Justia Immigration Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit
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Canales-Granados, born in El Salvador, was admitted to the U.S. as a lawful permanent resident in 2001. In 2018, he was convicted of criminal offenses, which he attributes to a multi-year struggle with substance abuse. He pleaded guilty to Virginia petit larceny, felony eluding, felony hit and run, and driving under the influence. For the latter three convictions, he was sentenced to 15 years and 60 days in prison. All but five days of the sentence were suspended; he was instead sentenced to a residential addiction treatment program.Charged with removability under 8 U.S.C. 1227(a)(2)(A)(ii) because he was an alien convicted of two or more crimes involving moral turpitude (CIMTs) not arising out of a single scheme of criminal misconduct, Canales-Granados contended that neither Virginia felony hit and run nor Virginia felony eluding qualified as CIMTs. An IJ agreed that the hit and run conviction was not a CIMT but determined that felony eluding was. That conviction, when combined with Canales-Granados’ petit larceny conviction, gave him two CIMTs, rendering him removable. The BIA affirmed. The Fourth Circuit affirmed. The phrase “crime involving moral turpitude” is neither unconstitutionally vague nor violative of the nondelegation doctrine. Virginia’s felony eluding statute qualifies as such an offense. View "Granados v. Garland" on Justia Law

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In 2016, Gonzalez was granted deferred action on his removal from the U.S. under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA). After his conviction for a misdemeanor in North Carolina, the DHS terminated Gonzalez’s grant of deferred action; he was immediately placed in removal proceedings. During the course of his proceedings before the IJ, DHS restored Gonzalez’s DACA grant of deferred action. Gonzalez asked the IJ to either administratively close his case, terminate the removal proceedings, or grant a continuance based on his mother’s pending application to be a legal permanent resident (LPR). The IJ denied all requests for relief. While the matter was pending in the BIA, Gonzalez’s mother obtained LPR status, and Gonzalez sought remand. The BIA affirmed the IJ’s decision and denied the motion to remand, reasoning that neither the IJs nor the BIA had the authority to terminate removal proceedings and that administrative closure and a continuance were inappropriate based on the speculative possibility of Gonzalez’s mother earning LPR status.The Fourth Circuit vacated. IJs and the BIA possess the inherent authority to terminate removal proceedings. The BIA improperly denied the request for administrative closure because it failed to address Gonzalez’s specific argument based on his DACA status. View "Gonzalez v. Garland" on Justia Law

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The Montgomery County Council established the Emergency Assistance Relief Payment Program (EARP) in March 2020 to provide emergency cash assistance to County residents with incomes equal to or less than 50% of the federal poverty benchmark who were not eligible for federal or state pandemic relief. Although eligibility for EARP aid is not dependent on a person’s status as an undocumented immigrant, such individuals are eligible to receive EARP payments. To fund EARP, the County appropriated $10,000,000 from reserve funds to the County’s Department of Health and Human Services. Taxpayers filed suit in Maryland state court, asserting that EARP violated 8 U.S.C. 1621(a), which, with few exceptions, generally prohibits undocumented persons from receiving state and local benefits. Recognizing that Section 1621 does not authorize private enforcement, the plaintiffs cited the Maryland common law doctrine of taxpayer standing, which “permits taxpayers to seek the aid of courts, exercising equity powers, to enjoin illegal and ultra vires acts of [Maryland] public officials where those acts are reasonably likely to result in pecuniary loss to the taxpayer.” The case was removed to federal court based on federal question jurisdiction, 28 U.S.C. 1331. The court granted the County summary judgment. The Fourth Circuit affirmed. Congress has declined to authorize private parties to enforce Section 1621, a legislative decision that cannot be circumvented by invocation of a state’s law of taxpayer standing. View "Bauer v. Elrich" on Justia Law

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The Fourth Circuit denied a petition for review challenging the BIA's order denying petitioner's application for asylum, withholding of removal, and protection under the United Nations Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT). Petitioner claims that he fears persecution by the gangs and police of El Salvador on account of his status as a former member of the MS-13 gang.The court concluded that petitioner does not identify any purported error in the social-distinction standard applied by the BIA in its order. In this case, the BIA agreed with the IJ that petitioner's proposed groups do not satisfy the social-distinction test because he has not shown that gang members who have renounced their gang membership are recognized in Salvadoran society to be a distinct group. The court concluded that the IJ did not apply the wrong standard and correctly stated that the relevant inquiry was whether "society in El Salvador recognizes former gang members as a group." The court explained that, although the IJ referred to petitioner's repeated testimony that his tattoos would identify him as a former gang member, it did not employ a literal visibility standard for social distinction. The court also concluded that the record does not support petitioner's claim that the IJ failed to consider the documentary evidence in assessing whether his proposed social groups were cognizable. To the contrary, the IJ made clear reference to documents submitted by petitioner and DHS. Finally, the court concluded that, viewed as a whole, the administrative record does not compel a finding that Salvadoran society views former MS-13 members or former MS-13 members who left for moral reasons as socially distinct.In regard to petitioner's CAT claim, the court concluded that the IJ and BIA specifically addressed some of the evidence petitioner contends they ignored; the BIA similarly referenced country-conditions evidence; and petitioner presents nothing to rebut the presumption that the agency considered that evidence to the extent it was relevant. The court also concluded that substantial evidence supported the BIA's finding that petitioner has not shown it is more likely than not he will be tortured if removed to El Salvador. View "Nolasco v. Garland" on Justia Law

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Galvan, a citizen of Mexico, entered the U.S. in 2003 on a six-month nonimmigrant visa but remained in this country with his wife, a citizen of Mexico without legal immigration status, and their four U.S.-citizen children. Galvan, twice convicted of DUI, applied for cancellation of removal, 8 U.S.C. 1229b, arguing that his removal would result in “exceptional and extremely unusual hardship” for his children. His wife testified that Galvan had been the family’s main source of income, his absence during his detention had required her to work longer hours, which had impacted her ability to take care of the children. One child had been diagnosed with ADHD and suffers from anxiety; his wife was concerned that the children would not be able to participate in their established activities.While the IJ found all the witnesses credible, he denied Galvan’s application; Galvan met the temporal and good moral character criteria for cancellation and had not been convicted of any disqualifying offenses but failed as a matter of law to prove that his removal would cause “exceptional and extremely unusual hardship.” The BIA affirmed. The Fourth Circuit denied a petition for review. While the statutory standard of “exceptional and extremely unusual hardship” presents a mixed question of law and fact, giving the court jurisdiction, the IJ did not err in determining that Galvan failed to prove eligibility for cancellation of removal. View "Galvan v. Garland" on Justia Law

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Petitioner and her minor daughter petitioned for review of the BIA's final order affirming the denial of their application for asylum, withholding of removal, and protection under the Convention Against Torture (CAT). At issue on appeal is whether the IJ and the BIA erred in concluding that petitioner failed to demonstrate that she was persecuted on account of her membership in her proposed particular social group, namely her nuclear family.Under well-established precedent in this circuit, and based on the unrebutted, substantial evidence in the record, the Fourth Circuit held that any reasonable adjudicator would be compelled to conclude that petitioner's membership in her nuclear family was at least one central reason for her persecution. Petitioner has established a nexus between her membership in her proposed particular social group and the persecution she suffered. In this case, the court agreed with petitioner's contention that she has established that she was persecuted in Honduras on account of her membership in her proposed social group where gang members extorted money from her each month because her husband worked in the United States. Furthermore, the IJ and the BIA erred by applying a legally incorrect and "excessively narrow" approach to analyzing whether petitioner satisfied the statutory nexus requirement. Accordingly, the court reversed the agency's determination as to nexus, vacated the final order of removal and the denial of petitioner's application for asylum and withholding, and remanded for further proceedings. Finally, the court concluded that it lacked jurisdiction to consider petitioner's CAT claim because she failed to exhaust all available administrative remedies. View "Perez Vasquez v. Garland" on Justia Law

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On rehearing en banc, the court granted the petition for review of the BIA's decision affirming the IJ's denial of petitioner's claims for asylum, withholding of removal, and protection under the Convention Against Torture (CAT) and order of removal.The court concluded that the BIA erred at every step of the asylum analysis. The court explained that both the IJ and BIA legally erred in relying solely on the notion that petitioner's injuries did not require medical attention as grounds to reject petitioner's persecution argument. On remand, the court instructed that the BIA should bear in mind that the harm need not be physical. Where physical harm has occurred, as here, the main question is whether petitioner's mistreatment was of "sufficient severity," keeping in mind that a key difference between persecution and less-severe mistreatment is that the former is systematic while the latter consists of isolated incidents. Furthermore, the agency should also recognize that death threats need not be made directly to the petitioner. The court recognized the commonsense rule and instructed the BIA to apply on remand: Where a petitioner is a child at the time of the alleged persecution, the immigration court must take the child’s age into account in analyzing past persecution and fear of future persecution for purposes of asylum. Therefore, even if petitioner's beatings and the threats made against him would not rise to the level of past persecution for an adult, they may satisfy past persecution for a child. In determining whether petitioner had a well-founded fear of future persecution, the court concluded that the district court erred by conflating the persecution analysis with the nexus analysis. The court further concluded that there is no support whatsoever for the IJ or BIA's conclusion that petitioner has not sufficiently alleged a cognizable protected social group. Reviewing this claim under a substantial evidence standard, the court concluded that a reasonable adjudicator would be compelled to conclude that petitioner's membership in his nuclear family was at least one central reason for the alleged persecution committed on behalf of the gang. Finally, the court concluded that petitioner sufficiently exhausted his governmental control challenge. On the merits, the court concluded that the BIA's cursory analysis was erroneous for two reasons: (1) the agency essentially imposed a per se reporting requirement; and (2) it ignored vital evidence favorable to petitioner.Because the BIA rested its conclusion as to withholding of removal on its flawed asylum determination, the court vacated the BIA's withholding conclusion as well. Likewise, the IJ and BIA's CAT analyses did not adequately address petitioner's evidence regarding police consent and/or acquiescence. The court vacated the immigration court decisions and remanded for further proceedings. View "Portillo-Flores v. Garland" on Justia Law

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Moreno-Osorio arrived in the U.S. in 2009 and in 2016 returned to Honduras pursuant to a grant of voluntary departure. Upon arriving in Honduras, Moreno-Osorio and his cousins were confronted by street gang members, some of whom were armed, who told Moreno-Osorio that “people who come back from the United States come back with money,” and ordered that he give them money or join their gang: “They told me my life was on the line.” Moreno-Osorio decided to immediately return to the U.S. without filing a police report; “the police do nothing in these cases.”In January 2017, he was apprehended and was charged with inadmissibility under 8 U.S.C. 1182(a)(7)(A)(i)(I). He received a credible finding of fear during his asylum interview. According to the Department of State Overseas Security Advisory Council’s Honduras 2018 Crime and Safety Report, the Honduran Government “lacks resources to investigate and prosecute cases … criminals operate with a high degree of impunity.” Other evidence indicated that the Honduran Government has undertaken efforts to root out public corruption and gang violence. After being released on bond from DHS custody, Moreno-Osorio was arrested and pled guilty to unlawful wounding in violation of Virginia law.The Fourth Circuit affirmed that Moreno-Osorio was ineligible for asylum based upon his conviction of a crime of violence; that he was ineligible for withholding of removal; and that he did not qualify for protection from removal under the Convention Against Torture. View "Moreno-Osorio v. Garland" on Justia Law

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After petitioner prevailed on an application for a writ of habeas corpus seeking release from federal immigration detention, he sought to recover attorney's fees under the Equal Access to Justice Act. The Fourth Circuit has previously held, pursuant to O'Brien v. Moore, 395 F.3d 499, 508 (4th Cir. 2005), that the Act does not apply to a habeas proceeding seeking release from criminal detention. The court held that the same is true for habeas proceedings seeking release from civil detention. Therefore, the court affirmed the district court's denial of attorney's fees because the Act does not provide a basis for petitioner to recover attorney's fees. View "Obando-Segura v. Garland" on Justia Law

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The Fourth Circuit granted the petition for review of the BIA's final order affirming the denial of petitioner's application for asylum, withholding of removal, and protection under the Convention Against Torture. Petitioner alleged that the IJ and the BIA made several legal errors in their consideration of his claims for withholding of removal and for relief under the Convention Against Torture (CAT).The court held that IJs have a legal duty to develop the record, which takes on particular importance in pro se cases, and that the IJ in this case erred in failing to discharge that duty. The court also concluded that the BIA erred in refusing to consider petitioner's particular social groups based on Matter of W-Y-C- and in mischaracterizing his claim. In regard to the CAT claim, and pursuant to Rodriguez-Arias v. Whitaker, 915 F.3d 968 (4th Cir. 2019), the court agreed with petitioner that the BIA erred in failing to consider and aggregate the risk of torture from different sources. Furthermore, neither the IJ nor the BIA duly considered all of the record evidence relevant to whether the Salvadoran government would consent to or acquiescence in torture. Accordingly, the court vacated petitioner's final order of removal and remanded to the BIA with instructions to remand the case to the IJ for further fact-finding and reconsideration. View "Arevalo Quintero v. Garland" on Justia Law