The Evolving Rights Of Deportable Immigrants As Seen In The Case Of Ravi Ragbir

By Cyrus D. Mehta and Sophia Genovese

Foreign nationals with removal orders are in an extremely vulnerable situation. Even if they are asked to report on a regular basis under an order of supervision, there is no guarantee that a whimsical ICE officer the next they show up to an interview may decide to apprehend this person with handcuffs and expel them from the country.  ICE may also decide to make a pre-dawn arrest of an undocumented person at home in front of family members including children, arrest  those who are attempting to regularize this status, or even victims of domestic violence seeking to escape their abusers.

Or if this person is an activist protesting against ICE’s tactics and fighting for the rights of immigrants, ICE could retaliate by arresting him or her with the goal of removing this so called “irritant” from the United States.  Indeed, no one appears to be beyond the reach of ICE’s heavy handedness in the Trump era.

At issue is whether a removable person has been allowed to stay in the US, and regularly report to ICE, can this person one day be suddenly apprehended without the chance to say goodbye to his family?

This was the very issue raised in Ragbir v. Sessions before Judge Katherine B. Forrest in a petition for habeas corpus in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York. Ravi Ragbir has lived in the US for over 25 years, but in the last ten years was subject to a final order of removal based on a deportable criminal conviction. Because of his special contributions to the community as the Executive Director of New Sanctuary Coalition of New York City, ICE until recently allowed him to remain in the US with his citizen wife and daughter, granting him an order of supervision and four administrative stays of removal. On January 11, 2018, however, while the administrative stay was still in place, ICE suddenly and inexplicably detained him during a routine check in.

Mr. Ragbir’s petition for habeas corpus was granted. The decision in Ragbir v. Sessions is astounding as it acknowledged the right of a removable person to say goodbye to loved ones and leave in an orderly and dignified fashion, especially one who did not pose a flight risk, was not a danger to the community and who was routinely checking in with ICE. The Court wrote that “[i]t ought not to be – and it has never before been – that those who have lived without incident in this country for years are subjected to treatment we associate with regimes we revile as unjust.”

Although the Court’s decision granting the habeas corpus petition was thin on legal authority, it broadly relied on the Fifth Amendment’s liberty and due process guarantees. “In such circumstances, the Fifth Amendment’s liberty and due process guarantees are North Stars that must guide our actions,” the Court eloquently stated. Although Mr. Ragbir had a final order of removal, “his interest in due process, required that we not pluck him out of his life without a moment’s notice, remove him form his family and community without a moment’s notice.” He should have at the very minimum been given to understand that he must organize his affairs and leave by a due date.

As this victory was being celebrated, Mr. Ragbir was still required to report to ICE for removal on February 10, 2018. This would have possibly been in compliance with Judge Forrest’s order that he be asked to leave by a due date in an orderly fashion rather than suddenly arrested and separated from his family. However, Mr. Ragbir, together with New Sanctuary Coalition of New York City, CASA de Maryland, Detention Watch Network, the National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild, and the New York Immigration Coalition filed suit on February 9, 2018, Ragbir v. Homan,  in the Southern District of New York to challenge the recent targeting of immigrant rights activists by federal immigration officials. The government has agreed to stay Mr. Ragbir’s deportation temporarily pending further briefing in this action. The lawsuit seeks, among other forms of relief, a preliminary and permanent injunction restraining the government from taking further action to effectuate a deportation order against Mr. Ragbir, while also seeking a preliminary and permanent injunction restraining the government from selectively enforcing immigration laws against individuals based on protected political speech.

It is hoped that Mr. Ragbir’s case will shine the torch on the draconian impact of deportation on the individual and the family that is left behind in the US. There have been far too many instances where removable persons have been suddenly and abruptly plucked from their families without giving them a chance to leave in an orderly and dignified fashion, or to consider allowing them to remain while they collaterally challenge their deportation orders or seek to reopen them. And as was done under the President Obama administration, allow such people to remain in the US if they have family members and have lived a life without incident apart from the ground that caused their deportation order. It is important for all of us to examine our collective morality when the government preys upon the most vulnerable populations among us.

As early as 1945, the Supreme Court in Bridges v. Wixon held:

Though deportation is not technically a criminal proceeding, it visits a great hardship on the individual, and deprives him of the right to stay and live and work in this land of freedom. That deportation is a penalty — at times, a most serious one — cannot be doubted. Meticulous care must be exercised lest the procedure by which he is deprived of that liberty not meet the essential standards of fairness.

Under our immigration system, people may be removed for a number of reasons. In Mr. Ragbir’s case, although he was a lawful permanent resident, his order of deportation was based upon a felony conviction for wire fraud in 2001. Mr. Ragbir paid his dues for that conviction under the criminal justice system. If Mr. Ragbir had been a citizen, he would not have been in this predicament. But because of his non-citizen status, he was also put in removal proceedings and thus was punished further for his criminal conviction even though as a citizen he would not be. A deportation proceeding is a civil proceeding, and the purpose is to remove the non-citizen rather than to punish, and yet it ironically results in a far greater punishment than the criminal proceeding.

Others are removed simply for not being in lawful status. It is a myth that undocumented immigration can be controlled or eliminated. Indeed, undocumented immigration is an inexorable outcome of restrictive immigration policy, a situation bound to worsen under the Trump Administration’s proposals to severely limit legal pathways. No matter how many more ICE agents that the Trump administration may add to enforce immigration law, there will always be undocumented immigrants who will desperately try to stay in the US to be with loved ones.

If ICE enforces the law harshly and egregiously, they will be even less effective as law suits like Mr. Ragbir has filed will push them back, as we have already begun to see in courts in Southern California and New Jersey. Judge André Birotte in Los Angeles, ruling on the unconstitutionality of ICE detainers (requests to local law enforcement to detain an individual for an additional 48 hours so ICE may decide whether or not to place the individual into removal proceedings), wrote “The LASD [Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department] officers have no authority to arrest individuals for civil immigration offenses, and thus, detaining individuals beyond their date for release violated the individuals’ Fourth Amendment rights.”  Judge Esther Salas in New Jersey temporarily halted the deportation of Indonesian Christians with “administratively final orders of removal predating 2009 and were subject to an order of supervision,” pending further adjudication of their claims. As the ACLU has argued, “This case involves life-and-death stakes and we are simply asking that these longtime residents be given opportunity to show that they are entitled to remain here.”

No amount of cruel and egregious enforcement measures can eliminate undocumented immigration. Rather, having sensible immigration laws that allow foreign nationals to more easily legalize their status will be more effective in solving the undocumented immigration problem in America, and would be more consistent with its values. This would be a better way to deal with the issue rather than to cruelly pluck people away from their families in violation of their rights and liberties enshrined in the Constitution.

How Binding Are DOL FAQs?

As PERM practitioners, we are all familiar with Department of Labor’s (DOL) Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs). Going as far back as 2005, the year of the inception of the PERM program, there have been various rounds of DOL FAQs on a wide range of topics including on how to file or withdraw a PERM application; how to prepare a PERM Recruitment Report; on the best practices for appeals to the Board of Alien Labor Certification Appeals (BALCA); on what constitutes a familial relationship; on Supervised Recruitment; and on and on. PERM practitioners rely on these FAQs to explain DOL’s requirements and expectations in the preparation and filing of PERM applications. These FAQs can even be used to remind the DOL of its own requirements when an erroneous PERM denial has been issued. But, at the end of the day, how binding is a DOL FAQ? Can the DOL deny a PERM application solely because the instruction in an FAQ was not followed? This issue was discussed in the following cases.

In Matter of Guess?, Inc. 2015-PER-00504 (June 28, 2017) the Employer filed a PERM application seeking to sponsor the foreign national for the offered position of Senior Financial Analyst. The Employer listed the job requirements as a Bachelor’s degree in Finance and 60 months of experience in the job offered. In Box. H.14 of the Form 9089, the Employer further stated that CPA licensure is required. However, when the Employer listed the foreign national’s qualifications in Sections J and K of the Form 9089, there was no indication that the foreign national was a licensed CPA. The Certifying Officer (CO) denied the application because the foreign national’s qualifications listed on the Form 9089 failed to demonstrate that he met the requirements for the offered position, specifically CPA licensure. The CO noted that Section K of the Form 9089 instructs employers to list all jobs the sponsored foreign national has held as well as any other experience that qualifies the foreign national for the job opportunity.  The CO further pointed out that the Office of Foreign Labor Certifications (OFLC) had published guidance through an FAQ on July 28, 2014, prior to the Employer’s submission of the Form 9089. To read the FAQ, click here and scroll to “Alien Experience.” The FAQ states:

When the employer lists specific skills and other requirements for the job opportunity in Section H, Question 14, the employer must also demonstrate on the ETA Form 9089 that the foreign worker possesses those skills and requirements. In order to do so, the employer should list separately in Section K all the foreign worker’s qualifications, such as certificates, licenses, professional coursework, or other credentials that meet the requirements to perform the job opportunity listed in Section H, if those qualifications have not already been explicitly identified under information about the jobs held in the past three years. If not listed elsewhere, the list of certificates, licenses, professional coursework, or other credentials held by the foreign worker and required in order to perform the job opportunity, should be entered after all jobs held in the past three years are listed, under Question 9, “Job Details (duties performed, use of tools, machines, equipment, etc.)”

Since the Employer did not list on the Form 9089 that the foreign national possessed a CPA license, as instructed by the FAQ, the CO concluded that denial of the Form 9089 application was authorized by 20 C.F.R. §656.17(i)(1) which states that the “job requirements, as described, must represent the employer’s minimum requirements for the job opportunity.” Essentially, the CO found that by including a CPA licensure requirement the Employer had indicated requirements which exceeded the foreign national’s qualifications.

The Employer requested reconsideration of the CO’s denial and submitted evidence of the foreign national’s CPA license. The Employer also argued that Section K of the Form 9089 only allows for entry of the foreign national’s work experience and that the CPA license could not have been submitted online. The Employer also argued that since the CPA license existed prior to the submission of the PERM application and since the CO did not issue an audit to request a copy, then the CO ought to accept proof of the CPA license submitted as part of the request for reconsideration in accordance with BALCA’s decision in Denzil Gunnels, 2010-PER-00628 (Nov. 16, 2010) which we previously blogged about here.

The CO upheld the denial and stated that:

[A]n FAQ is sufficient to adequately apprise the general public of changes in the Department of Labor, Office of Foreign Labor Certification policy or processing of Permanent Employment Certification Applications (PERM). Therefore, in accordance with the Department’s FAQ published on July 28, 2014, for applications filed on or after July 28, 2014, an employer seeking Permanent Employment Certification must demonstrate the foreign worker identified on the application meets all license, certificate, and requirements listed on the ETA Form 9089, at the time the application is submitted for processing.

The Employer filed a request for Board review and argued that (1) the July 28, 2014 FAQ does not cure the deficiencies in the Form 9089 and its instructions. (2) that the DOL cannot establish a substantive new rule that applications will summarily be denied for failure to list a foreign national’s licenses because the FAQ was not promulgated through the notice and comment process required to comport with due process in rulemaking; (3) that the DOL posts and removes FAQs without notice and in an inexplicable manner and that FAQs can be hard to find; and (4) that the CO erred in refusing to consider the copy of the CPA license submitted with the Employer’s request for reconsideration.

BALCA acknowledged that its panels have consistently upheld denials of certification where the employer ignored the clear directive in the Form 9089 instructions to list “all” of the foreign national’s qualifying experience. But BALCA also acknowledged that is has also ruled that applications cannot be denied based solely on an employer’s failure to include information on the Form 9089 where it is not apparent how that information could be included on the application and cited, among other cases, Smartzip Analytics, 2016-PER-00695 (Nov. 9, 2016) and Apple Inc., 2011-PER-01669 (Jan. 20, 2015) which I previously blogged about here.

BALCA found that the July 28, 2014 FAQ was an attempt by the OFLC to correct the deficiency in the Form 9089 and its instructions in regard to listing special skills, certificates, licenses and professional coursework that are not included in the required recitation of the foreign national’s qualifying job experience and that no changes have been made to the Form 9089 to address the deficiency. BALCA noted that neither the Form 9089 nor its instructions say anything about including special skills, certificates, licenses and professional coursework that are not included in the listing of the foreign national’s qualifying job experience. BALCA also found that the FAQ was silent regarding the consequences an employer may face for non-compliance with the FAQ guidance. Finally, BALCA held that the FAQ is not an appropriate and legally effective method of correcting shortcomings in the Form 9089 and its instructions and it was therefore arbitrary and inconsistent with the requirements of due process and fundamental fairness for the CO to deny the Employer’s PERM application based on a failure to state on the Form 9089 that the foreign national has a CPA license. BALCA found that the CO should have asked the Employer to submit supplementary information/documentation through the audit procedure. In the absence of an audit request, BALCA found that the CO ought to have accepted the Employer submission of a copy of the CPA license as part of its request for reconsideration.

Similarly, in Solar Turbines, Inc., 2016-PER-00025 (June 2, 2017), the CO denied the Form 9089 application, without an audit, because the Form 9089 did not establish that the foreign national possessed the skills required to perform the job. Specifically, the Form 9089 indicated that the position required academic or industry experience in the full use and application of “heat transfer, Finite Element Analysis, drafting/CAD (Pro-E), or applied thermodynamics” and the Employer did not list these skills in Section K of the Form 9089. The Employer sought reconsideration supplying the missing information and contending that there was no space on the application form to include such information. However, the CO reaffirmed the denial noting that an FAQ issued in July 2014 explained how the information could have been added to the form. BALCA reversed the denial concluding that the CO had erred in not considering the information submitted along with reconsideration request since the employer had not had a prior opportunity to submit the information. 20 C.F.R. §656.24(g)(2)(ii). BALCA agreed with the Employer that the limitations of the Form 9089 and its instructions “effectively prevented the presentation of the documentary evidence concerning the Alien’s specific qualifications to the CO.”

BALCA also spoke on FAQs in Matter of Arbin Corporation, 2013-PER-00052 (Jun, 29, 2017). In that case, after review of the Employer’s audit response, the CO denied the Form 9089 application based on a determination that the recruitment advertisements in a newspaper and on a job search website did not provide a description of the job vacancy specific enough to apprise U.S. workers of the job opportunity as required by 20 C.F.R. § 656.17(f)(3). Specifically, the CO found that the Employer’s newspaper and job search advertisements failed to mention “delivery of products” as described in the job duties listed on the Form 9089. The CO characterized “delivery of products” as a travel requirement, and he stated that had the Employer disclosed this travel requirement “to U.S. workers for the same job description which was provided to the foreign worker, potential U.S. applicants may have been interested in a company which would afford them the opportunity to travel.”

The Employer acknowledged that its advertisements did not refer to “delivery of products” and instead contained a “shortened” description of job duties. In addition, the Employer argued that if the CO believed that a hidden travel element should be disclosed then the Employer had done so by virtue of the fact that its advertisements indicated that the job requires the applicant to “maintain and repair Arbin battery testing systems” and also by virtue of the job title of “Customer Support Engineer.” These two things, the Employer argued, fully advised potential job applicants that this position requires a certain level of travel. Finally, the Employer argued that its shortened description of the job opportunity in the advertisements complied with the requirements of Section 656.17(f) as clarified in FAQ guidance published on the OFLC website that advertisements are not required to enumerate “every job duty, job requirement, and condition of employment” and that “[a]n advertisement that includes a description of the vacancy, the name of the employer, the geographic area of employment, and the means to contact the employer to apply may be sufficient to apprise potentially qualified applicants of the job opportunity.” To read the FAQ, click here and scroll to “Advertisement Content.”

BALCA ultimately held that the Employer’s reliance on the FAQ is misplaced. BALCA cited the case of CSI International, Inc., 2012-PER-00614 (Nov. 4, 2015) in finding that the FAQ is a merely an expansion on the requirement at Section 656.17(f)(3) that advertisements “[p]rovide a description of the vacancy specific enough to apprise the U.S. workers of the job opportunity for which certification is sought….” And the fact that Section 656.17(f)(3) does not require great detail about the job opportunity does not mean that an employer is exempt from including the content requirements directed by Section 656.17(f)(4) which mandates that the Employer apprise applicants of travel requirements.

The subject of FAQs also arose in Matter of Oracle America, Inc., 2015-PER-00308 (May 4, 2017), a case in which the CO denied the PERM application, after audit, based on the Employer’s failure to properly notify and consider workers it had laid off in the occupation as required by 20 CFR §656.17(k)(1). In its audit response, regarding how it notified and considered laid off workers, the Employer stated that laid-off U.S. workers had been given a notice in their termination packet with instructions on how to view and apply to any and all labor certification job opportunities that the Employer is offering. BALCA held that §656.17(k) requires specific notice to laid off workers of a job opportunity for which the employer has sought permanent labor certification. The Employer raised the subject of an FAQ (to read the FAQ, click here and scroll to “Recruitment Report”) which it argued presented an alternative to the requirement that a specific notice be provided to laid-off workers. However, BALCA held that the Employer had not complied with the guidance in the FAQ but rather, had provided the type of notification expressly rejected in the FAQ, that is, notice that simply informs the laid-off worker to monitor the Employer’s website for future openings and inviting the worker, if interested, to apply for those openings.

To what extent can the DOL utilize its FAQs as a substitute for actual rulemaking? In these cases we see BALCA find for the Employer and hold that an FAQ does not hold the power and force of the regulations. In other cases, we see BALCA indicate that the FAQ provided the Employer with means by which to comply with the existing regulations or that the FAQ represented an expansion of the existing regulations rather than a new directive. So where does that leave us? Can PERM FAQs be ignored? Certainly not. PERM FAQs have always been and will continue to be extremely important and useful to provide PERM practitioners with much needed clarity on the DOL’s requirements and expectations in the preparation and submission of PERM applications. It would serve no practical purpose to ignore FAQs only to potentially face the hurdle of a denial and an appeal to BALCA. However, to the extent that the DOL wishes to rely on one of its FAQs to create new rules and ascribe to them the force of the regulations then the DOL ought to be reminded that FAQs cannot be used to change the regulations and the issuance of an FAQ does not rise to the level of a substantive new rule because an FAQ is not promulgated through the notice and comment process required to comport with due process in rulemaking.

Justice Ginsburg’s Observation on Piepowder Courts in Vartelas v. Holder

By Gary Endelman and Cyrus D. Mehta 

In the recent landmark Supreme Court decision of Vartelas v. Holder, No. 10-1211, 565 U.S. ___, U.S. LEXIS 2540 (March 28, 2012), which partially restores the rights of lawful permanent residents (LPR) with pre-1996 convictions, Justice Ginsburg, who wrote the opinion for the majority,   made an interesting reference to piepowder courts. For an explanation of the potential significance of Vartelas v. Holder, we refer readers to our previous blog entitled Fleuti Lives! Restoration of A Constitutional Decision.

Piepowder, or dusty feet courts, as Justice Ginsburg’s decision explains in footnote 12, were temporary mercantile courts quickly set up to hear commercial disputes at trade fairs in Medieval Europe. These courts were set up to resolve disputes while the merchants’ feet were still dusty.

Justice Ginsburg made this reference to piepowder courts in the immigration context in our modern era, stating that an immigration official at the border would not set up a piepowder court to determine whether an LPR committed an offense identified in INA § 212(a)(2) to determine whether he or she was inadmissible. This is what Justice Ginsburg said: “Ordinarily to determine whether there is clear and convincing evidence that an alien has committed a qualifying crime, the immigration officer at the border would check the alien’s record of conviction. He would not call into session a piepowder court to entertain a plea or conduct a trial.”

The Supreme Court’s observation on quaint “dusty feet” courts, although charming, is also extremely significant. Most lawyers who do not practice immigration law, and of course everyone else, will be surprised to know that a non-citizen, including an LPR, can be found inadmissible under INA § 212(a)(2) for being convicted or who admits having committed certain crimes, such as crimes involving moral turpitude or controlled substance offenses.  Thus, a non-citizen, including an LPR, need not have a criminal conviction to be found inadmissible, he or she can be equally snared for having admitted to the commission of a crime. Clearly, with respect to an LPR travelling from abroad, Justice Ginsburg’s observation appears to restrict a CBP officer’s ability at an airport from trying to obtain a confession regarding the commission of a CIMT. A CBP official cannot set up a piepowder court at the airport, like the merchants of a bygone era, to try an LPR who has travelled through many time zones, and who instead of having dusty feet may have bleary eyes, for the purposes of bludgeoning him or her into an admission for having committed a crime.

Admittedly, the observation on piepowder courts was obiter dictum. It  was made in the context of whether INA § 101(a)(13)(C), enacted by the Illegal Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 (IIRIRA), which allows the government to charge a long term LPR as an arriving alien for having committed an offense under 212(a)(2), could be applied retroactively.  The Supreme Court in Vartelas v. Holder held that the  doctrine enunciated in Rosenberg v. Fleuti, 374 U.S. 449 (1963), that an LPR who made a brief, casual and innocent trip abroad should  not be charged as an arriving alien,  still applies to LPRs with pre- IIRIRA criminal conduct. Noting that there was a presumption against retroactive legislation under Landgraf v. USI film Products, 511 U.S. 244 (1994), the Supreme Court  in Vartelas concluded that  INA § 101(a)(13)(C)(v) resulted in an impermissible retroactive effect as it  created a “new disability” to conduct completed  prior to IIRIRA’s enactment in 1996. This new disability was Vartelas’ inability to travel after 1996, which he could freely do so prior to 1996. The Court criticized the Second Circuit in the same case below, which did not find INA §101(a)(13)(C)(v) retroactive since it did not reference a conviction but only the commission of a crime, which if pleaded to prior to 1996 in reliance of more favorable treatment under pre-1996 law, would have been impermissibly retroactive as in INS v. St. Cyr, 533 U.S. 289 (2001). It was at this point that Justice Ginsburg said that “[t]he practical difference (between a conviction and commission of a crime), so far as retroactivity is concerned, escapes our grasp” and then made her observation that an immigration official would in any event need to determine under the clear and convincing standard at the border by checking the record of conviction, rather than convene a piepowder court, to determine whether the alien committed the crime.

It is also significant that Justice Ginsburg in her observation on piepowder courts affirmed that the burden has always been on the government to establish that an LPR is not entitled to that status, and this burden established in Woodby v. INS, 385 U.S. 276 (1966), is that the government must prove by “clear, unequivocal and convincing” evidence that the LPR should be deported. This burden applies to all LPRs regardless of whether they have pre-1996 or post-1996 criminal convictions. Thus, under a Woodby analysis too, since the government bears a heavy burden of proof, it would be turning the tables on the LPR if the government tried to extract a confession regarding the commission of a crime and thus be able to escape from the heavy burden it bears under the “clear, unequivocal and convincing” standard. This can potentially happen with an LPR who may have had the charges dismissed or reduced, but a nasty CBP official still wants to know the real story via a hypothetical piepowder court at the airport. Indeed, the Board of Immigration Appeals held many years ago in Matter of Guevara, 20 I&N Dec.238 (1990) that an alien’s silence alone does not provide sufficient evidence under the Woodby standard, in the absence of other evidence, to establish deportability. The following extract from Matter of Guevara is worth noting:

The legal concept of a “burden of proof” requires that the party upon whom the burden rests carry such burden by presenting evidence. If the only evidence necessary to satisfy this burden were the silence of the other party, then for all practical purposes, the burden would actually fall upon the silent party from the outset. Under this standard, every deportation proceeding would begin with an adverse inference which the respondent be required to rebut. We cannot rewrite the Act to reflect such a shift in the burden of proof. [citing Woodby v. INS, supra; other citations omitted]

Of course, an LPR can still voluntarily admit to the commission of a crime if he or she chooses to, but such an admission needs to meet rigid criteria. The BIA has set forth the following requirements for a validly obtained admission: (1) the admitted conduct must constitute the essential elements of a crime in the jurisdiction in which it occurred; (2) the applicant must have been provided with the definition and essential elements of the crime in understandable terms prior to making the admission; and (3) the admission must have been made voluntarily. See Matter of K-, 7 I&N Dec. 594 (BIA 1957).

Justice Ginsburg’s piepowder observation in Vartelas v. Holder, together with Matter of K and Matter of Guevara, provide more arsenal to an LPR who is charged as an arriving alien based on the commission rather than the conviction of a crime under INA § 212(a)(2). Beyond this, the disinclination to sanction ad hoc investigation through a “dusty feet” court conducted without legal sanction or moral restraint reflects a commendable preference for the stability of the written record as the framework for informed decision.

The conceptual framework that governs any discussion of retroactivity is the traditional two-step formula announced in Landgraf v. USI Film Products, supra. Since Congress did not expressly instruct on how far back IIRIRA could go, we move to the second prong announced by the High Court at page 277 of Landgraf, namely whether giving retrospective effect to INA 101(a)(13)(C)(v) will contradict basic notions of proper notice and upset “settled expectations” on which the actor “reasonably relied.” When in doubt, retroactivity is disfavored. The Supreme Court got it right. “Elementary considerations of fairness dictate that individuals should have an opportunity to know what the law is and to conform their conduct accordingly.” Landgraf, 511 US at 265.

Justice Ginsburg’s admonition reflects a profound appreciation of the due process rights that returning LPR’s have traditionally enjoyed.   While Woodby may not have been a constitutional decision, the warning against piepowder courts can only be understood in a constitutional context.  Remember the returning LPR seaman in Kwong Hai Chew v Colding, 349 US 590(1953) that authorities sought to exclude without a hearing; the Supreme Court reminded us that he deserved full constitutional rights to a fair hearing with all the due process protection that would have been his had he never left. Remember what Rosenberg v Fleuti, 374 US 449, 460(1963) taught us: “A resident alien who leaves this country is to be regarded as retaining certain basic rights.” Remember the ringing injunction of Shaughnessy v. US ex rel Mezei, 345 US 206, 213(1953): “A lawful resident alien may not captiously be deprived of his constitutional rights to procedural due process.”  In essence, behind Justice Ginsburg’s distaste for piepowder courts when applied to returning resident aliens, regardless of when their conviction or admission took place, is nothing less than the right “ to stay in this land of freedom.” Landon v. Plasencia, 459 US 21, 36 (1982) quoting Bridges v. Wixon, 306 US 135, 154 (1945).

The refusal to sanction IIRIRA retroactivity in Vartelas v. Holder provides the kind of predictability that LPRs need and deserve before they leave the USA and seek to return.  This, after all, is why retroactivity is disfavored .This is precisely why a piepowder court is not allowed; an LPR should know what this status means, what his or her rights are and should be able to leave the US with the confidence that an uneventful return is not only possible but entirely to be expected. In this sense, the refusal to embrace IIRIRA retroactivity and the caution against a piepowder court spring from the same place and say the same thing- predictability is at the very essence of a lawful society.  After all, to borrow Einstein’s happy phrase, God does not play dice with the universe.

(The views expressed by guest author, Gary Endelman, are his own and not of his firm, FosterQuan, LLP)


By Gary Endelman and Cyrus D. Mehta

There was a time when a lawful permanent resident (LPR) or green card holder had more rights than today.

Prior to the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 (IIRIRA),   if an LPR with a criminal conviction travelled abroad,  he or she was not found inadmissible, or excludable as it was then known, if the trip was brief, casual and innocent.

This was as a result of a landmark decision of the Supreme Court, Rosenberg v. Fleuti, 374 U.S. 449 (1963).    Fleuti, an LPR and Swiss national, was found excludable after he returned from a visit to Mexico of only about a couple of hours under the then exclusion ground of being an alien “afflicted with psychopathic personality” based on his homosexuality.  This was only an excludable and not a deportable ground. If Flueti had not departed the US, he would not have been in the predicament he was in after his brief trip to Mexico. The Supreme Court interpreted a then statutory provision involving involuntary departures not resulting in an entry into the US, INA §101(a)(13),  to hold that Congress did not intend to exclude long term residents upon their return from a trip abroad that was “innocent, causal and brief.”Thus, under the Fleuti doctrine, such an LPR was not thought to have left the US so as to trigger excludability.

In 1996, IIRIRA amended § 101(a)(13), which now provides:

(C) An alien lawfully admitted for permanent residence in the United States shall not be regarded as seeking an admission into the United States for purposes of the immigration laws unless the alien —

(i) has abandoned or relinquished that status,

(ii) has been absent from the United States for a continuous period in excess of 180 days,

(iii) has engaged in illegal activity after having departed the United States,

(iv) has departed from the United States while under legal process seeking removal of

the alien from the United States, including removal proceedings under this Act and

extradition proceedings,

(v) has committed an offense identified in section 212(a)(2), unless since such offense

the alien has been granted relief under section 212(h) or 240A(a), or

(vi) is attempting to enter at a time or place other than as designated by immigration officers or has not been admitted to the United States after inspection and authorization by an immigration officer.


The Board of Immigration Appeals in Matter of Collado-Munoz, 21 I&N Dec. 1061 (BIA 1998),  interpreted this amendment as eliminating the Fleuti doctrine. Thus, post 1996, an LPR who was convicted of a crime involving moral turpitude (CIMT) and who travelled abroad  would be seeking admission in the US under new § 101(a)(13)(C)(v) and could be put on the same footing as any alien seeking admission who may not have the same long term ties to the US as the LPR. Such an LPR would be found inadmissible of that CIMT even if that crime did not trigger removability  had he or she not left the US. The BIA eliminated the Fleuti  doctrine   despite a long line of Supreme Court cases holding that returning LPRs were entitled to the same due process rights as they would have if they were placed in deportation proceedings. For instance, in Kwong Hai Chew v. Colding, 344 U.S. 590 (1953), involving a seaman LPR whose entry was deemed prejudicial to the public interest and who was detained at Ellis Island as an excludable alien, the Supreme Court held that we must first consider what would have been his constitutional rights had he not undertaken his voyage to foreign ports but remained continuously in the US.  Even in Landon v. Plasencia, 459 U.S. 21 (1982), where the LPR’s trip abroad involved a smuggling operation and was not  considered so innocent,  the Supreme Court held that she could seek the Fleuti exception even in exclusion proceedings as well as enjoy all the due process rights as an LPR.  Landon recognized the LPR’s long term ties with the country noting that her right to “stay and live and work in this land of freedom” was at stake along with her right to rejoin her family.  It seemed that the BIA in Matter of Collado-Munoz, an administrative agency, was limited by its inability to rule upon the constitutionality of the laws it administered despite the robust dissent of Board Member Rosenberg  who stated that “[w]e are, however, authorized and encouraged to construe these laws so as not to violate constitutional principles.” Circuit courts deferred to the BIA interpretation while “recognizing that there are meritorious arguments on both sides of the issue.”  See Tineo v. Ashcroft, 350 F.3d 382 (3d Cir. 2003).

As a result after IIRIRA, LPRs  with prior convictions who travelled abroad briefly for holidays, weddings or to visit sick relatives were found inadmissible upon their return, and were also detained under the mandatory detention provision pursuant to § 236(c) if the conviction was a CIMT. This was true even if the conviction occurred prior to 1996 when Fleuti existed. In January 2003,  Vartelas, an LPR,  returned from a week- long trip to Greece, and immigration officials at the airport determined he was an alien seeking admission pursuant to § 101(a)(13)(c)(v) as he was convicted in 1994 for conspiring to make counterfeit security, which was characterized as a CIMT.  Vartelas challenged his designation as an arriving alien seeking admission all the way to the Supreme Court, and in Vartelas v. Holder, No. 10-1211, 565 U.S. ___, U.S. LEXIS 2540 (March 28, 2012), the Supreme Court recently held that the Fleuti doctrine  still applies to LPRs with pre-IIRIRA convictions who travel abroad.  Noting that there was a presumption against retroactive legislation under Langraf v. USI film Products, 511 U.S. 244 (1994), the Supreme Court concluded that  INA § 101(a)(13)(C)(v) resulted in an impermissible retroactive effect as it  created a “new disability” to conduct completed  prior to IIRIRA’s enactment in 1996. This new disability was Vartelas’ inability to travel after 1996, which he could freely do so prior to 1996. The Vartelas court noted, “Once able to journey abroad to fulfill religious obligations, attend funerals and weddings of family members, tend to vital financial interests, or respond to family emergencies, permanent residents situated as Vartelas now face potential banishment.” We refer you the excellent practice advisory of the Legal Action Center of the American Immigration Council on how to represent clients with pre-1996 convictions who have been positively impacted by Vartelas v. Holder.

Not all share our view of Vartelas v. Holder. One expert commentator limits it to LPRs with pre-1996 convictions, and for this reason predicts that it will not have a broad impact.

We think differently.  Although the Supreme Court passed up the opportunity to rule on the viability of Fleuti for post 1996 convictions;  in footnote 2 while acknowledging that the BIA read INA §101(a)(13)(C)  to overrule Fleuti  the Court noted,  “Vartelas does not challenge the ruling in Collado-Munoz. We therefore assume, but do not decide, that IIRIRA’s amendments to §101(a)(13)(A) abrogated Fleuti.” This is significant since the Supreme Court explicitly did not affirmatively decide that Fleuti  had been repealed for LPRs who had convictions after the enactment of IIRIRA. Practitioners with have LPR clients who have been charged as arriving aliens after a brief trip abroad should continue to advocate for the viability of the Fleuti doctrine on behalf of their clients in removal proceedings.

There are compelling arguments for doing so, and we commend readers to the brilliant amicus brief that Ira Kurzban and Debbie Smith wrote for the American Immigration Lawyers (AILA) Association in Vartelas v. Holder providing suggestions on how to convincingly make them.  The key argument is that that  the §101(a)(13)(C) categories never abrogated Fleuti; rather they codified some of the characteristics of Fleuti by suggesting, for example,  that an LPR would not be seeking admission if the trip overseas was brief (§101(a)(13)(C)(ii)) and that it was innocent (§101(a)(13)(C)(iii)). Moreover, § 101(a)(13)(C) employs “shall not …unless” language, which suggests that the provisions within are only necessary conditions to trigger inadmissibility, but not necessary and sufficient conditions to trigger inadmissibility.

Moreover,  the burden has always been on the government to establish that an LPR is not entitled to that status, and this burden established in Woodby v. INS, 385 U.S. 276 (1966), is that the government must prove by “clear, unequivocal and convincing” evidence that the LPR should be deported. Subsequent to Woodby, in Landon v. Plasencia, supra, the Supreme Court held that a returning resident be accorded due process in exclusion proceedings and that the Woodby standard be applied equally to an LPR in exclusion proceedings. With the introduction of  the § 101(a)(13)(C) provisions rendering a returning LPR inadmissible, the CBP’s Admissibility Review Office and more than one government lawyer argued that the heavy burden of proof that the government had  under Woodby had shifted to the LPR.  Indeed, INA §240(c)(2) places the burden on the applicant for admission to prove “clearly and beyond doubt” that he or she is not inadmissible.  Fortunately, a recent decision of the BIA in Matter of Rivens, 25 I&N Dec. 623 (BIA 2011) shatters this assumption once and for all. The BIA by affirming the Woodby standard in Rivens held, “Given this historical practice and the absence of any evidence that Congress intended a different allocation of standard of proof to apply in removal cases arising under current section 101(a)(13)(C) of the Act, we hold that the respondent – whose lawful permanent resident status is uncontested – cannot be found removable under the section 212(a) grounds of inadmissibility unless the DHS first proves by clear and convincing evidence [footnote omitted] that he is to be regarded as an applicant for admission in this case by having “committed an offense indentified in section 212(a)(2).”  It is surprising that Justice Ginsburg did not mention Rivens although footnote No. 1 in that decision reveals that the BIA was keenly attuned to what the Supreme Court might do with the Vartelas case.

Thus, the survival of Woodby, notwithstanding the enactment of §101(a)(13)(C),  carries with it the survival of Fleuti. Even though the Vartelas Court did not have to decide if Fleuti still lived, it reminds us that, despite the failure of the BIA to realize it in Collado-Munoz, Fleuti is at heart a constitutional decision. Vartelas belongs in this same line of cases because it too emphasizes the special protection that the Constitution offers to returning LPRs. The  portion of Vartelas that  could serve as a springboard for such an argument  in a future case is part of footnote 7of the slip opinion:

“The act of flying to Greece, in contrast, does not render a lawful permanent resident like Vartelas hazardous. Nor is it plausible that Congress’ solution to the problem of dangerous lawful permanent residents would be to pass a law that would deter such persons from ever leaving the United States.”

The authors credit David Isaacson for pointing that  the second sentence, in particular, suggests a potential willingness to avoid reading 101(a)(13)(C)(v) in the way that  Collado-Munoz did, essentially on the ground that such a reading makes no sense because of its logical consequence.  One might be able to combine this with the constitutional concerns raised in the AILA amicus brief and get Collado-Munoz overturned (and Fleuti restored) on the basis of a combination of purpose-based ambiguity in the statute and the doctrine of avoidance of constitutional doubts, which trumps Chevron deference, see, e.g., Edward J. DeBartolo Corp. v. Florida Coast Bldg. and Const. Trades Council, 485 U.S. 568, 574-575 (1988).  The effect would be analogous to Zadvydas v. Davis, 533 U.S. 678 (2001) where the statute was found ambiguous largely because of concerns relating to its purpose and then interpreted in the manner that would not raise serious constitutional concerns. To the authors, this places Vartelas in a much larger context where the full potential of the ruling may be examined and developed in the future.

The significance of Vartelas  is not limited to returning permanent residents with pre-1996 convictions. Rather, when viewed with a wide-angle lens, it may serve as the ruling that restores Fleuti as a constitutional decision. Unlike the assumption of the BIA in Collado-Munoz that Fleuti was decided in what Ira Kurzban and Deborah Smith insightfully term a “constitutional vacuum,” Justice Ginsburg has given back to Fleuti the constitutional provenance that sadly it seemed to have lost.Unlike the Fifth Circuit in De Fuentes v. Gonzalez, 462 F.3d 498,503(5th Cir. 2006) that saw no “constitutional core” in Fleuti or the Third Circuit in Tineo v. Ashcroft, 350 F.3d 382,397 (3d Cir 2003) which boldly though mistakenly proclaimed that  Fleuti had no basis in constitutional principle, Vartelas harkens back to an appreciation of lawful permanent residence that IIRIRA made us think for a while had vanished: “Once an alien gains admission to our country and begins to develop the ties that go with permanent residence, his constitutional status changes accordingly.” Landon v. Plascencia, 459 US at 32 (citing Johnson v. Eisentrager, 339 US 763, 770(1950)). If that happy day comes when Fleuti is restored in full, legal scholars may well look back to Vartelas v Holder as the case that made it all possible. The lasting contribution to the law that the Supreme Court has made through Vartelas v Holder may well be not only, or even primarily, in its forthright rejection of IIRIRA retroactivity, but rather in reclaiming for Fleuti its lasting  place in the penumbra of constitutional safeguards that have nurtured and protected the rights of lawful permanent residents.  In this sense, Fleuti did not create new rights for permanent residents so much as refine and expand existing constitutional alliances. For this reason, a revival of Fleuti would not be a radical leap into terra incognita but the rightful restoration of a constitutional regime that commands our attention and merits our respect. We do not know what the future will be for Fleuti   but, now, thanks to Vartelas,  there might be a story to tell.