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Some Preliminary Reactions to the Oral Argument in United States v. Texas

As most readers of this blog will likely be aware, the Supreme Court heard oral argument today in the case now captioned United States v. Texas, regarding the lawsuit brought by Texas and a number of other states to stop implementation of DAPA (Deferred Action for Parents of Americans) and expanded DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals).  The transcript of the argument is now available online, although the audiotape will not be available until later in the week.  There has been much media coverage of the argument, including by the always-insightful SCOTUSBlog, and a number of media organizations and commentators have suggested that the Court may divide 4 to 4, thus leaving the Fifth Circuit’s decision intact and preventing DAPA and expanded DACA from going into effect at this time.  While that is a possibility, however, there are also some reasons to be optimistic that it may not come to pass.

I do not wish to recap all of the voluminous coverage of the argument by the media and commentators, but will focus in this blog post primarily on one or two things that I have not seen highlighted by other commentators. However, there is one observation about the argument, not original to me, which does seem worth passing along, and which falls under the heading of reasons for optimism.  As Chris Geidner has pointed out in his review of the oral argument on Buzzfeed, Justice Anthony Kennedy, who is often seen as a swing vote in cases where the Court is closely divided, raised the possibility that the more appropriate way for Texas to have proceeded would have been to challenge the application of the regulation granting employment authorization to deferred action beneficiaries, 8 C.F.R. §274a.12(c)(14), under the Administrative Procedure Act.  Justice Sotomayor discussed with Solicitor General Verrilli on page 31 of the transcript the possibility that, if Texas had wanted to attack the 1986 regulation that allows employment authorization under many circumstances including deferred action, they could have petitioned the agency for rulemaking under section 553(c) of the Administrative Procedure Act.  If that failed, they could then have gone to court.  Instead, Texas went directly into court without first raising its concerns with the agency—a procedural shortcut which a majority of the Court may not be willing to tolerate.  This is separate from the constitutional concern, also discussed at length during the argument, that Texas may not have standing to attack DAPA where its asserted injury relates to its own decision to subsidize the issuance of driver’s licenses to certain classes of individuals.

Another notable portion of the oral argument was the discussion of the outsized importance that the plaintiff States have attached to the brief mention in the DAPA memorandum of “lawful presence”. As Marty Lederman explained in a post on the Balkinization blog prior to the oral argument, the significance of “lawful presence” in this context relates primarily to eligibility for certain Social Security and Medicare benefits, as well as to the tolling of unlawful presence for purposes of potential future inadmissibility under 8 U.S.C. §1182(a)(9)(B).  Neither of these things, however, has anything to do with the injury that Texas alleges.  Nor are they of particularly great significance in the context of DAPA as a whole.  Professor Lederman had described the lawful-presence argument as “the smallest of tails wagging a very large dog”, a phrase that Solicitor General Verrilli expanded upon (or should I say contracted upon?) on page 32 of the oral argument transcript by noting that the lawful-presence issue was “the tail on the dog and the flea on the tail of the dog.”  (He also returned to the basic “tail of the dog” formulation on page 88, in his rebuttal.)  If necessary, he offered, the Court could simply take a “red pencil” and excise the offending phrase from the memo, and this would be “totally fine” with the government.

Just as the issue of “lawful presence” lacks a connection to the injury Texas alleges, it was also discussed at the oral argument how even the employment authorization that is a much more important component of DAPA as it would operate in practice, and which seems to be what Texas is in large part challenging, does not really relate to Texas’s alleged injury. As Solicitor General Verrilli and also Thomas Saenz, arguing for intervenor prospective DAPA beneficiaries, pointed out, Texas, under its current policy, gives driver’s licenses based on the granting of deferred action itself, rather than based upon employment authorization.  Even if the federal government restricted itself to deferring any removal action against the intended beneficiaries of DAPA – as Texas, in the person of its Solicitor General Scott Keller, seemed to concede on page 50 of the transcript that it would have the authority to do – and simply, as Justice Ginsburg suggested, gave out ID cards noting the low priority status of the beneficiaries, Texas would still, under its current policy, apparently have to give those beneficiaries subsidized driver’s licenses.  Thus, besides the other problems with Texas’s claim that it is harmed sufficiently by DAPA to have standing to challenge it, there is the problem of redressability.  A decision forbidding the federal government to give out employment authorization documents, or declare “lawful presence”, under DAPA, while still permitting it to defer removal actions against DAPA’s beneficiaries, would not actually solve the problem that Texas is claiming DAPA has caused.  It is, instead, merely a convenient hook for what is actually a political dispute.  Solicitor General Verrilli returned to this point in his rebuttal argument, noting that Texas had offered no response to it.

Another notable portion of the oral argument relating to employment authorization was the discussion of how, as Justice Alito asked on page 28 of the transcript, it is “possible to lawfully work in the United States without lawfully being in the United States?” As Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli attempted to explain, while this may seem peculiar, employment authorization based on a mere pending application for lawful status, such as an application for adjustment of status or cancellation of removal, is quite common.  Many, many people receive such authorization pursuant to the administrative authority recognized by 8 U.S.C. §1324a(h)(3), as discussed in my prior blog post Ignoring the Elephant in the Room: An Initial Reaction to Judge Hanen’s Decision Enjoining DAPA and Expanded DACA.  The suggestion that such authorization cannot exist would wreak havoc on our immigration system as we now know it.  As Solicitor General Verrilli pointed out on page 31 of the transcript, reading the §1324a(h)(3) authority as narrowly as suggested by the plaintiffs would eliminate well over a dozen of the current regulatory categories of employment authorization.  It would, to quote from Solicitor General Verrilli’s rebuttal argument at page 89, “completely and totally upend the administration of the immigration laws, and, frankly, it’s a reckless suggestion.”

Indeed, as I pointed out in a blog post several years ago, there are many circumstances under which even someone subject to a removal order can be lawfully granted work authorization.  Those whose asylum applications were denied in removal proceedings but who are seeking judicial review of that denial, for example, may obtain employment authorization under 8 C.F.R. §274a.12(c)(8).  An applicant for adjustment of status under INA §245 or cancellation of removal for nonpermanent residents under INA §240A(b) who has his or her application denied by an immigration judge and the BIA, is ordered removed, and petitions for judicial review of the order of removal under 8 U.S.C. § 1252(a)(2)(D) on the ground that a legal or constitutional error has been made in adjudicating the application, may also renew employment authorization.  Even outside the context of judicial review, an applicant for adjustment who was ordered removed as an arriving alien, and who is nonetheless applying to USCIS for adjustment of status pursuant to Matter of Yauri, 25 I&N Dec. 103 (BIA 2009), can be eligible for employment authorization.

The anomaly of concurrent authorization to work in the United States and lack of authorization to be here, paradoxical though it may have seemed to Justice Alito, can exist even with respect to some of the forms of employment authorization authorized by very specific statutory provisions, rather than under the general authority of 8 U.S.C. §1324a(h)(3)—the forms of employment authorization that even Justice Alito and Texas acknowledge should exist. In 8 U.S.C. §1158(d)(2), for example, Congress specifically indicated that while “an applicant for asylum is not entitled to employment authorization . . . such authorization may be provided under regulation by the Attorney General.”  The implementing regulations at 8 C.F.R. §208.7(b) and 8 C.F.R. § 274a.12(c) make clear that such employment authorization is renewable pending the completion of administrative and judicial review of a denial of the asylum application.  Thus, an asylum applicant whose application was denied, resulting in an order of removal, and who is seeking judicial review of that order, can obtain renewed employment authorization.

Admittedly, in some cases, a court of appeals can grant a stay of the order of removal for an asylum applicant in this situation, pending adjudication of the petition for review—which one might consider a form of authorization to be in the United States. But a stay of removal is not a precondition for a grant of employment under 8 U.S.C. §1158(d)(2) and 8 C.F.R. §274a.12(c)(8), either in theory or in practice.  It is fairly common for asylum applicants who are not detained to pursue judicial review without a stay of removal and to renew their employment authorization while doing so.  They are authorized to work in the United States, even though in theory they are not authorized to be here.  As long as they are here, because the government has not thought it worth removing them during the pendency of their court case, they can lawfully work.

Given Justice Alito’s follow-up question about whether the categories of persons who had employment authorization without lawful presence were “statutory categories”, however, it is also worth emphasizing that other kinds of employment authorization besides those specifically authorized by statute can persist even in the face of a removal order. Employment authorization based on a pending application for adjustment of status or cancellation of removal, under 8 C.F.R. §274a.12(c)(9) and 8 C.F.R. §274a.12(c)(10), does not stem from the sort of type-specific statutory authorization at 8 U.S.C. §1158(d)(2).  Nonetheless, these types of employment authorization, which have been granted for many years in significant volume with little controversy, can be obtained by someone with a final removal order who is seeking judicial review of that order, or who is seeking adjustment of status under Matter of Yauri.  To the extent Justice Alito meant to imply that the seeming paradox of authorized employment without authorized presence could only be justified by a specific statutory authorization, this too was an inaccurate description of the world of immigration law since long before DAPA.

While the discussion at oral argument of employment authorization separate from lawful status did not go so far as to address this issue of employment authorization for those subject to orders of removal, it did seem that the Solicitor General’s emphasis on the sheer scale of those grants of employment authorization may have made an impact on Chief Justice Roberts.  The Chief Justice, at the end of Solicitor General Verilli’s rebuttal, returned to the question of how many of these sorts of employment authorization documents are issued, and the answer on page 90 that there were 4.5 million in the context of adjustment of status since 2008 and 325,000 for cancellation of removal was the last substantive portion of the argument transcript.  This was potentially a strong closing argument, which may be a hopeful sign.

Attempting to predict the outcome of a case from oral argument is always a risky endeavor, and we will have to wait and see what the Court actually does. Nonetheless, it is my hope that the above observations may perhaps provide some additional insight.

When is a Visa “Immediately Available” for Filing an Adjustment of Status Application?

Central in the Mehta v. DOS lawsuit is whether the administration is authorized to establish a dual date system in the Department of State’s (DOS) Visa Bulletin, which it did for the first time in October 2015. When the DOS first issued the October 2015 Visa Bulletin on September 9, 2015, it established a filing date, which allowed applicants to file for adjustment of status much earlier than the final action date. On September 25, 2015, in a revised October 2015 Visa Bulletin, the administration abruptly moved back some of the filing dates by at least two years, thus depriving thousands from filing I-485 adjustment of status applications on October 1, 2015. A lawsuit was filed challenging this revision in the filing dates, including a motion for a temporary restraining order. The government has filed pleadings in opposition to the TRO, which includes a declaration from Charlie Oppenheim.

INA 245(a)(3) allows for the filing of an I-485 application for adjustment of status when the visa is “immediately available” to the applicant. 8 C.F.R. 245.1(g)(1) links visa availability to the Department of State’s (DOS)  monthly Visa Bulletin. Pursuant to this regulation, an I-485 application can only be submitted “if the preference category applicant has a priority date on the waiting list which is earlier than the date shown in the Bulletin (or the Bulletin shows that numbers for visa applicants in his or her category are current).” The term “immediately available” in INA 245(a)(3) has never been defined, except as in 8 C.F.R. 245.1(g)(1) by “a priority date on the waiting list which is earlier than the date shown in Bulletin” or if the date in the Bulletin is current for that category.

DOS has historically never advanced priority dates based on certitude that a visa would actually be available. There have been many instances when applicants have filed an I-485 application in a particular month, only to later find that the dates have retrogressed. A good example is the April 2012 Visa Bulletin, when the EB-2 cut-off dates for India and China were May 1, 2010. In the very next May 2012 Visa Bulletin  a month later, the EB-2 cut-off dates for India and China retrogressed to August 15, 2007. If the DOS was absolutely certain that applicants born in India and China who filed in April 2012  would receive their green cards, it would not have needed to retrogress dates back to August 15, 2007.  Indeed, those EB-2 applicants who filed their I-485 applications in April 2012 are still waiting and have yet to receive their green cards even as of today! Another example is when the DOS announced that the July 2007 Visa Bulletin for EB-2 and EB-3 would become current. Hundreds of thousands filed during that period (which actually was the extended period from July 17, 2007 to August 17, 2007)  . It was obvious that these applicants would not receive their green cards during that time frame. The DOS  then retrogressed the EB dates substantially the following month, and those who filed under the India EB-3 in July-August 2007 are still waiting today.

These two examples, among many, go to show that “immediately available” in INA 245(a)(3), according to the DOS, have never meant that visas were actually available to be issued to applicants as soon as they filed. Rather, it has always been based on a notion of visa availability at some point of time in the future. The following extract from The Tyranny of Priority Dates, where Gary Endelman (who is now an Immigration Judge and is not participating in this blog)  and I in 2010 proposed the concept of a provisional date for filing I-485 applications  is worth noting:

It can be further argued that 245(a)(3), which requires that the alien have an available visa “at the time his application is filed,” cannot be read literally to preclude the initial filing of an adjustment application when its conditions are not met, as opposed to merely precluding the approval of such application. Otherwise ordinary concurrent filing (such as an I-140 and I-485) even as it exists today would be impermissible, because, as immigration judges periodically point out in the course of denying motions for continuance, someone who does not have an approved visa petition necessarily does not have an available visa number.

As David Isaacson has observed, there are other contexts under existing law in which one cannot simply assume that the date of “application” or date of “filing” referred to in statute or regulation means the date the application papers are filed in the ordinary sense of the word. Rather, such terms sometimes mean something closer to the date of final adjudication. So in In re Ortega-Cabrera, the examination of good moral character for the ten years “immediately preceding the date of the application” under INA § 240A(b)(1)(A) was held to entail examination of good moral character during the ten years immediately preceding the final decision in the case, not the ten years immediately preceding the date the application papers were initially filed as a physical matter. 23 I&N Dec. 793 (BIA 2005). Similarly, in In re Garcia, the Board of Immigration Appeals interpreted a regulation allowing special-rule cancellation for an alien who “has been physically present in the United States for a continuous period of [seven] years immediately preceding the date the application was filed,” 8 C.F.R. § 1240.66(b)(2), to be satisfied where “the respondent accrued [seven] years of continuous physical presence prior to the issuance of a final administrative decision for purposes of establishing eligibility for relief.” 24 I&N Dec. 179, 183 (BIA 2007). 

One could thus analogize and alternatively argue that the requirement of INA § 245(a)(3) that the alien have an available visa “at the time his application is filed” actually means that there must be an available visa at the time the application is finally adjudicated. In effect, what we are ultimately saying in both cases is that the official time of “filing” for statutory purposes does not have to correspond to the date when the application papers are physically submitted and ancillary benefits are granted. Although Section 6 of the 1976 Act to Amend the INA, Pub. L. No. 94-571 § 6, 90 Stat. 2703 (1976),substituted the word “filed” for the word “approved” in INA § 245(a)(3), it should not cripple our argument that the statutory moment of “filing” is not necessarily the same thing as the moment the papers are submitted or the moment that ancillary benefits are granted.

The October 2015 Visa Bulletin announced on September 9, 2015 replaced the single priority date with a filing date and a final action date. The final action date is when the beneficiary will be eligible to receive his/her green card, but the new filing date is when the beneficiary will be eligible to file an I-485 application consistent with 8 C.F.R.  245.1(g)(1), and if the beneficiary files an I-485 application, he or she will get the benefits thereof such as an Employment Authorization Document (EAD), advance parole and protection of the beneficiary’s child from aging out under the Child Status Protection Act (CSPA).

Although this appears to be novel, the dual filing dates in the October 2015 Visa Bulletin essentially formalize DOS’ historical practice. Under the filing date, it is now formally acknowledged that visa availability is not defined by when visas can actually be issued to the beneficiary. The October 2015 Visa Bulletin views visa availability more broadly, as has been the DOS’ historic practice,  as “dates for filing visa applications within a time frame justifying immediate action in the application process.” The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announcement relating to the October 2015 Visa Bulletin, available at http://www.uscis.gov/news/uscis-announces-revised-procedures-determining-visa-availability-applicants-waiting-file-adjustment-status, also expansively interprets visa availability as “eligible applicants” who “are able to take one of the final steps in the process of becoming U.S. permanent residents.”  These DOS and USCIS announcements provide more flexibility for the DOS to move the filing dates forward, and possibly make them even current. Although both versions of the October 2015 Visa Bulletin indicate that DOS will consult with the USCIS, this is consistent with  22 C.F.R 42.51(b), which assigns primary responsibility to the DOS in controlling visas, but considering applicants for adjustment of status as reported by officers of the DHS.

Taking this to its logical extreme, visa availability for establishing the filing date may be based on just one visa being saved in the backlogged preference category, such as the India employment-based third preference (EB-3), like the proverbial Thanksgiving turkey. Just like one turkey every Thanksgiving Day is pardoned by the President and not consumed, similarly one visa can also be left intact rather than used by the foreign national beneficiary.   So long as there is one visa kept available, it would provide the legal basis for an I-485 filing through the earlier filing date, and this would be consistent with INA section 245(a)(3) as well as 8 C.F.R  245.1(g)(1). Filing dates could potentially advance and become current. Therefore, there was no legal basis to retrogress the priority dates in the revised October 2015 Visa Bulletin. Rather the government could have advanced them. My declaration in support of plaintiff’s TRO in Mehta v. DOL further elaborates on the Thanksgiving turkey concept to provide a legal basis for the filing dates to move forward rather than backward.  My declaration concludes, as follows:

Even if the government claims that it miscalculated the number of visas actually available regarding the filing date so as to justify moving the filing dates backwards, a filing date under the October 2015 Visa Bulletin can be established without regard to whether visas can actually be issued to an applicant. All that is needed is that a single visa should be potentially available for purposes of establishing the filing date.  Accordingly, the DOS and the USCIS ought to have left intact the filing dates that were announced in the first version of the October 2015 Visa Bulletin.

Accordingly, the new filing date system established in the October 2015 Visa Bulletin allows for the filing of an I-485 application without regard to whether visas can actually be issued. On October 1, 2015, which is the start of the new fiscal year, visas will be made available in each of the preferences as statutorily prescribed, as well as to the countries within each of the preferences. It is acknowledged that there will be more foreign national applicants needing the visas than the visas that will be made available for the fiscal year. However, the filing date ought to be established based on the fact that there is a visa available in the preference category.  Even if the government claims that it miscalculated the number of visas actually available regarding the filing date so as to justify moving the filing dates backwards, a filing date under the October 2015 Visa Bulletin can be established without regard to whether visas can actually be issued to an applicant. All that is needed is that a visa should be potentially available for purposes of establishing the filing date.

If the administration wishes to restore the filing dates in the October 2015 Visa Bulletin that were initially announced on September 9, 2015, and they should, there is a clear legal basis for doing so and it will be consistent with the DOS’s historic interpretation of  “immediately available” under INA 245(a)(3) and 8 C.F.R. 245.1(g)(1). Moreover, since “immediately available” has not been precisely defined and is ambiguous, under Chevron USA Inc. v. Natural Resources Defense Council, 467 U.S. 837 (1984), such a view of visa availability would  constitute a permissible interpretation of the statute by the DOS, which is the federal agency that has been charged to primarily administer the control of visa numbers.In its opposition to the lawsuit,  the government has not disavowed the elastic concept of visa availability through the dual date system.   It justifies the revisions in the second October 2015 Visa Bulletin so as to bring the filing date within 8-12 months of the final action date, but does not provide any mathematical calculations, other than the fact that there has been a retrogression in the priority dates between the September and October visa bulletins. However, the notion of visa availability, as viewed by the government, under INA 245(a)(3) is still elastic, whether the applicant is 8-12 months away or 5 years away or 10 years away. It would be one thing if the government argued that its acceptance of I-485s would lead to their immediate approval and grants of green cards, but they instead assert that the revised filing dates move the applicant to within 8-12 months of the final action date. It would be significant if the INA or even a regulation said that visa availability is determined either by the fact that green cards should be immediately issued or should not be more than 8-12 months from being issued, but there is none of that sort of precision in the INA or the 8 CFR.   Accordingly, it is not outside the government’s statutory authority to restore the September 9, 2015 dates or to even bring them to current under the elastic notion of visa availability, which is consistent with “immediately available” under INA 245(a)(3).

The October 2015 Visa Bulletin, according to the Oppenheim Declaration,  imported the concept of qualifying dates for visa processing at consulates into filing dates, which would apply to both consular processing and adjustment of status applications. Prior to the October 2015 Visa Bulletin, qualifying dates for consular processing purposes apart from allowing the applicant to take the necessary steps for becoming documentarily qualified, did not have any legal significance in the sense that the child’s age did not lock in under the Child Status Protection Act (CSPA) based on a qualifying date. Moreover, INA 245(a)(3) was only applicable to filing adjustment of status applications within the US, and this provision did not apply to qualifying dates. The October 2015 Visa Bulletin acknowledged the administration’s broader understanding of viewing visa availability so as to allow applicants to file under  INA 245(a)(3), and seek ancillary benefits such as 204(j) portability and also protecting the age of the childunder the CSPA. In effect, the qualifying date was elevated to have the same legal significance as the old priority date. Obviously, the government has not acknowledged this in its papers, but what the October 2015 Visa Bulletin did was legally significant, and the abrupt departure from the initially announced October 2015 Visa Bulletin was arbitrary and capricious causing hardship to thousands of applicants who were set to file I-485 applications,   thus warranting a lawsuit under the Administrative Procedure Act and other grounds.

The whole idea of priority dates is not to prevent immigration but to regulate it. That is not what is happening today. If you are from Mexico or the Philippines, the family-based quotas delay permanent migration to the United States to such an extent that it is virtually blocked. The categories might just as well not exist for most people. If you are from China or India with an advanced degree, the implosion of the employment-based second preference (EB-2) and third Preference (EB-3) categories does not regulate your coming permanently to the United States; it makes it functionally impossible. While the bonds that unite family members can be expected to survive many years of waiting, and even this is painfully excruciating, how many employers will wait a decade for an engineer or geophysicist? Will the business need still exist by the time the priority date becomes current? Will the business itself? In a labor certification case, what relevancy will a determination of unavailability concerning qualified American workers retain after such a long wait? Is it fair to keep the worker tied to a single employer for so long?

In conclusion, the elastic notion of visa availability that has always been practiced, and which has been formalized in the October 2015 Visa Bulletin, is consistent with Congressional intent to not prevent immigration. A broader interpretation of visa availability better serves the purposes of the INA, and it must prevail.

It’s Deja Vu All Over Again: State Department Moves Filing Dates Back From Previously Released October Visa Bulletin

On September 24, 2015, the Department of State issued an update that supersedes the previously released October Visa Bulletin. By moving many filing dates back, the update radically changed the recently announced benefit offered by a revised procedure for determining immigrant visa availability and filing adjustment of status applications. The revised process allows foreign nationals to file adjustment of status applications in the United States or visa applications overseas once their filing dates are listed on a separate chart on the monthly Visa Bulletin, “Dates for Filing Applications.” In the prior version of the October Visa Bulletin, these dates were significantly earlier than the priority dates available for final adjudications that would result in green cards. The filing of an adjustment application affords significant benefits such as work authorization, travel permission, the ability to exercise job mobility as well as the ability to protect the age of a child under the Child Status Protection Act.

With the latest change for October, the Department of State moved the dates back substantially. In a statement announcing the change, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services explained that following consultations with the Department of Homeland Security, the dates for filing applications for some categories in the family-sponsored and employment-based preferences were adjusted “to better reflect a timeframe justifying immediate action in the application process.” Potentially thousands of applicants who had already gathered documents, prepared applications, paid for medical examinations, and incurred other costs based on the previous dates may have to wait many months for their filing dates to be current enough so they can file, unless the situation changes. Advocates are vowing to pursue possible avenues to make that happen.

As a background, INA 245(a)(3) only allows for the filing of an I-485 adjustment of status application when “an immigrant visa is immediately available.” Visa availability will no longer be defined by when visas are actually available. Both versions of the October Visa Bulletin now view it more broadly as “dates for filing visa applications within a time frame justifying immediate action in the application process.” The USCIS similarly views visa availability opaquely as “eligible applicants” who “are able to take one of the final steps in the process of becoming U.S. permanent residents.”  These new interpretations provide more flexibility for the State Department to move the filing date even further, and make it closer to current.

As proposed in a 2014 blog, visa availability ought to be based on just one visa being saved in the backlogged preference category, such as the India EB-3,  like the proverbial Thanksgiving turkey. Just like one turkey every Thanksgiving day is pardoned by the President and not consumed, similarly one visa can also be left intact rather than consumed by the foreign national beneficiary.   So long as there is one visa kept available, it would provide the legal basis for an I-485 filing through the earlier filing date, and this  would be consistent with INA §245(a)(3).  Filing dates could potentially advance and become current. Therefore, there was no legal basis to retrogress the priority dates. Rather the government could have advanced them.

It is not clear what the government’s motivation was to move the dates backwards when there was no legal need to do so.   Was it that the USCIS could not have been able to cope with the increase in adjustment filings or was it something more sinister such as USCIS or DOS officials with anti-immigrant tendencies gaining the upper hand and deciding not to grant benefits so easily to those caught in the crushing backlogs?  Litigation options are potentially available. under the Administrative Procedure Act on the grounds that the government acted arbitrarily and capriciously. During the July 2007 visa bulletin fiasco, when the American Immigration Council’s Legal Action Center threatened litigation after it rescinded the bulletin that made EB dates current, the government backed down. Any litigation strategy must ensure that the dual date system remains intact as a court could well resolve the issue by voiding the filing dates and restoring only one priority date as before.

Below are a few examples of the extreme changes in the revised October Visa Bulletin:

 

  • EB2 China: Moved from 5/1/2014 to 1/1/2013 (1 year 5 months)
  • EB2 India: Moved from 7/1/2011 to 7/1/2009 (2 years)
  • EB3 Philippines: Moved from 1/1/2015 to 1/1/2010 (5 years)
  • FB1 Mexico: Moved from 7/1/1995 to 4/1/1995 (3 months)
  • FB3 Mexico: Moved from 10/1/1996 to 5/1/1995 (1 year 5 months)

The very least that the DOS and the USCIS should do is to allow a 30 day period for people who could have previously filed on October 1 to be able to do so. One saving grace is that even the revised October Visa Bulletin preserves the dual filing system, and thus there is flexibility in determining visa availability for purposes of establishing more advantageous filing dates in the future. In addition to litigation, consider pursuing other forms of advocacy. During the July 2007 visa bulletin fiasco, thousands of would be applicants sent roses Gandhi-style to the USCIS as a sign of peaceful protest. People should also sign this White House petition in order to get the requisite number of signatures so that it may be considered by the President. In the words attributed to Yogi Berra who died recently, “It’s Deja Vu All Over Again.” Of course, one will experience a more pleasant sense of deja vu if the government restores the earlier filing dates in the October 2015 visa bulletin like it did with the July 2007 visa bulletin.

PAROLE IN PLACE: THE SECRET SAUCE FOR ADMINISTRATIVE IMMIGRATION REFORM

By Gary Endelman and Cyrus D. Mehta

On November 15, 2013, the USCIS issued a Policy Memorandum formalizing the granting of parole to persons who are present in the United States without admission or parole and who are spouses, children and parents of US citizens serving in the US military or who previously served in the US military. While parole traditionally applies to those who seek to come to the United States, the expansion of this concept to those already here is known as “parole in place”.

According to this memo, military preparedness can be potentially adversely affected if active members of the military worry about the immigration status of their spouses, parents and children. The memo makes a similar commitment to veterans who have served and sacrificed for the nation, and who can face stress and anxiety because of the immigration status of their family members. Such persons can now formally apply for parole in place (PIP) through a formal procedure pursuant to the ability of the government to grant parole under INA section 212(d)(5)(A). PIP would allow them to adjust status in the US rather than travel abroad for consular processing of their immigrant visas and thus potentially triggering the 3 or 10 year bars.

As a quick background, an individual who is in the US without admission or parole cannot adjust status through an immediate relative such as a US citizen spouse, parent or son or daughter. This person is inherently inadmissible under INA section 212(a)(6)(A)(i), which provides:

An alien present in the United States without being admitted or paroled, or who arrives in the United States at any time or place other than as designated by the Attorney General, is inadmissible.

Section 212(a)(6)(A)(i) renders an alien inadmissible under two related grounds: 1) an alien present in the US without being admitted or paroled or 2) an alien who arrives in the United States at any time or place other than as designated by the Attorney General.

The grant of PIP to a person who is present in the US without being admitted or paroled can wipe out the first ground of inadmissibility in section 212(a)(6)(A)(i). PIP would then also allow this person to adjust status in the US under section 245(a) – as the person needs to have been “inspected and admitted or paroled” – without needing to leave the US.  The ability to adjust status through PIP would obviate the need  to travel overseas and apply for the visa, and thus trigger the 3 or 10 year bar pursuant to INA section 212(a)(9)(B)(i) and (ii). Since there will be no departure triggering the 3 and 10 year bars, this person would no longer need to file a waiver or an advance provisional waiver by demonstrating extreme hardship to a qualifying US citizen relative to overcome the 3 and 10 year bars before leaving the US.

So far so good, but how does one overcome the second ground of inadmissibility in section 212(a)(6)A)(i), which relates to “an alien who arrives in the United States at any time or place other than as designated by the Attorney General?” The memo skillfully interprets this clause as relating to an alien who is in the process of arriving in the US without inspection. Thus, the second ground only applies to an alien who is presently arriving in the US while the first ground applies to an alien who already arrived in the US without admission or parole. If the second ground is interpreted as applying to an alien who arrived in the past, then it would make the first ground superfluous, according to the memo. It would also then make the 3 year bar under INA section 212(a)(9)(B)(i) superfluous as a person who at any point arrived, if used in the past tense,  at a place or time other than designated by the Secretary of Homeland Security would be  permanently inadmissible rather than inadmissible for only 3 years. Thus, if the second ground of inadmissibility is no longer applicable with respect to an alien who has already arrived in the US, then the grant of PIP would allow such a person to adjust in the US by overcoming the first ground under INA section 212(a)(6)(A)(i).

The extension of PIP to the families of current or former military service men and women is a proper recognition of their contribution to the nation and an attempt to benefit those who have given so much to the rest of us.  While such logic is compelling, why not expand its application to other instances where aliens have served and strengthened the national interest or performed work in the national interest? How about granting PIP to families of, outstanding researchers striving to unlock the mysteries of science and technology, those with exceptional or extraordinary ability, and key employees of US companies doing important jobs for which qualified Americans cannot be found? And there is also a compelling interest in ensuring family unification so that US citizens or permanent residents may feel less stressed and can go on to have productive lives that will in turn help the nation.  All such people do us proud by making our cause their own and the need of their loved ones to come in from the shadows is real and present. Indeed, the non-military use of PIP was advocated by top USCIS officials several years ago in a memo to USCIS Director Mayorkas, a memo leaked by its critics who wished successfully to kill it.

In the face of inaction on the part of the GOP controlled House to enact immigration reform, granting PIP to all immediate relatives of US citizens would allow them to adjust in the US rather than travel abroad and risk the 3 and 10 year bars of inadmissibility. Such administrative relief would be far less controversial than granting deferred action since immediate relatives of US citizens are anyway eligible for permanent residence. The only difference is that they could apply for their green cards in the US without needing to travel overseas and apply for waivers of the 3 and 10 year bars.

The concept of PIP can be extended to other categories, such as beneficiaries of preference petitions, which the authors have explained in The Tyranny of Priority Dates. However, they need to have demonstrated lawful status as a condition for being able to adjust status under INA section 245(c)(2) and the memo currently states that “[p]arole does not erase any periods of unlawful status.” There is no reason why this policy cannot be reversed. The grant of PIP, especially to someone who arrived in the past without admission or parole, can retroactively give that person lawful status too, thus rendering him or her eligible to adjust status through the I-130 petition as a preference beneficiary. The only place in INA section 245 where the applicant is required to have maintained lawful nonimmigrant status is under INA section 245(c)(7), which is limited to employment-based immigrants. Family-based immigrants are not so subject. What about INA section 245(c)(2)’s insistence on “lawful immigration status” at the snapshot moment of I-485 submission?  Even this would not be a problem. For purposes of section  245(c) of the Act, current regulations already define “lawful immigration status” to include “parole status which has not expired, been revoked, or terminated.” 8 C.F.R. section 245.1(d)(v). Indeed, even if one has already been admitted previously in a nonimmigrant visa status and is now out of status, the authors contend  that this person should be able to apply for a rescission of that admission and instead be granted retroactive PIP. Thus, beneficiaries of I-130 petitions, if granted retroactive PIP, ought to be able adjust their status in the US.

There is also no reason why PIP cannot extend to beneficiaries of employment I-140 petitions. If this is done, would such persons be able to adjust status to lawful permanent resident without leaving the USA? In order to do that, they not only need to demonstrate lawful status, but also  to have maintained continuous lawful nonimmigrant status under INA section 245(c)(7), as noted above.  Is there a way around this problem? At first glance, we consider the possibility of using the exception under INA section 245(k) which allows for those who have not continuously maintained lawful nonimmigrant status to still take advantage of section 245 adjustment if they can demonstrate that they have been in unlawful status for not more than 180 days since their last admission. We would do well to remember, however, that 245(k) only works if the alien is “present in the United States pursuant to a lawful admission.”  Is parole an admission? Not according to INA section 101(a)(13)(B). So, while retroactive PIP would help satisfy the 180 day requirement imposed by INA section 245(k)(2), it cannot substitute for the lawful admission demanded by section 245(k)(1). Even if an out of status or unlawfully present I-140 beneficiary who had previously been admitted now received nunc pro tunc parole, the parole would replace the prior lawful admission. Such a person would still not be eligible for INA section 245(k) benefits and, having failed to continuously maintain valid nonimmigrant status,  would remain unable to adjust due to the preclusive effect of section 245(c)(7). Similarly, an I-140 beneficiary who had entered EWI and subsequently received retroactive parole would likewise not be able to utilize 245(k) for precisely the same reason, the lack of a lawful admission. Still, the grant of retroactive PIP should wipe out unlawful presence and the 3 and 10 year bars enabling this I-140 beneficiary to still receive an immigrant visa at an overseas consular post without triggering the bars upon departure from the US. Thus, while the beneficiary of an employment-based petition may not be able to apply for adjustment of status, retroactive PIP would nevertheless be hugely beneficial because, assuming PIP is considered a lawful status, it will wipe out unlawful presence and will thus no longer trigger the bars upon the alien’s departure from the US.

There are two ways to achieve progress. Congress can change the law, which it persists in refusing to do, or the President can interpret the existing law in new ways, which he has done.  The holistic approach to parole for which we argue is a prime example of this second approach. The term “status” is not defined anywhere in the INA.  By ordinary English usage, “parolee status” is a perfectly natural way of describing someone who has been paroled. Parole is a lawful status in the sense that, by virtue of the parole, it is lawful for the parolee to remain in the United States, at least for the authorized period of time under prescribed terms and conditions. We credit David Isaacson for suggesting that there are other instances in the INA where lawful status does not automatically equate to nonimmigrant status: for examples, asylum status under INA Section 208 and refugee status under INA section 207 are lawful statuses, even though strictly speaking, neither an asylee nor a refugee is a nonimmigrant according to the INA Section 101(a)(15) definition of that term. The Executive can easily revise the memo for military families to declare parole under INA  section 212(d)(5) a status  because it has already declared parole a lawful status for NA 245(c)(2) purposes under 8 C.F.R. 245(d)(v), asylum a lawful status under INA section 208, and refugee a lawful status under INA section 207.  See 8 C.F.R. 245.1(d)(iii)-(iv). In all three cases, people are allowed into the United States in a capacity that is nether legal permanent residence nor, strictly speaking, nonimmigrant.  True, INA section 101(a)(13)(B) does say that parolees are not “admitted”, but is one who enters without admission and is granted asylum under INA 208 ever been “admitted” per the statutory definition of that term? Yet, such a person has a lawful status.

One of the biggest contributors to the buildup of the undocumented population in the US has been the 3 and 10 year bars.  Even though people are beneficiaries of immigrant visa petitions, they do not wish to risk travelling abroad and facing the 3 or 10 year bars, as well as trying to overcome the bars by demonstrating extreme hardship to qualifying relatives, which is a very high standard. Extending PIP to people who are in any event in the pipeline for a green card would allow them adjust status in the US or process immigrant visas at consular posts, and become lawful permanent residents. These people are already eligible for permanent residence through approved I-130 and I-140 petitions, and PIP would only facilitate their ability to apply for permanent residence in the US, or in the case of I-140 beneficiaries by travelling overseas for consular processing without incurring the 3 and 10 year bars. PIP would thus reduce the undocumented population in the US without creating new categories of relief, which Congress can and should do through reform immigration legislation.

There is no doubt that the memo for military families is a meaningful example of immigration remediation through executive initiative. Yet, it is one step in what can and should be a much longer journey. In the face on intractable congressional resistance, we urge the President to take this next step.

(Guest writer Gary Endelman is Senior Counsel at FosterQuan)

Waiving Goodbye to Unappealable Decisions: Indirect AAO Jurisdiction, or Why Having Your Appeal Dismissed Can Sometimes be a Good Thing

The USCIS Administrative Appeals Office, or AAO, has administrative appellate jurisdiction over a wide variety of USCIS decisions that are not appealable to the Board of Immigration Appeals.  This jurisdiction is primarily set forth in a regulatory list that has been absent from the Code of Federal Regulations since 2003, but was incorporated by reference that year into DHS Delegation 0150.1.  Pursuant to that delegation, as manyAAOdecisionsstate, the AAO exercises appellate jurisdiction over the matters described at 8 C.F.R. 103.1(f)(3)(iii) as in effect on February 28, 2003.  (It has been previously pointed out by attorney Matt Cameron that a currently nonexistent jurisdictional regulation is an undesirable state of affairs for an appellate body; USCIS recently indicated in a July 2013 Policy Memorandum regarding certification of decisions that DHS intends to replace the list in the regulations in a future rulemaking.)

The regulatory list of applications over which the AAO has jurisdiction does not include Form I-485 applications for adjustment of status, with a minor exception relating to applications based on a marriage entered into during removal proceedings denied for failure to meet the bona fide marriage exemption under INA §245(e).  Thus, it would appear that the AAO would not have appellate jurisdiction over denials of adjustment applications, and that one’s sole administrative recourse if an adjustment application is denied would be to seek review before an immigration judge in removal proceedings, as is generally permitted (except for certain arriving aliens) by 8 C.F.R. §1245.2(a)(5)(ii).  But appearances can be deceiving.

Many, although not all, of the grounds for denial of an adjustment application are potentially subject to waiver under appropriate conditions.  If an application is denied because the applicant was found inadmissible under INA §212(a)(2)(A)(i) due to conviction for a crime involving moral turpitude (“CIMT”), for example, a waiver can be sought under INA §212(h) if either the criminal conduct took place more than 15 years ago, or the applicant can attempt to demonstrate that the applicant’s U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident spouse, parent, son or daughter would face extreme hardship if the applicant were not admitted.  Similarly, one who is found inadmissible under INA §212(a)(6)(C)(i) due to fraud or willful misrepresentation (not involving a false claim to U.S. citizenship taking place after September 30, 1996) can seek a waiver of inadmissibility under INA §212(i) based on extreme hardship to a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident spouse or parent.  Various other grounds of inadmissibility are waiveable as well.

While the AAO does not have jurisdiction directly over the denial of an adjustment application, the AAO does have jurisdiction over the denial of most waiver applications.  And in the AAO’s view, appellate jurisdiction to determine whether someone should have been granted a waiver necessarily includes jurisdiction to decide whether that applicant even needed a waiver in the first place.  If the AAO finds that a waiver was unnecessary, it will dismiss the waiver appeal and remand for further processing of the adjustment application.  That is, it will decide on appeal that the applicant was not, in fact, inadmissible, and thus in effect will have reviewed the denial of the underlying adjustment application even without regard to whether a waiver would be justified if one were indeed necessary.  Although this process does not appear to be documented in any precedential AAO decision, comparatively few AAO precedent decisions of any sort having been published, this exercise of indirect appellate jurisdiction by the AAO occurs with some frequency in non-precedential, “unpublished” decisions that have been made available online (generally by USCIS itself, or occasionally by other sources).

Dismissal of a waiver appeal as moot can occur in the context of a §212(h) waiver, for example, where the AAO finds that the applicant’s conviction was not for a CIMT (see also these additional decisionsfrom 2012; 2010; February, March, Apriland June of 2009; 2008; and 2007).  Even if the applicant does have a CIMT conviction, that AAO may conclude that the applicant’s only conviction for a CIMT qualifies for the petty offense exception under INA §212(a)(2)(A)(ii)(II) and thus does not give rise to inadmissibility (see also these decisions along the same lines from Januaryand Marchof 2009, 2008, and 2006).  Dismissal of a §212(h) waiver application as moot can also occur when the AAO finds that the applicant was not convicted of a crime at all given that the official disposition of a charge was a “Nolle prosequi, or that an applicant who was not convicted of a crime had not given a valid admission to the elements of a crime, in accordance with the procedural safeguards required by precedent, so as to give rise to inadmissibility in the absence of a conviction.  Outside the CIMT context, as well, the AAO can dismiss a §212(h) waiver appeal as moot upon a finding that no waiver is needed, such as when someone who was thought to have a waiveable conviction involving 30 grams or less of marijuana successfully points out on appeal that disorderly conduct under a statute not mentioning drugs is not an offense relating to a controlled substance.

In the context of a denial based on inadmissibility for fraud or misrepresentation, the AAO can dismiss an appeal from the denial of a §212(i) waiver as moot if it finds that the misrepresentation was not material (see also these decisions from 2010, 2009and 2007), or that an applicant who was victimized by others submitting a fraudulent application on his behalf without his knowledge did not make a willful misrepresentation, or that any misrepresentation was the subject of a timely retraction (see also this decision from 2006).  AAO dismissal of a §212(i) waiver appeal as moot can also be used to vindicate the legal principle that presenting a false Form I-94 or similar false documentation to an employer to obtain employment does not give rise to inadmissibility under §212(a)(6)(C)(i), and neither does procuring false immigration documentation from a private individual more generally, because a misrepresentation under 212(a)(6)(C)(i) must be made to an authorized U.S. government official.  Finally, AAO dismissal of a §212(i) waiver appeal as moot can occur where the only alleged misrepresentation occurred in the context of a legalization program which is subject to statutory confidentiality protection, such as the SAW (Special Agricultural Worker) program under INA §210 or a LULAC late legalization application or other application under INA §245A, and therefore any such misrepresentation cannot be the basis of inadmissibility under §212(a)(6)(C)(i) because of the confidentiality protection.

This sort of indirect AAO jurisdiction can also be used to correct errors regarding inadmissibility for unlawful presence under INA §212(a)(9)(B), if a waiver application is filed under INA §212(a)(9)(B)(v).  For example, in a 2012 decision involving an applicant who was admitted for duration of status (D/S) and had been incorrectly found to have accrued unlawful presence after failing to maintain status even absent any finding of such by USCIS or an immigration judge, contrary to the 2009 Neufeld/Scialabba/Chang USCIS consolidated guidance memorandum on unlawful presence, the AAO dismissed the appeal as moot upon finding that the applicant was not, in fact, inadmissible under §212(a)(9)(B).

The AAO’s indirect appellate jurisdiction over inadmissibility determinations has even been exercised where the initial inadmissibility determination was made not by a USCIS officer in the context of an application for adjustment of status, but by a Department of State consular officer in the context of a consular application for an immigrant visa.  In a 2009 decision, the AAO dismissed as moot an appeal from the denial of a §212(h) waiver by the Officer in Charge (OIC) in Manila, holding that the applicant did not require a waiver because the applicant’s admission to an examining physician that he had used marijuana in the past did not give rise to inadmissibility, and that Pazcoguin v. Radcliffe, 292 F.3d 1209 (9th Cir. 2002) (finding a valid admission to the elements of a crime resulting in inadmissibility under similar circumstances) did not apply because the applicant and the office that made the decision were located in the Philippines rather than within the jurisdiction of the Ninth Circuit.  The AAO ordered “the matter returned to the OIC for further processing of the immigrant visa application.” It explained the source of its authority in this context as follows:

The Secretary of Homeland Security (and by delegation, the AAO) has final responsibility over guidance to consular officers concerning inadmissibility for visa applicants. See Memorandum of Understanding Between Secretaries of State and Homeland Security Concerning Implementation of Section 428 of the Homeland Security Act of 2002, issued September 30, 2003, at 3.

Matter of X- (AAO June 17, 2009), at 4.

Nor was that Manila case an isolated exception, although the detailed explanation of the source of the AAO’s authority in the consular context that was contained in that decision is rarer that the exercise of the authority itself.  The AAO has also dismissed as moot an appeal of the denial of an application for a §212(h) waiver by the Mexico City district director in the case of an applicant who sought an immigrant visa in the Dominican Republic and had been convicted of a firearms offense which would properly give rise to deportability but not inadmissibility; dismissed an appeal from a decision of the Frankfurt, Germany OIC denying a §212(h) waiver for an applicant whom the AAO determined had not been convicted of a CIMT; dismissed an appeal from a decision of the Vienna, Austria OIC denying a §212(h) waiver for an applicant the AAO found had only been subject to juvenile delinquency proceedings not giving rise to a conviction for immigration purposes under Matter of Devison-Charles, 22 I&N Dec. 1362 (BIA 2001); and dismissed another appeal from a decision of the Vienna OIC where the AAO found that the applicant’s conviction qualified for the petty offense exception.  Indeed, the AAO has exercised its indirect appellate jurisdiction over a consular inadmissibility determination in at least one appeal from a decision of the Mexico City district director where “the applicant did not appear to contest the district director’s determination of inadmissibility” but the AAO found that neither of the crimes of which the applicant had been convicted was a CIMT.  The AAO’s indirect appellate jurisdiction has also been exercised in a case coming from the New Delhi, India OIC where an applicant disputed his date of departure from the United States which started the running of the ten-year bar, and the AAO found that the applicant’s actual departure had been more than ten years prior and thus no §212(a)(9)(B)(v) waiver was required.

Perhaps most interestingly, it appears that the AAO will even exercise its indirect appellate jurisdiction over inadmissibility determinations in some cases where the applicant has failed to demonstrate prima facie eligibility for the relevant waiver, although the only examples that this author have been able to find of this involve the AAO’s indirect jurisdiction over USCIS adjustment denials rather than consular-processing of an immigrant visa.  In a 2006 decision, an applicant who had not provided any evidence that his wife was a Lawful Permanent Resident who could serve as a qualifying relative for either a §212(i) waiver or a §212(a)(9)(B)(v) waiver was found not to be inadmissible because he had made a timely retraction of any misrepresentation, and had accrued no unlawful presence due to last departing the United States in 1989.  In a 2009 decision, an applicant who had pled guilty to hiring undocumented workers, and who had been found inadmissible under INA §212(a)(6)(E)(i) for alien smuggling and appealed the denial of his application for a waiver of inadmissibility under INA §212(d)(11), was found not inadmissible by the AAO, which withdrew the district director’s contrary finding—even though the district director had found that the applicant did not meet the requirements of §212(d)(11), and seems very likely to have been right about that, since §212(d)(11)applies only to an applicant who “has encouraged, induced, assisted, abetted, or aided only an individual who at the time of the offense was the alien’s spouse, parent, son, or daughter (and no other individual) to enter the United States in violation of law.”  And in 2010, the AAO declared moot a waiver application under INA §212(g) by an individual infected with HIV who apparently had not established any relationship with a qualifying relative, on the ground that in January 2010 the Centers for Disease Control had removed HIV from the official list of communicable diseases of public health significance, and therefore HIV infection was no longer a ground of inadmissibility.  Some potentially difficult ethical and practical questions would need to be resolved before deliberately filing a waiver application on behalf of an applicant ineligible for such waiver in order to obtain AAO review of whether the applicant was inadmissible at all, but it is at least a possibility worthy of further analysis.

So when an application for adjustment of status, or even for a consular-processed immigrant visa, is denied, it is important to keep in mind that an appeal may be available even if it does not appear so at first glance, and that establishing the necessary hardship to a qualifying relative to support a waiver application is not necessarily the only way to win the case.  If a waiver of the ground upon which the denial was based is at least theoretically available, so as to support AAO jurisdiction over the denial of that waiver, then one can leverage the waiver to seek AAO review of whether a waiver was necessary in the first place.

THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS: ADVENTURES WITH ARRABALLY AND YERRABELLY IN IMMIGRATION LAND

By Gary Endelman and Cyrus D. Mehta

“Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”

― Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

Arrabally and Yerrabelly are not characters in a children’s fantasy story book. They were the respondents in a decision of the Board of Immigration Appeals styled Matter of Arrabally and Yerrabelly, 25 I&N Dec. 771 (BIA 2012), which to immigration attorneys is like a fairy tale story come true. The decision is magical, and truly benefits foreign nationals who are subject to the 3 and 10 year bars even if they travel abroad.

Indeed, Arrabally and Yerrabelly, husband and wife respectively, were unlawfully present for more than 1 year. A departure after being unlawfully present from the US for one year renders the individual inadmissible for a period of 10 years. Specifically, § 212(a)(9)(B)(i)(II) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) provides:

Any alien (other than an alien lawfully admitted for permanent residence) who –

(II) has been unlawfully present in the United States for one year or more , and who again seeks admission within 10 years of the date of such alien’s departure or removal from the United States, is inadmissible

A companion provision, INA § 212(a)(9)(B)(i)(I) triggers a 3 year bar if the non-citizen is unlawfully present for more than 180 days and less than one year, and leaves the US prior to the commencement of removal proceedings.

The 3 and 10 year bars create a federal Catch-22. An individual who is unlawfully present cannot generally apply for lawful permanent residence in the US through adjustment of status unless he or she falls under limited exceptions. Such an individual who is ineligible to apply for a green card in the US must leave the US to process for an immigrant visa at an overseas consular post. But here’s the catch: If this person leaves the US he or she will trigger the bar and cannot return for 10 years. Thus, this person, even though approved for a green card, remains in immigration limbo.

Arrabally and Yerrabelly were unlawfully present too for more than 1 year, and would have triggered the 10 year bar had they “departed” the US. Fortunately, they were able to file Form I-485 applications for adjustment of status under an exception, INA § 245(i), after the employer’s I-140 petition got approved. § 245(i), which expired on April 30, 2001 but which could still grandfather someone if an immigrant petition or labor certification was filed on or before that date,  allows those who are out of status to  be able adjust status to permanent residence in the US. Due to a family emergency in India, they left the US under advance parole, which is a special travel dispensation one can obtain when one is a pending applicant for adjustment of status. At issue is their case was whether they effectuated a “departure” under advance parole and thus triggered the 10 year bar.

The DHS has always taken the position that leaving the United States under advance parole effectuates a departure and thus triggers the 10 year bar under § 212(a)(9)(B)(i)(II) if the individual is unlawfully present for one year.

The adjustment of status applications of Arrabally and Yerrabelly were denied on the basis that they were inadmissible for 10 years, and were subsequently placed in removal proceedings. The Immigration Judge affirmed the DHS’s finding, but the BIA like magic reversed on the ground that their leaving the US under advance parole did not result in a departure pursuant to § 212(a)(9)(B)(i)(II) thus rendering them inadmissible under the 10 year bar. The BIA reasoned that travel under a  grant of advance parole is different from a regular departure from the US, since the individual is given the assurance that he or she will be paroled back in the US to continue to seek the benefit of adjustment of status. Thus, traveling outside the US under advance parole does not trigger the 10 year bar. Although Matter of Arrabally and Yerrabelly interpreted the 10 year bar provision under § 212(a)(9)(B)(i)(I), its logic can apply equally to the 3 year bar under § 212(a)(9)(B)(i)(I).

The decision now allows foreign nationals like Arrabally and Yerabelly, who may have been unlawfully present to travel outside the US on advance parole while their adjustment of status applications are pending without fearing the 10 year bar. But the decision opens up other amazing possibilities too. If a person is unable to adjust status by virtue of being out of status, and cannot do so under the § 245(i) exception, another exception is by adjusting status as an immediate relative of a US citizen. The spouse, minor child or parent of a US citizen can adjust status in the US even if they have violated their status. However, this individual must still be able to demonstrate that he or she was “inspected and admitted or paroled” in the United States under INA § 245(a) as a pre-condition to file an adjustment of status application in the US.  Thus, a person who enters the US surreptitiously without inspection is ineligible to adjust status to permanent residence in the US despite being married to a US citizen. Such a person may still have to proceed overseas at a US consulate for immigrant visa processing, and will need to overcome the 10 year bar through a waiver.  This would not be necessary if such immediate relative could be granted “parole-in-place” which at this point of time is only granted to spouses of military personnel in active duty. In the leaked July 2010 memorandum to USCIS Director Mayorkas, the suggestion is made that the USCIS “reexamine past interpretations of terms such as ‘departure’ and ‘seeking admission again’ within the context of unlawful presence and adjustment of status.”

Notwithstanding the lack of “parole in place” for all applicants,  in yet another ground breaking case, Matter of Quilantan, 25 I&N Dec. 285 (BIA 2010), the BIA held that someone who presents herself at the border, but is waived through, is still inspected for purposes of adjustment eligibility. For example, a person who is a passenger in a car, and is waived through a border post at the Mexico-US border can still establish a lawful entry into the US. Matter of Quilantan can be further extended to someone who enters the US with a photo-switched fraudulent non-US passport. Such a person has also been inspected, albeit through a fraudulent identity. Foreign nationals in such situations, if they can prove that they were inspected, can qualify to apply for their green cards in the US through adjustment of status if they marry a US citizen or are the minor children or parents of US citizens.  They may however be subject to other grounds of inadmissibility, such as fraud or misrepresentation, but they can at least file those waivers with an I-485 application in the US. While it is true that in another feat of administrative innovation, the DHS has proposed that some can apply for the waiver of the 3 and 10 year bars in the US prior to their departure, this rule may not extend to applicants who are applying for an additional waiver, such as to overcome the fraud ground of inadmissibility.

Despite Matter of Quilantan, USCIS examiners during an adjustment of status interview require corroborating evidence of this admission, and may not accept only the sworn statement of the applicant regarding the manner of his or her entry into the US. They may want to actually see the photo-switched passport, which may no longer in the possession of the applicant.  Such a person may still be found ineligible to adjust status despite being inspected and admitted in the above manner under Matter of Quilantan. But if this person, after filing an adjustment of status application, left the US under advance  parole and returned to the US, he or she would be considered  “paroled” into the US and qualify for a new adjustment of status application as an immediate relative of a US citizen. If the first I-485 application is denied, he or she could file this second application where the “parole” would be a clearer basis for adjustment eligibility than the initial “waived through” or fraudulent admission.  Moreover, under Matter of Arrabally and Yerabelly, this individual would not have triggered the 10 year bar during travel under advance parole during the pendency of the first adjustment application. Travelling abroad under advance parole during the first adjustment application without triggering the 10 year bar could give an applicant a second bite at the apple in filing another adjustment application if the first one gets denied for lack of evidence of an admission. There is one caveat though. This is still an untested theory but the authors do not see why it could not be argued in the event of a denial of the first adjustment application, assuming it was filed in good faith and denied only because of lack of corroboration of the admission. Using Matter of Arrabally and Yerrabelly in the manner we propose seeks to do just that. Once again, as with the concept of parole, we seek to build on past innovation to achieve future gain.

Matter of Arrabally and Yerrabelly can come to the rescue of DREAMers too. In our recent blog, DEFERRED ACTION: THE NEXT GENERATION, June 19, 2012, we proposed extending the holding of Matter of Arrabally and Yerrabelly to beneficiaries of deferred action. There are bound to be many who will be granted deferred action who will also be on the pathway to permanent residence by being beneficiaries of approved I-130 or I-140 petitions.  As already explained, unless one is being sponsored as an immediate relative, i.e. as a spouse, child or parent of a US citizen, and has also been admitted and inspected, filing an application for adjustment of status to permanent residence will generally not be possible for an individual who has failed to maintain a lawful status under INA § 245(a). Such individuals will have to depart the US to process their immigrant visas at a US consulate in their home countries. Although the grant of deferred action will stop unlawful presence from accruing, it does not erase any past unlawful presence. Thus, one who has accrued over one year of unlawful presence and departs the US in order to process for an immigrant visa will most likely face the 10 year bar under INA § 212(a)(9)(B)(i)(II). While some may be able to take advantage of the proposed provisional waiver rule, where one can apply in the US for a waiver before leaving the US, not all will be eligible under this new rule.  A case in point is someone who is sponsored by an employer under the employment-based second preference, and who may not even have a qualifying relative to apply for the waiver of the 10 year bar.

Since the publication of our blog, the USCIS has issued extensive guidelines for consideration of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) in the form of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ), which will take effect on August 15, 2012.  We were pleasantly surprised to find in the FAQ that those granted deferred action beneficiaries can apply for advance parole.  It is yet unclear whether one who has been granted deferred action and who has accrued unlawful presence and travels under advance parole can take advantage of Arrabally and Yerrabelly and the current FAQ does not suggest it.  At this point, a DACA applicant should assume that Arrabally and Yerrabelly will not apply, and an individual who has accrued over one-year of unlawful presence and leaves even under advance parole could face the 10-year bar.    Still, there is no reason for Arrabally and Yerabelly’s magic to not apply in this case too. Here too, the individual will be leaving the US under advance parole, which under Matter of Arrabally and Yerabelly, did not effectuate the departure under INA § 212(a)(9)(B)(i)(II). This is something worth advocating for with the USCIS as the DACA program unfolds. Obviously, USCIS will tread carefully as it is already facing criticism from opponents of the program, including members of Congress. Yet, applying Matter of Arrabally and Yerrabelly to young people who have been granted a fresh lease of life would be a logical extension.  The FAQ also indicates that the USCIS will only grant advance parole if one is travelling for humanitarian purposes, education purposes or employment purposes. Again, the FAQ does not expand on what humanitarian, education or employment purposes mean.  A deferred action beneficiary with an approved I-130 or I-140, which has become current for green card processing, can conceivably apply for advance parole based on humanitarian purposes to apply for immigrant visa at the consular post overseas.   His or her departure under advance parole, if Matter of Arrabally and Yerrabelly applies, will not trigger the 10 year bar. If this person successfully comes back on an  immigrant visa to be granted permanent residence upon admission, query whether the holding will still apply.  After all, the BIA in Arrabally and Yerrabelly contemplated a return as a parolee and not as a permanent resident.  Yet, again, just as the BIA performed magic when interpreting “departure” to not apply to those leaving the US under advadnce parole, there is no reason for the USCIS to not stretch it to a scenario where the deferred action beneficiary will leave on advance parole, thus not triggering the 10 year bar, in order to return to the US as an immigrant.  This is clearly not the current position of the USCIS as articulated in its FAQ.  The purpose of our blog is to advance interpretations that would be favorable for DREAMers down the road.

On the other hand, Matter of Arrabally and Yerrabelly can be more readily applied to those who otherwise would not be able to adjust status if they made an entry without inspection but were immediate relatives of US citizens. Such people would not need to process an immigrant visa at a US consulate overseas if they could adjust status.  Unlike an adjustment of status applicant, a DACA applicant can file an application for deferred action even if he or she entered without inspection. If later, this applicant, now granted deferred action, married a US citizen, he or she could leave under advance parole and not trigger the 10 year bar. At the same time, he or she would have also been paroled back into the US, making him or her eligible to adjust status, which prior to the parole would not have been possible. This fact pattern clearly falls under the four corners of Matter of Arrabally and Yerrabelly as opposed to someone proceeding overseas under advance parole and returning as a permanent resident. Yet, we reiterate, at this point, it is not at all clear whether Matter of Arrabally and Yerrabelly will apply to deferred action beneficiaries who travel abroad, and they should seek the advice of competent legal counsel before they wish to apply for advance parole in order to travel.

While DACA is clearly not designed to create a pathway to permanent residence, Matter of Arrabally and Yerrabelly can facilitate this indirectly through independent I-130 or I-140 petitions that were filed on behalf of the deferred action beneficiary. Although only Congress can change the law, the President can find new ways to expand the relief available under current law. Our proposal would relieve the Administration from the burdens of extending deferred action every two years (assuming the program lasts for that long) once the beneficiary is granted permanent residence. After all, until Congress acts to reform our broken immigration system, it behooves us to be wildly creative, even to the extent of imagining that fairy tales might become reality, like what the BIA achieved in Matter of Arrabelly and Yerrabelly. Indeed, precisely because DACA is a remedial initiative, it deserves and should be granted the most generous administration infused with the central goal of remaining true to the reasons that inspired its creation. For this to happen, we turn to the wisdom of Albert Einstein:

When I examine myself and my methods of thought, I come to the conclusion that the gift of fantasy has meant more to me than any talent for abstract, positive thinking
All we have to do is dream!