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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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







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.


By Cyrus D. Mehta and David A. Isaacson

In the raging immigration debate concerning the millions of undocumented immigrants in the US, one important issue has received scant attention. We have yet to meet a person who has roots in the US who desires to choose to remain undocumented. Most are forced to remain undocumented even though they have a pathway to a green card due to a perverse Catch 22 effect in our immigration law as a result of the 3 and 10 year bars imposed under INA § 212(a)(9)(B).

Those who have remained unlawfully present in the US for 1 year or more face a 10 year bar to reentry if they depart the US. Similarly, those who have remained unlawfully present for more than 180 days face a 3 year bar to reentry if they depart the US. It should be noted that the term “unlawfully present” is a complex legal term and a discussion of this term is beyond the scope of this blog. These individuals, if they are the beneficiaries of an approved immigrant visa petition filed by a US citizen spouse or parent or a US citizen child (who is over 21), may often be unable to adjust their status in the US. Under INA § 245(a) one has to be inspected or paroled in order to qualify to adjust status to permanent residence in the US. Thus, a non-citizen spouse of a US citizen who previously surreptitiously crossed the border from Mexico into the US would be ineligible to adjust status because she was not inspected under § 245(a). Of course, there are exceptions to this rule too, which is beyond the scope of this blog and an article discussing these exceptions can be found here. This spouse would need to leave the US and apply for an immigrant visa at the US consulate in her home country. However, if she was unlawfully present in the US for 1 year or more, it would result in her triggering the 10 year bar to reentry. Although, under the current regime, she can apply for a waiver under INA § 212(a)(9)(B)(v), she can only do so after she has departed the US.

Obtaining the waiver is no small matter because she has to demonstrate extreme hardship to the US citizen spouse if the waiver is denied. The emotional angst resulting from the separation of two spouses is not enough. She will need to demonstrate, in addition to the emotional issue, financial, cultural, political and health conditions, among many others, as well as the balancing of ties within and outside the US. See Matter of Cervantes, 22 I&N Dec. 560 (BIA 1999), aff’d, Cervantes-Gonzales v. INS, 244 F.3d 1001 (9th Cir. 2001). Thus, this spouse will be rolling the dice if she departs the US to chance winning the waiver while outside the US. If the waiver is denied, she will be stuck outside the US and will be separated from her loved ones. Moreover, she can only demonstrate extreme hardship to a limited universe of qualifying relatives, which include a spouse or a parent. If she has US citizen children, under INA § 212(a)(9)(B)(v), she cannot demonstrate extreme hardship to them if she is separated.

It is not hard to see why there has been such a huge build up of the undocumented population in the US. Even while people may be eligible for permanent residence, they are unwilling to leave and chance a waiver from outside the US. While Congress enacted INA § 212(a)(9)(B) to deter overstays, it has had the exact opposite effect. People overstay, despite being approved for a green card, because of fear of facing the 3 or 10 year bars.

It is thus heartening that the Obama administration has proposed a rule that will be published in the Federal Register on January 9, 2012 in the form of a Notice of Intent to publish such a rule, which will permit intending immigrants to apply for a provisional waiver in the US prior to their departure from the US. This rule, if published, will remove the uncertainty in leaving the US and being barred for 3 or 10 years if the waiver application is denied. Under the proposed rule, the waiver can be applied for while in the US. With the waiver in hand, the individual departing the US can more readily hope to reenter the US without facing the 10 year bar. This move has received thunderous applause from the immigration advocacy community and rightly so. In a time when Congress is virtually paralyzed and cannot even make small tweaks to improve the immigration system, the proposing of a smart administrative rule such as this one is consistent with the intent of the law. People subject to the 3 or 10 year bars still need to apply for the waiver and meet the rigorous “extreme hardship” standard, except that they can apply for it in the US prior to their departure. If they obtain the waiver, they can at least be assured of not triggering the 3 or 10 year bars upon their departure.

Apparently, if and when the rule takes effect, which under the formal rule making process may take some time, it will be limited to immediate relatives of US citizens who are seeking a § 212(a)(9)(B)(v) waiver of unlawful presence based on hardship to a US citizen, although the petitioning US citizen and the one to whom extreme hardship exists need not be the same (so that, for example, it appears that the parent of a 21-year-old US citizen petitioned for by that son or daughter would qualify if seeking a waiver based on extreme hardship to a US citizen parent, the grandparent of the petitioning relative). It appears that the rule will not cover people who are not immediate relatives of a US citizen (such as the over-21-year-old son or daughter of a US citizen who is petitioned for by their parent and not protected by the Child Status Protection Act), or whose qualifying relative for the waiver is a lawful permanent resident. It also will not cover people who need some other sort of waiver in addition, such as a waiver under INA § 212(i) for fraud. It is not entirely clear whether the proposed rule would cover people who in addition to a waiver under § 212(a)(9)(B)(v) need to obtain permission to reapply for admission because their departure will execute an order of removal and create inadmissibility under INA § 212(a)(9)(A), but it would seem that it should, since such applications for permission to reapply can already be filed in advance under existing regulations– the actual proposed rule may clarify this when it comes out. We do urge the USCIS to at least include sons and daughters of US citizens who do not qualify as immediate relatives. A child who has turned 21, and who may not be protected under the Child Status Protection Act, still remains very much part of the nuclear family especially in hard economic times when their parents are still the lifeline. These adult children, technically referred to as sons and daughters, would otherwise qualify under DREAM Act legislation, and may at least be able to take advantage of this provisional waiver if the proposed rule is adjusted to allow them to do so.

Although this new proposed rule may be portrayed as some sort of radical innovation by immigration restrictionists, it is actually nothing of the sort. The governing regulations, specifically 8 C.F.R. § 212.2(j), have long provided that one who is consular processing an immigrant visa, and will need permission to reapply for admission because his or her departure will execute an order of deportation or removal and create inadmissibility under INA § 212(a)(9)(A), can file the Form I-212 application for permission to reapply in advance of departing from the United States, and “shall receive a conditional approval depending on his or her satisfactory departure.” That is, people who will be subject to the 5- and 10-year bars based on executed removal and deportation orders (the length of the bar can vary depending on the circumstances of a removal order) have long been able to apply for advance waivers of those bars before they leave the US to consular-process an immigrant visa. This new proposed rule would simply update the regulations to create a similar procedure for the parallel 3- and 10-year bars created by IIRIRA (the “Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996”), for people who remove themselves from the United States after being unlawfully present even though there may have been no removal proceedings against them. It can therefore be seen as a long overdue technical fix. However, it remains to be seen how long the rule making process will take, which includes notice and comment. There is also bound to be opposition to the rule. The USCIS still has to publish rules from the enactment of IIRIRA provisions in 1996! Hopefully, the Obama administration will give this high priority as the promulgation of such a rule may even reduce the undocumented population in the US.

This technical fix could also reduce inefficiency in the era of Matter of Quilantan, 25 I&N Dec. 285 (BIA 2010), especially if accompanied by an additional change in the proposal relating to potential issues of fraud. Under Quilantan, entering the United States at a port of entry with the permission of an immigration officer is sufficient to create eligibility for adjustment of status as an immediate relative of a U.S. citizen, regardless of whether one’s entry was procedurally proper, as long as the entry did not involve a knowing false claim to U.S. citizenship. Many people who were waved through the border as passengers in a car or the like have little corroborating evidence of their manner of entry. Absent this regulation, if such a Quilantan entrant is married to a U.S. citizen and is denied adjustment because USCIS rejects their testimony regarding manner of entry, they will effectively be forced to request that removal proceedings be commenced against them so that they may testify before an Immigration Judge and seek to establish their manner of entry by credible testimony as Ms. Quilantan did in her case. Under the new procedure, some such Quilantan entrants may decide that it is simpler to seek an advance waiver of inadmissibility, as long as their qualifying relative’s particular form of extreme hardship is such that a brief trip abroad to pick up an immigrant visa will not be intolerable. If the advance waiver is approved, the already overcrowded immigration court system would then be spared the necessity of hearing testimony regarding the applicant’s manner of entry. One caveat, however, is that the current version of the proposal, which excludes waivers of fraud-related inadmissibility under INA § 212(i), could lead potential applicants and their attorneys to fear a potential finding of fraud inadmissibility by a consulate where the circumstances of the applicant’s prior entry into the United States are murky and difficult to prove (making it hard to refute an inaccurate consular suspicion that some fraud may have been committed). The potential efficiency would be much greater if the USCIS proposal were modified to allow either advance waivers under INA § 212(i), or at least an advance finding that no fraud was committed by an applicant. Otherwise, Quilantan­ entrants within the U.S. may be reluctant to give up their right to have an Immigration Judge (and if necessary the BIA) adjudicate their contention that they did not commit fraud in their entry, and to instead be at the mercy of an effectively unreviewable determination by a consular officer.


By Cyrus D. Mehta

Alabama’s immigration law, HB 56, is aimed at making life miserable for unlawfully present immigrants, and is intended to drive them out of the state. The law criminalizes a person’s very existence in Alabama. Many portions of the law have been enjoined pending appeal by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in USA v. Alabama, 2011 WL 4863957 (C.A 11 (Ala.)), although some very troubling provisions still remain and have taken effect.

What is the role of the attorney in advising non-citizens who may be committing crimes in Alabama by virtue of simply being alive in Alabama? At this point in time, Section 30, which is very much in effect, makes it a felony for an alien not lawfully present in the United States to enter into a “business transaction” with the State of Alabama or any political subdivision thereof. Although “business transactions” may be thought of as activities such as renewing a license or commercial activities with the government, it already appears to be going beyond these activities and can apply to any dealings with state or local governments. A powerful IPC Report highlighting Section 30’s impact, Turning Off The Water, gives the example of an Alabama probate court putting out a notice that all individuals conducting business transactions with it must provide proof of US citizenship or that they are lawfully present in the US. Hence, a woman unlawfully present in the US who is applying to change her name after divorce from her abusive husband may be committing a felony under Section 30. The IPC Report also states that the town of Allgood, Alabama, has interpreted this provision to require all water customers to provide an Alabama driver’s license or Alabama picture ID in order to keep current water service. Alabama Power has asked for proof of lawful presence when a family tried to get electricity reconnected.

Model Rule 1.2(d), which has its analog under state bar rules, provides, “A lawyer shall not counsel a client to engage or assist a client, in conduct that the lawyer knows to be criminal or fraudulent, but a lawyer may discuss the legal consequences of any proposed course of conduct with a client and may counsel or assist the client to make a good faith effort to determine the validity, scope, meaning or application of the law.”

Does this mean that an attorney cannot advise a client who is unlawfully present to apply for the probate of her deceased husband’s will? Must an attorney thus advise an unlawfully present parent of three US citizen children to no longer contract with an Alabama utility for water and electricity in her modest dwelling? There are other provisions that also criminalize the person’s very being but have been temporarily blocked. Section 11(a) makes it a misdemeanor for an unauthorized alien to apply for, solicit, or perform any kind of work. Section 13(a)(2) makes it unlawful to encourage an unlawful alien to come to Alabama. Thus, an immigration attorney who represents a US citizen living in Alabama temporarily for work related reason, and who wants to sponsor his unlawfully present spouse living in Tennessee for a green card, may violate Section 13 if the attorney encourages her clients to live together in Alabama in order to strengthen their case to further establish that the marriage is bona fide.

Some provisions were not blocked before the law took effect. For instance, Judge Blackburn in the lower district court decision, USA v. Alabama, 2011 WL 4469941 (N.D. Ala.) did not enjoin Section 10, which criminalizes one who fails to carry a registration document and who is in the US unlawfully. Section 10 was enjoined only on October 14, 2011 by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals and was effective from September 30, 2011 until October 14, 2011. An attorney may have represented an unlawfully present client who had no registration documents, but who was eligible for asylum, and it took time to prepare and file a solid asylum application. If this attorney, even if outside Alabama, in the course of the representation logically advised the client to remain in Alabama in violation of Section 10 while it was in effect, would he or she have breached an ethical rule?

Sections 5 and 6 state that government officials including “an officer of a court” cannot block the enforcement of immigration laws by “limiting communication between its officers and federal immigration officials.” Because “an officer of the court” could include an attorney, this might require attorneys to reveal information about their clients to immigration officials, if demanded by government officials. This provision has already stirred consternation among local attorneys, and the President of the Morgan County Bar Association has predicted that there will be many lawyers who will challenge this provision before turning client information in to the government. Clearly, Sections 5 and 6 breach the Sixth Amendment right to counsel as the essence of this right is the ability to have privacy of communication with counsel. See U.S. v. Rosner, 485 F.2d 1213 (2d Cir. 1975). Even outside the criminal context, the same analogy applies to Sections 5 and 6. Federal statutes and regulations provide a right to counsel in removal proceedings, INA § 240(b)(4)(A), 8 C.F.R. § 1003.16(b), 8 C.F.R. § 1240.3, and any Alabama attacks on lawyer-client confidentiality would most certainly be a violation on the Supremacy Clause.

An ethical argument can be made that a lawyer may represent unlawfully present non-citizen clients in Alabama if they can ultimately seek an immigration benefit under federal law. For instance, a person who is unlawfully present is not driven out of the US under federal law, unlike Alabama, but has a right to appear before an Immigration Judge in a § 240 removal proceeding. As indicated in my prior blog on the ethical role of the lawyer in advising undocumented clients, under federal law, being unlawfully present is generally an infraction under civil immigration statutes. This individual may seek various forms of relief in removal, including cancellation of removal under INA § 240A or adjustment of status under § 245. He or she may still be considered unlawfully present under federal law, but can apply for work authorization, while pursuing relief applications, even if they have been denied in the first instance and are being appealed in federal court. Even a person who has an outstanding order of removal may seek to apply for an administrative stay of removal or supervised release as well as apply for work authorization. While this unlawfully present individual legitimately pursues relief and is permitted to work, his or her existence in Alabama is criminalized and is not allowed to contract with the state for electricity and water. Further examples of how Alabama’s, and even Arizona’s, anti-immigrant laws absurdly conflict with federal law are amplified in David Isaacson’s blogs. A lawyer, after discussion the consequences of various courses of conduct, may permit a client to disobey a law if the lawyer in good faith believes that this law will ultimately be held unconstitutional. Arizona’s law, SB 1070, which contain many similarly ridiculous provisions that conflict with federal law, has been enjoined as unconstitutional in USA v. Arizona, 641 F.3d 399 (9th Cir. 2011). A law that is ultimately held to be unconstitutional is no law at all. Of course, the lawyer bears some risk if the law’s constitutionality is ultimately upheld, but it may also be possible, that under federal law his or her client may have obtained permanent residency after being unlawfully present, or at least been granted permission to remain in the US to pursue applications for immigration benefits.