 868 (BIA 1994). The varying definitions of moral turpitude in case law are as vague as the phrase itself.

These open-ended definitions have led to inconsistent application by judges, where they must rely upon their own biases, or on precedent decisions where other judges have relied upon their own biases, to determine what is morally reprehensible. In his powerful dissent in DeGeorge, Justice Jackson declared that “uniformity and equal protection of the law can come only from a statutory definition of fairly stable and confined bounds,” not on the whims of judges. DeGeorge, at 242.  He similarly rejected the malum in se versus malum prohibitum distinction, stating that “this classification comes to us from common law, which in its early history freely blended religious conceptions of sin with legal conceptions of crimes.” Id. at 237. Even accepting the government’s contention in DeGeorge that these crimes ought to be “measured against the moral standards in contemporary society,” we would see uneven application throughout the country and overtime. Id. Justice Jackson concluded that “irrationality is inherent” when creating case law based on fluid morality, as opposed to finite statutory meaning. Id. at 239.

In future challenges to the CIMT provision, practitioners can point to various inconsistencies as evidence of arbitrary enforcement, and hence, vagueness. For example, some courts have treated 18 U.S.C. § 1001 (false statements) as a CIMT (see, e.g., Ghani v. Holder, 557 F.3d 836 (7th Cir. 2009)), and others have not (see, e.g., Hirsch v. Immigration & Naturalization Serv., 308 F.2d 562 (9th Cir. 1962)). Similarly, some courts have treated certain money laundering crimes as a CIMT (Matter of Tejwani, 24 I&N Dec. 97 (BIA 2007), holding that the intentional use of monetary instruments to conceal or disguise proceeds of any crime was a CIMT), and others have not (Goldeshtein v. I.N.S., 8 F.3d 645 (9th Cir. 1993), holding that structuring financial transactions to avoid currency reporting was not a CIMT). Admittedly, the arbitrary and inconsistent enforcement argument is difficult to make when it comes to crimes involving fraud (see, e.g., Matter of Kochlani, 24 I&N Dec. 128 (BIA 2007), holding that trafficking of counterfeit good, even absence of an intent to defraud, is a CIMT; see also, Planes v. Holder, 652 F.3d 991, 997-98 (9th Cir. 2011), stating “the longstanding rule that crimes that have fraud as an element” are CIMTs), and in the case of Ms. Martinez-de Ryan, bribery of an official under 18 U.S.C. § 666(a)(2) (see also, Matter of V-, 4 I&N Dec. 100 (BIA 1950), holding that attempted bribery was a CIMT).

Practitioners can also point out that the INA includes specific criminal grounds for deportability and inadmissibility, including the failure to register as a sex offender, domestic violence, stalking, and child abuse, and defines what each of those crimes mean. Congress has failed to similarly define what is meant by moral turpitude, allowing courts to unevenly apply CIMT analyses, rendering some folks removable/inadmissible and others not, despite being found guilty of committing the same crimes. In Dimaya, Justice Gorsuch in his concurring opinion wrote that “[v]ague laws invite arbitrary power.… Today’s vague laws… can invite the exercise of arbitrary power… by leaving the people in the dark about what the law demands and allowing prosecutors and courts to make it up.” 138 S. Ct. at 1223 (2018) (concurring in judgment). Without a precise definition of a CIMT, one can argue that such vagueness invites judges to make the law up according to their own biases, resulting in the erroneous removal of non-citizens.

The Ninth Circuit’s decision in Martinez-de Ryan v. Sessions is not the end of the road for finding a CIMT unconstitutionally vague. Although the Ninth Circuit followed a Supreme Court precedent in DeGeorge, Dimaya and Johnson have cast some doubt on its general reasoning. Specifically, in light of Dimaya and Johnson, one can argue that the vagueness of the CIMT definition has resulted in reliance upon judge’s “guesswork and intuition,” and has failed “to give ordinary people fair notice of the conduct it punishes,” resulting in arbitrary enforcement by judges. Dimaya at 1223 (citing to Johnson at 2557). Those who are unable to apply for relief because they have been found to have either been convicted of or have admitted to a CIMT must continue to litigate in other circuits until a CIMT is also rightfully found to be unconstitutionally vague.

 

(The author thanks Cyrus Mehta for his considerable assistance in writing this blog)

Heightened Ethical and Strategic Considerations for Business Immigration Attorneys Under USCIS’s New Removal Policy

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) issued updated policy guidance on July 5, 2018, PM-602-0050.1,  that aligns its policy for issuing Form I-862, Notice to Appear, with the immigration enforcement priorities of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

A Notice to Appear (NTA) instructs a person to appear before an immigration judge on a certain date. The issuance of an NTA starts removal proceedings against the person. Under the new guidance, USCIS notes  that its officers will now issue NTAs “for a wider range of cases where the individual is removable and there is evidence of fraud, criminal activity, or where an applicant is denied an immigration benefit and is unlawfully present in the United States.”

Although it has always been possible for the USCIS to issue an NTA when an applicant is denied a benefit, it has generally not done so in the past for a number of sensible and practical reasons. Many applicants choose to leave the United States on their own upon the denial of the benefit, or delay their departure, if they legitimately seek to appeal the denial or seek reconsideration. It therefore makes no sense to further burden the already overburdened immigration courts with new cases, especially involving people who may already be departing on their own volition.

While David Isaacson’s  excellent blog “Another Brick in the (Virtual) Wall: Implications of USCIS’s Policy Regarding Removal Proceedings Against Denied Applicants Who Are Not Lawfully Present” gets into the implications behind the new policy, including its malicious intent, as “the new guidance implies that it will not matter if the person issued the NTA was lawfully present until just prior to the unfavorable decision,”  I highlight some of the ethical considerations for attorneys arising under the new NTA policy.

As denials of H-1B extension requests have been happening more frequently under the Trump administration, I will use the H-1B to illustrate some of the ethical conundrums that may arise. Routine requests that were previously approved for H-1B occupations such as systems analyst or financial analyst are now frequently being denied. The new policy exacerbates this problem by now requiring that an NTA be issued upon the denial of such a request and the prior H-1B status has expired.  Sure enough, the USCIS policy does not change any law. Prior to the issuance of the policy, attorneys representing an employer and an employee in a request for an extension of H-1B status were mindful of the consequences when an H-1B extension request was denied. The issuance of an NTA has always been factored in as a worst case scenario in the event of a denial.  But now this will become a new reality and no longer a theoretical possibility. Petitioners should consider filing extension requests on behalf of the beneficiary well in advance of the expiration date of the underlying status – the law allows one to so up to six months prior- and should also consider doing so via premium processing.  In the event that the extension request is denied, it will happen while the beneficiary is still in status thus obviating the NTA.

The H-1B worker is considered unlawfully present when the request for an H-1B extension is denied, and the prior H-1B status has already expired. The issuance of an NTA does not stop the accrual of unlawful presence, and it is now important to deal with unlawful presence in the context of a removal proceeding.  Any accrual of unlawful presence that exceeds 180 days will trigger a 3 year inadmissibility bar under INA 212(a)(9)(B)(i)(I) once the individual departs the United States prior to the commencement of removal proceedings. If this individual accrues one or more than one year of unlawful presence and then departs the United States, she or she will be inadmissible for 10 years. Attorneys have been mindful of this eventuality especially when the employer chooses to appeal the decision or file a motion to reopen or reconsider. In the event that the decision is not rendered prior to the accrual of 180 days of unlawful presence, and the foreign national still remains in the United States beyond 180 days and then departs, in the event of an unfavorable decision, he or she will be precluded from reentering the United States for a 3 year period.

A business immigration attorney who may understandably not be knowledgeable about the ins and outs of a removal proceeding will need to come up to speed. After all, one of the cardinal ethical obligations of an attorney is to competently represent the client. Under ABA Model Rule 1.1 “a lawyer shall provide competent representation to a client.” The model rule goes on to state, “Competent representation requires the legal knowledge, skill, thoroughness and preparation reasonably necessary for the representation.” [While this blog will refer to ABA Model Rules,  attorneys must refer to their own state bar rules of ethical conduct that are analogous to the ABA Model Rules].  One way for an attorney to become competent is to associate with a lawyer who is competent in the removal matters. Alternatively, the lawyer who chooses to restrict her expertise to business immigration, thus limiting the scope of representation under ABA Model Rule 1.2(c), may refer the matter out to another competent lawyer who knows removal proceedings when the NTA is issued.

Once removal proceedings have been instituted, the foreign national may no longer leave even if he wants to. Moreover, the first master calendar hearing is scheduled after several weeks or months.  Indeed, it is becoming more obvious that the goal of this Trump Administration is to harass non-citizens in light of yet another more recent policy that gives authority to USCIS officials to deny applications based on lack of “sufficient initial evidence” without a request for evidence or notice of intent to deny. This could be viewed subjectively resulting in more denials followed by NTAs. If the foreign national leaves in the middle of the proceeding, it would trigger a new ground of inadmissibility under INA 212(a)(6)(B), which provides that “Any alien who without reasonable cause fails or refuses to attend or remain in attendance at a proceeding to determine the alien’s inadmissibility or deportability and who seeks admission to the United States within 5 years of such alien’s subsequent departure or removal is inadmissible.”

If the foreign national remains in the US and receives a removal order, it would trigger a ten year bar to inadmissibility under INA 212(a)(9)(A) after the individual leaves pursuant to this order. It may be worthwhile for the attorney to stave off a removal order, and instead try to get the Immigration Judge (IJ) to issue a voluntary departure order. If voluntary departure is issued prior to the accrual of unlawful presence of one year or more, then under INA 212(a)(9)(B)(i)(I), the 3 year bar does not apply to those who departed after the commencement of proceedings and before the accrual of 1 year of unlawful presence. If the voluntary departure order is not issued prior to the 1 year period then the ten-year bar for one year of unlawful presence under INA 212(a)(9)(B)(i)(II) would apply. Due to immense backlogs in the immigration courts, there is a good likelihood that an IJ may not be able to get to the matter timely and could end up issuing a voluntary departure order after the accrual of one year of unlawful presence. Thus, an attorney representing such an individual in removal must creatively strategize to ensure that a voluntary departure order is rendered before the 1 year mark.

While the lawyer has been used to contesting the denial of an H-1B, it now has to also be done in the context of a removal proceeding. An IJ has no jurisdiction to hear an H-1B petition denial in a removal proceeding, and the denial must still be appealed to the AAO or through a motion to reopen or reconsider or potentially even challenged in federal court. While the denial is being appealed, it is important to try to seek a continuances in the event of another meritorious pending benefits application under Matter of Hashmi and Matter of Rajah.  In the event that the denial is overturned, and the foreign national is still in removal proceedings, one can seek to terminate removal proceedings. Under Matter of Castro-Tum recently decided by AG Sessions, an IJ can no longer administratively close a case thus overruling Matter of Avetisyan. However, it may still be possible to terminate based on a joint motion with the government’s attorney, but the ability to for the government attorney to exercise such discretion has also been limited.  Note that Attorney General Sessions is also seeking to overturn Hashmi and Rajah, but until that happens one can seek a continuance for good cause based on a pending meritorious application at the USCIS.    If the foreign national has already left, presumably under a voluntary departure order and has not triggered any ground of inadmissibility, he or she may be able to return if the denial is overturned, or if the appeal is not pursued or is unsuccessful, it may be prudent to re-file the H-1B petition, and have the individual return on a visa pursuant to the approval of the new petition.

All this raises another important ethical consideration – conflicts of interest. Most immigration attorneys represent both the employer and the employee as there is always a common goal, which is to obtain the visa benefit.  Still, there is always potential for a conflict of interest in the event that the employer wishes to terminate the employment or the employee wishes to quit and seek greener pastures elsewhere.  Under ABA Model Rule 1.7(b), notwithstanding the possibility of a conflict of interest, a lawyer may represent both clients if the lawyer reasonably believes that the lawyer will be able to provide competent and diligent representation to each affected client and the clients have provided informed consent, confirmed in writing. The possibility of the foreign national being placed in removal proceedings heightens the potential for a conflict of interest. Will the employer client still be willing to hold out the job offer for the employee during a long drawn out removal hearing? In the event that the employer pulls out, then will the attorney be able to continue to represent the employee who is in removal proceedings or would this matter need to be referred out to another attorney and thus limit the scope of the representation under ABA Model Rule 1.2(c)? All these considerations need to be discussed preferably in advance between the employer and the employee. It may be possible to craft conflict waivers and get informed consent that would allow the attorney to deal with all these contingencies, including representation in removal proceedings.

The very issuance of the NTA will cause other problems. At the denial of the H-1B request, the USCIS could potentially serve the NTA on the attorney who is the attorney of record on the notice of entry of appearance that was submitted with the H-1B request. If the attorney represents both the employer and the foreign national employee in the H-1B matter, the attorney must at least notify the employee, although the attorney has no obligation to appear at the master calendar hearing. The attorney may need to explain what the master calendar hearing is, though.  This is akin to being counsel in a lower court and receiving an appealable unfavorable decision: the existing counsel may not have to do the appeal, but would have to advise the client of the possibility so they can retain someone else to do the appeal if they want. In a case where the attorney only represents the employer, but receives the NTA on behalf of the foreign national employee, it would still be prudent to inform the employee.  Of course, if the NTA is served on an attorney who has not yet made an appearance on behalf of the respondent in immigration court and not the respondent, that would be a basis to terminate a removal proceeding or to vacate an in absentia order. However, the attorney handling the H-1B matter must still advise the beneficiary upon receipt of an NTA and forward the NTA to the beneficiary and advise her to seek independent counsel if the H-1B attorney will not represent the beneficiary in the removal proceeding or may be conflicted from doing so.

In the event that the H-1B worker has already departed the United States prior to the issuance of the NTA, it can be clearly argued that jurisdiction does not vest when an NTA is issued when the foreign national is not present in the United States. INA 240(c)(3)(a) provides that “the Service has the burden of establishing by clear and convincing evidence that, in the case of an alien who has been admitted to the United States, the alien is deportable.” INA  237(a) refers to “[a]ny alien (including an alien crewman) in and admitted to the United States may be removed.” Since the former H-1B worker is not in, and admitted to, the United States, she cannot fall under the literal text of the‎ statute and, thus, is not deportable.

It remains to be seen whether the USCIS will be able to fully implement the NTA policy or whether this is just a wish list of the Trump administration. If the new policy is implemented as intended, an already overburdened immigration court system will face even further backlogs. Attorneys must be aware of the various heightened ethical and strategic considerations in representing a client who has received an NTA after a denial and this blog is an attempt to provide a preliminary overview.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Threading the Needle: Challenging Trump’s Travel Ban Despite Trump v. Hawaii

On June 26, 2018, the US Supreme Court in a 5-4 decision in Trump v. Hawaii upheld President Trump’s travel ban against seven countries, the majority of which are predominantly Muslim. Chief Justice John Roberts, in writing the majority opinion, found that Section 212(f) of the Immigration and Nationality (INA) “exudes deference to the President” and thus empowers him to deny entry of noncitizens if he determines that allowing entry “would be detrimental to the interests of the United States.”

There has already been much criticism of this decision. Although Trump made various utterances regarding his animus towards Muslims during his campaign and even after he became president, the majority found the third version of the Executive Order to be neutral on its face and that it did not violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment of Constitution. Still, ironically, the majority made reference to Korematsu v. United States, 323 U.S. 214 (1944) as a result of Justice Sonia Sotomayor referencing this decision in her powerful dissent. She found striking parallels between Korematsu and Trump’s travel ban. For example, they were both based on dangerous stereotypes about particular groups’ inability to assimilate and their intent to harm the United States.  In both cases, there were scant national security justifications. In both cases, there was strong evidence that there was impermissible animus and hostility that motivated the government’s policy.

The majority rejected the dissent’s comparison of Trump’s supposedly facially neutral travel ban to Korematsu, but still took this opportunity to overrule Korematsu. Yet, when one carefully reviews Trump’s motivations behind the travel ban, it is not too different from the motivations that resulted in the forced internment of Japanese Americans. Indeed, Justice Sotomayor astutely reaffirmed that “[t]he United States of America is a Nation built upon the promise of religious liberty.” In her rejection of the legality of the travel ban, she observed that “[t]he Court’s decision today fails to safeguard that fundamental principle. It leaves undisturbed a policy first advertised openly and unequivocally as a ‘total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States’ because the policy now masquerades behind a façade of national-security concerns.”

The irony here is that although the majority found that the motivation behind the executive order that resulted in the internment of Japanese-Americans was gravely wrong and has no place in law under our Constitution while Trump’s travel ban is facially neutral, the ban has resulted in the tragic and forced separation of families from the banned countries. It has also prevented the future entry of skilled people from these countries. For instance, if a US citizen sponsors a parent of Iranian nationality, that parent can never immigrate to the United States under the travel ban. The same prohibition would be applicable to a spouse who is an Iranian national who is the beneficiary of an approved I-130 petition filed by her US citizen spouse. While there are supposedly waivers for entry, as Justice Breyer in his separate dissent observed, the Government “is not applying the Proclamation as written,” where the Secretaries of State and Homeland Security have failed to issue guidance to consular officials on the issuance of waivers, and where only 430 waivers have been issued in total, representing “a miniscule percentage of those likely eligible for visas.” Justice Breyer points to a particularly egregious example of a travel ban waiver denial of a child with cerebral palsy from Yemen to demonstrate his point. Due to the war in Yemen, he explained, the young child could no longer access her medication for her disease, and was thus no longer able to move or speak and was going to die if she did not receive treatment soon. Despite this predicament and the young child’s clear eligibility for a waiver according to Presidential Proclamation 9645 (explaining that case-by-case waivers may be granted in circumstances involving, for example, “the foreign national is an infant, a young child or adoptee, an individual needing urgent medical care, or someone whose entry is otherwise justified by the special circumstances of the case”), the consular official denied her waiver. After this story had been highlighted in an amicus brief before the Supreme Court, the family received an update from the consulate that they were eligible for waivers; however, instead of receiving visas, the case was put into administrative processing. It took several more months and international attention to get this child a waiver, indicating that these waivers are not being granted despite an individual’s clear eligibility for them, as outlined in the EO.

If waivers of those who are clearly eligible do not get approved, and one can find a pattern of wholesale denials that are consistent with Trump’s animus and hostility towards people from these banned nations, then it may be possible to assert that the motivations behind the denial of the waivers are based on improper stereotyping of certain nationalities that have no place under our Constitution, like the majority in Trump v. Hawaii found in Korematsu. Finding parallels behind the motivations that resulted in the forced internment of Japanese Americans to the wholesale denial of entry to people eligible for visas just because they happen to be nationals of predominantly Muslim countries could potentially result in further litigation that can overrule the ban, or at least force the Administration to actually implement its waiver process as outlined in the Proclamation. This will no longer be the facially neutral policy that the majority gave a pass to, rather the application of that policy through a sham waiver process will put more focus on the animus displayed by Trump towards Muslims. In other words, the failure to issue waivers, if shown to be a result of Trump’s animus towards Muslims, could be used as evidence to show that not only is the waiver process a sham, but could invalidate the entire EO in a future challenge.

It is at this juncture that Justice Kennedy’s tepid concurrence can provide the ammunition for future plaintiffs who challenge the waivers, and thus Trump’s travel ban. The following extract from Justice Kennedy’s concurrence is worth quoting in verbatim:

There may be some common ground between the opinions in this case, in that the Court does acknowledge that in some instances, governmental action may be subject to judicial review to determine whether or not it is “inexplicable by anything but animus,” Romer v. Evans, 517 U. S. 620, 632 (1996), which in this case would be animosity to a religion. Whether judicial proceedings may properly continue in this case, in light of the substantial deference that is and must be accorded to the Executive in the conduct of foreign affairs, and in light of today’s decision, is a matter to be addressed in the first instance on remand. And even if further proceedings are permitted, it would be necessary to determine that any discovery and other preliminary matters would not themselves intrude on the foreign affairs power of the Executive…

There are numerous instances in which the statements and actions of Government officials are not subject to judicial scrutiny or intervention. That does not mean those officials are free to disregard the Constitution and the rights it proclaims and protects. The oath that all officials take to adhere to the Constitution is not confined to those spheres in which the Judiciary can correct or even comment upon what those officials say or do. Indeed, the very fact that an official may have broad discretion, dis­cretion free from judicial scrutiny, makes it all the more imperative for him or her to adhere to the Constitution and to its meaning and its promise.

The First Amendment prohibits the establishment of religion and promises the free exercise of religion. From these safeguards, and from the guarantee of freedom of speech, it follows there is freedom of belief and expression. It is an urgent necessity that officials adhere to these constitutional guarantees and mandates in all their ac­tions, even in the sphere of foreign affairs. An anxious world must know that our Government remains commit­ted always to the liberties the Constitution seeks to pre­serve and protect, so that freedom extends outward, and lasts.

Thus, all hope is not lost for future plaintiffs adversely impacted by the travel ban. There might be a way to thread the needle by demonstrating that the actual application of the Executive Order, which the majority found facially neutral, is no longer so neutral if waivers are denied wholesale by government officials that are motivated by Trump’s original animus towards Muslims. It was this animus that resulted in the first two versions of the travel ban that were struck down by the lower courts of appeals, and which resulted in the third ban that was the subject of the Supreme Court’s decision in Trump v. Hawaii. It was also the same majority in Trump v. Hawaii that found Korematsu abhorrent but distinguished it from the supposedly facially neutral Executive Order of Trump. But plaintiffs can show that this very same EO is no longer neutral because the waivers are not accessible as misrepresented by the Government in Trump v. Hawaii. As explained above, there have been no official guidelines issued by the Secretaries of State and Homeland Security regarding how consular officials will adjudicate waivers, and whether those denied can seek further redress or review within the administrative system.  Such a failing to issue waivers or at least issue guidance to obtain these waivers again calls into question the ‘neutrality’ of the ban. Once the improper motivation can be shown, especially through the application of the waivers, litigants can again potentially challenge the ban.

As we’ve previously explained, while INA § 212(f) grants wide discretion to the President, “maximum power does not mean absolute power.” Aziz v. Trump2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 20889, at *11 (E.D. Va. Feb. 13, 2017). Once plaintiffs find an opening by challenging the ban through the sham waiver process, other authorities that limit the power of the President can spring to life. For example, in Zadvydas v. Davis, 533 U.S. 678 (2001), the Court found that the power of the Executive is “subject to important constitutional limitations.” In Hamdi v. Rumsfeld, 542 U.S. 507 (2004), the Court stated that the President’s Article II powers are subject to review, and ruled that citizens held as enemy combatants must be afforded due process rights, namely the meaningful opportunity to contest the factual basis for their detention. In Boumediene v. Bush, 553 U.S. 723, 765 (2008), the Supreme Court declared that the political branches cannot “switch the Constitution on or off at will” and extended the right of habeas review to a non-citizen outside the US. Moreover, in INS v. Chadha, 462 U.S. 919 (1983), the Supreme Court reaffirmed that Courts were empowered to review whether or not “Congress has chosen a constitutionally permissible means of implementing” the “regulation of aliens.” And as was argued in the Ninth Circuit, even under Kleindienst v. Mandel, 408 U.S. 753 (1972), the Court can review the actions of the Executive branch, noting that but for their ability to review, there would be no “facially legitimate and bona fide reason” test to measure executive exercises of immigration authority.

Finally, until Trump became President, no one realized that INA § 212(f) could be applied so broadly so as to eviscerate visa classifications created by Congress. Trump v. Hawaii will embolden Trump even further to restrict legal immigration without going through Congress. For instance, he may apply 212(f) to certain family preference categories and restrict the entry of foreign nationals who are the beneficiaries of approved I-130 petitions, by declaring that their entry will be detrimental to the interest of the United States. The same would be true if Trump hypothetically decided to restrict H-1B beneficiaries, say from India, because he believed that their entry into the US would be inconsistent with his Buy American Hire American Executive Order, and thus detrimental to the interest of the United States. It is at this point that a less pliant Congress may have to step up and limit the broad language under 212(f) so that a president like Trump with authoritarian impulses will not be able to trample upon the separation of powers doctrine.

As Trump v. Hawaii passes through the ages, the dissents of Justice Sotomayor and Justice Breyer will have more force than the majority opinion. A powerful dissent signals to another court that the majority got it wrong, similar to Justice Murphy’s dissent in Korematsu. A dissent also sends a signal to Congress that it can overrule a Supreme Court decision by changing the law. This is how Justice Ginsburg’s powerful dissent in Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company, 550 U.S. 618 (2007), resulted in Congress enacting the Ledbetter Equal Pay Act. There is thus hope for the nation to redeem itself if a future Congress modifies INA § 212(f) thus effectively overruling Trump v. Hawaii.

 

 

How Trump Administration Officials Can Be Found Criminally Culpable For Separating Children From Parents

The Trump Administration has continued to perpetuate the falsehood that immigrants are criminals, despite overwhelming evidence that communities are safer when immigrants arrive. Trump’s recent spectacle to honor victims of crimes perpetrated by people who happened to be immigrants was designed to not just to spread hatred and fear of immigrants, but to counter criticism of his policies that have resulted in the cruel separation of children from parents. Trump cynically tried to show that Americans, whom he called “angel families,” have been permanently separated from their parents, thus attempting to deflect from the worldwide negative reaction he has received from the separation of immigrant families seeking asylum in the United States. While it is unfortunate that parents lost their children in crimes committed by immigrants, Trump has manipulated and exploited their unfortunate situation as justification for his inhumane policies.

The purpose of this blog is to continue to focus on the gross abuses that were perpetrated on children by the Trump Administration. These abuses were intentional and targeted against children from Central America that ought to make the architects criminally culpable. The separations did not arise from a policy that could not be avoided under law. Indeed, it was a deliberate policy to deter people from Central America from applying for asylum under US law by cruelly separating children, knowing that it would cause them trauma and permanent psychological harm.  Accordingly, the real criminals are not the immigrants. The real criminals are those in the administration who have separated families, subjected detained immigrants to inhumane and violent conditions, and who now seek to detain immigrant families indefinitely.  These officials may never be prosecuted under US law, but it is important to show how they can be held criminally culpable under international law so that they can be amenable to prosecution at some point of time in the future.

Article 7 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court defines “crimes against humanity” as

[A]ny of the following acts when committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population, with knowledge of the attack:

  1. Murder;
  2. Extermination;
  3. Enslavement;
  4. Deportation or forcible transfer of population;
  5. Imprisonment or other severe deprivation of physical liberty in violation of fundamental rules of international law;
  6. Torture;
  7. Rape, sexual slavery, enforced prostitution, forced pregnancy, enforced sterilization, or any other form of sexual violence of comparable gravity;
  8. Persecution against any identifiable group or collectivity on political, racial, national, ethnic, cultural, religious, gender as defined in paragraph 3, or other grounds that are universally recognized as impermissible under international law, in connection with any act referred to in this paragraph or any crime within the jurisdiction of the Court;
  9. Enforced disappearance of persons;
  10. The crime of apartheid;
  11. Other inhumane acts of a similar character intentionally causing great suffering, or serious injury to body or to mental or physical health.

(emphasis added).

The widespread and systematic separation of over 2,000 immigrant children from their families, the inhumane and torturous acts committed by the United States against them, and the ongoing incarceration of children potentially constitute crimes against humanity. The United States, especially Trump administration officials who established these children and toddler internment camps, ought to be prosecuted to the fullest to redress these egregious criminal acts.

The policy of family separation has been condemned by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, stating that the practice “amounts to arbitrary and unlawful interference in family life, and is a serious violation of the rights of the child […] The use of immigration detention and family separation as a deterrent runs counter to human rights standards and principles.” High Commissioner Zeid bin Ra’ad al-Hussein further stated that such separation and incarceration of children constituted “government sanctioned child abuse.” The OHCHR statement also reminded that the United States is the only country in the world that has refused to ratify the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), which specifies the civil, political, economic, social, health, and cultural rights of children, including Article 37, which provides, inter alia, that “[n]o child shall be deprived of his or her liberty unlawfully or arbitrarily.”

Amnesty International has taken the criticism one step further and has argued that the “policy of separating children from parents is nothing short of torture…The severe mental suffering that officials have intentionally inflicted on these families for coercive purposes means that these acts meet the definitions of torture under both US and international law.” Indeed, the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, defines torture as

[A]ny act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity.

The US has adopted this definition of torture in 18 U.S. Code § 2340. The severe psychological and physiological effects of the separation of immigrant families rises to the level of torture under international and US law, as well as constitutes a crime against humanity given its widespread application against immigrant families, where such separation is used as a punishment for, and as a deterrence to, seeking asylum in the United States. This separation of asylum-seeking families constitutes impermissible, severe deprivation of liberty. Moreover, if reports regarding the forced drugging of detained immigrant children prove to be true, in addition to well-documented historical abuses of detained immigrant children including the denial of medical care and physical and sexual abuse, they too would rise to the level of crimes against humanity as “other inhumane acts.” Moreover, this separation, mistreatment, and incarceration violates the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (“Genocide Convention”), which the United States has also ratified. Under the Genocide Convention, “causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group” and “forcibly transferring children of the group to another group,” with the “intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group” constitutes genocide.

On June 20, 2018, Trump issued an Executive Order misleadingly entitled “Affording Congress an Opportunity to Address Family Separation,” purportedly ending family separation. The EO maintains support for Sessions’ zero-tolerance policy at the border and mandates family detention during the pendency of proceedings for unlawful entry, as well as for the duration of the family’s immigration proceedings. This EO thus remains in contravention of international norms and standards in regards to the prolonged detention of refugees and children. The EO is also in violation of the Flores settlement, which requires that the government not detain children for more than 20 days, and which now the government seeks to amend. Moreover, despite a recent announcement by the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Health and Human Services of a policy to reunite these families (indicating that no such reunification policy existed prior to the taking children from families), this reunification may only occur at the end of the parents’ removal proceedings, which can take several months. The reversal of family separation does not erase the fact that the children were abused  by the Trump administration’s separation policies in the first place.

The solution to family separation is not family incarceration. Indeed, the punitive incarceration of children and their asylum-seeking families not only violates the CRC and the Torture Convention as described above, but also violates the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol. Under Article 31(1) of the Refugee Convention, contracting States “shall not impose penalties” on asylum-seekers, even if they entered without inspection. As Human Rights First explains, “refugees and asylum-seekers should also not be subjected to punitive or penal detention conditions […] While administrative detention is permitted in limited circumstances, the term ‘penalty’ certainly includes imprisonment […] UNHCR’s Detention Guidelines emphasize that, consistent with Article 31, ‘[t]he use of prisons should be avoided.’” The Trump administration under this EO now seeks to indefinitely detain asylum-seeking families, which is undoubtedly being implemented to deter future families from seeking refuge in the United States, which is in direct violation of international law.

Prosecution against the United States is unlikely to occur at the International Criminal Court, as it has yet to ratify the Rome Statute. Even an investigation at the ICC is unlikely because under Article 17 of the Rome Statute, the ICC can only open up an investigation in States that are unwilling and unable to genuinely carry out an investigation or prosecution. Moreover, even if the ICC opened up an investigation into the United States’ alleged crimes, the US would not cooperate, making prosecution unlikely. Advocates in the United States have been successful in suing the government over these egregious practices in domestic courts, and it thus appears that we have not exhausted all local remedies yet. Advocates ought to begin to raise these international law violations in their suits, and US judges ought to meaningfully adjudicate these violations.

Another option for the United States to be held accountable would be for another country to prosecute officials of the Trump administration in their domestic courts. Although he died before ever being convicted for his crimes, Pinochet was arrested by police in London for charges brought in Spain to punish him for crimes against humanity in Chile under the principle of universal jurisdiction. A similar action could occur here, where another country, such as Canada or Mexico, could lodge an investigation into and ultimately indict Trump or one of his cabinet members, and another country could subsequently arrest those members upon travel. While it may be impossible to do so if Trump travels to these countries as head of state, the indictment could be executed after Trump or other officials leave office and travel to other countries.

International human rights organizations and the ICC are correctly criticized for explicitly targeting and prosecuting African leaders for their human rights abuses, who rightfully deserve such prosecution but who are not alone in committing these atrocities. Recently, however, the Stanford International Human Rights Clinic and the Global Legal Action Network sought to reverse this discriminatory trend at the ICC. In February 2017, the two groups filed a Communiqué to the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court under Article 15 of the Rome Statute, arguing that Australia’s offshore migrant and refugee detention practices constitute crimes against humanity. As documented in the Communiqué, the Australian government has systemically blocked boat refugees from accessing its shores and have instead diverted them to detention facilities on the Nauru and Manus Islands, where they are denied access to Australia’s asylum procedures. Stanford and the GLAN provided evidence to the ICC of widespread human rights abuses committed against these asylum-seekers at these offshore detention facilities, and showed that such abuses were committed for the sole purpose of deterring others from seeking asylum in Australia.

To no one’s surprise, the ICC has yet to take up the investigation into Australia’s crimes against humanity. Despite this, the Stanford Communiqué acts as guidance for a future filing against the United States, especially with regards to inhumane treatment of asylum-seekers for the sole purpose of deterring future asylum-seekers. The key difference between the Australian case and a future action against the US is that the US is committing widespread human rights abuses against asylum-seekers on US territory (in addition to preventing asylum-seekers who have lawfully presented themselves at Ports of Entry from entering the US and thus preventing them from claiming asylum, which is yet another international human rights violation). The significance of this is that it explicitly implicates the US’s international responsibilities for the fair treatment of refugees under the Refugee Convention and its Protocol, which Australia has arguably skirted by preventing asylum-seekers from entering its waters.

Advocates are far more likely to be successful in adjudicating these human rights claims in domestic courts. Indeed, our robust courts have proved effective at preventing some of Trump’s most egregious policies. While violations of international law can be raised in a lawsuit to block an egregious policy, it would not result in criminal liability for the perpetrators. Advocates should begin to look into criminal prosecution avenues to hold these officials accountable. Advocates should be cautioned, however, that they can only raise those claims that arise under treaties to which the United States has ratified. As explained above, the ability to raise these human rights claims in domestic courts prevents suit at the ICC under Article 17 of the Rome Statute. However, should advocates exhaust all domestic remedies, an ICC investigation (which is unlikely to ever result in a prosecution) remains an option. Another option is to pursue action in the Inter-American Court for Human Rights, which has the authority to make recommendations to, but not punish, the violating State. And finally, other countries may also bring suit against the Trump administration in one of their courts under the principles of universal jurisdiction.

The United States is not immune from liability for its wrongdoings. No one, not even the president or his cabinet, are above the law. Advocates should continue to consider these global litigation strategies should domestic litigation fail to find Trump administration officials culpable.

 

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.

Update: The solution to family separation is not family incarceration.

On June 20, 2018, President Trump issued an Executive Order misleadingly entitled “Affording Congress an Opportunity to Address Family Separation,” purportedly resolving the issue of the separation of immigrant families. The EO maintains support for the zero-tolerance policy at the border and mandates family detention during the pendency of proceedings for unlawful entry, as well as for the immigration proceedings themselves. This EO is in contravention of international norms and standards in regards to the detention of refugees and children. The EO is also in violation of the Flores settlement, which requires that the government not detain children for more than 20 days. Although the Flores settlement only applies to children, past practice (admittedly, inconsistent practice) has been to release the whole family after 20 days to ensure family unity. The EO directs the Attorney General to file suit in the Central District of California to modify the Flores settlement to allow for indefinite detention of children.

The struggle to end mass incarceration of families is not over, and the new EO should not be seen as a victory. Practitioners should continue to litigate these detention practices in the courts and allies should continue to advocate for the eradication of this egregious practice. Nor should President Trump gloat and claim victory. He along with his cabinet members  and advisors who masterminded a gulag for children, toddlers and infants – with the goal of using them  as political fodder – have inflicted irreparable damage on them and should ultimately pay the price.

 

 

 

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.