Justia Immigration Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit
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Nkomo came to the U.S. from Zimbabwe in 1985 and became a lawful permanent resident in 1992. In 2017, she was convicted of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, an aggravated felony. In removal proceedings, Nkomo applied for asylum, withholding of removal, and protection under the CAT. Nkomo’s U.S. citizen husband, Witkowski, then filed an I-130 Petition for Alien Relative. Witkowski was incarcerated; it was difficult for him to attend an interview. The IJ granted a continuance of Nkomo’s removal proceedings. Nkomo informed DHS that the IJ had adjourned proceedings until February 22, 2018, to allow for adjudication of the I-130 petition. DHS confirmed that it required Witkowski's presence. With the I-130 petition still pending, the IJ denied Nkomo’s removal objections. The BIA affirmed. Nkomo unsuccessfully moved to remand, arguing that the immigration court lacked jurisdiction because she was given a defective notice to appear.DHS did not set a date to interview Witkowski about the I-130 petition until Nkomo petitioned for a writ of mandamus. In March 2019. Nkomo attended the interview, but Witkowski’s presence was waived. DHS granted the petition. Nkomo moved to reopen her removal proceedings, emphasizing the government’s delay and that she was likely to succeed on the merits because she could show extreme hardship. The BIA denied the motion to reopen as untimely because it was filed more than 90 days after the removal order. The Third Circuit vacated. Nkomo put the BIA on notice of her equitable tolling claim and the Board itself raised the issue. The BIA’s suggestion that it did not have the authority to make decisions on equitable grounds was “perplexing.” View "Nkomo v. Attorney General United States" on Justia Law

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In 2012, Rad and others were charged with acquiring penny stocks, “pumping” the prices of those stocks by bombarding investors with misleading spam emails, and then “dumping” their shares at a profit. Rad was convicted of conspiring to commit false header spamming and false domain name spamming under the Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography And Marketing Act (CAN-SPAM), 15 U.S.C. 7701(a)(2), which addresses unsolicited commercial email. The PSR recommended raising Rad’s offense level to reflect the losses inflicted on investors, estimating that Rad realized about $2.9 million in “illicit gains” while acknowledging that because “countless victims” purchased stocks, the losses stemming from Rad’s conduct could not “reasonabl[y] be determined.” Rad emphasized the absence of evidence that any person lost anything. Rad was sentenced to 71 months’ imprisonment. The record is silent as to how the court analyzed the victim loss issue. The Third Circuit affirmed. DHS initiated removal proceedings under 8 U.S.C. 1227(a)(2)(A)(iii), which renders an alien removable for any crime that “involves fraud or deceit” “in which the loss to the victim or victims exceeds $10,000.” The IJ and the BIA found Rad removable.The Third Circuit remanded. Rad’s convictions for CAN-SPAM conspiracy necessarily entail deceit under 8 U.S.C. 1101(a)(43)(M)(i). The second element, requiring victim losses over $10,000, however, was not adequately addressed. The court noted that intended losses, not just actual ones, may meet the requirement. View "Rad v. Attorney General United States" on Justia Law

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Khan was admitted to the U.S. as a legal permanent resident in 2000. In 2006, he pleaded guilty to possession of less than one-half ounce of marijuana. He was not then subject to removal for “a single offense involving possession for one’s own use of 30 grams or less of marijuana,” 8 U.S.C. 1227(a)(2)(B)(i). In 2010, Khan was convicted for two counts of larceny in the third degree under Connecticut law, which subjected him to removal as “convict[ions] of two or more crimes involving moral turpitude, not arising out of a single scheme of criminal misconduct,” 8 U.S.C. 1227(a)(2)(A)(ii).Khan sought cancellation of removal, which required that he resided in the U.S. continuously for seven years after having been admitted, 8 U.S.C. 1229b(a)(2). The “stop-time rule” stops the accrual of continuous residence when the noncitizen “has committed an offense referred to in section 1182(a)(2) . . . that renders the alien inadmissible.” Khan argued the rule did not apply because Connecticut later decriminalized the marijuana offense. His conviction had been vacated. The IJ disagreed, reasoning that the vacatur was due to a “post-conviction event,” rather than “on the basis of a procedural or substantive defect in the underlying proceeding.” The BIA affirmed. The Third Circuit denied a petition for review. The stop-time rule still applies if, post-conviction, the offense has been decriminalized and the conviction vacated; Khan did not satisfy the continuous-residence requirement for eligibility for cancellation of removal. View "Khan v. Attorney General United States" on Justia Law

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Brito, in the U.S. illegally, was arrested in 2001, after delivering heroin to an undercover officer; he admitted that he had been selling heroin for more than a year. After his release from prison, he was removed to the Dominican Republic. Brito returned, illegally. In 2007, he was arrested for heroin crimes. Brito pleaded guilty to two state offenses, three federal drug crimes, and illegal reentry. After his imprisonment, Brito was again removed in 2013. His first child had been born around 2007; his wife stayed in New York to care for their kids, who apparently have learning disorders. Brito returned, illegally and was arrested.Brito pleaded guilty to illegal reentry. The Sentencing Guidelines recommended 70-87 months’ imprisonment. Brito claimed that he had committed no crimes since his children were born and that he had devised a plan to support them from the Dominican Republic. The court stated that it had “listened very carefully” and had read all of the written submissions. After reciting Brito’s criminal history, the judge asked: “Is there anything incorrect?” Brito’s counsel replied: “I wasn’t making a timeline ... if it tracks what’s in the Presentence Report, then, yes, it is.” After weighing the 18 U.S.C.3553(a) factors, the court sentenced Brito to 70 months. The Third Circuit vacated. In restating Brito’s criminal history, the judge erroneously implied that his criminal career continued after his daughter was born. That factual mistake undermined his argument for leniency. The error was plain. View "United States v. Brito" on Justia Law

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In 2013, the status of Grijalva-Martinez, a citizen of Guatemala, was adjusted from asylee to lawful permanent resident. In 2016, he was convicted, under New Jersey law, of criminal sexual contact and of endangering the welfare of children. The government charged him as removable as an alien convicted of a crime involving moral turpitude (CIMT), an aggravated felony, and a crime of child abuse, child neglect, or child abandonment. Grijalva-Martinez applied for withholding of removal and Convention Against Torture (CAT) protection, asserting that he feared violence at the hands of gang members, including his former stepfather.The IJ sustained the removability charges, finding that Grijalva-Martinez’s conviction for criminal sexual contact was both a CIMT under 8 U.S.C. 1227(a)(2)(A)(i) and an aggravated felony under section 1227(a)(2)(A)(iii) and that he was ineligible for withholding of removal because he was convicted for criminal sexual contact, a particularly serious crime (8 U.S.C. 1231(b)(3)(B)(ii)) and ineligible for CAT relief because he had not established that he would be subject to torture if removed. The BIA and the Third Circuit upheld the decision, rejecting arguments that the IJ and BIA erred in concluding that criminal sexual contact is an aggravated felony, erred in concluding that the conviction is for a particularly serious crime, and failed to apply the proper legal framework to the CAT claim. View "Grijalva-Martinez v. Attorney General United States" on Justia Law

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Larios, an El Salvadoran national, entered the country without inspection in 1986. In 1998, Larios, allegedly thinking he was being robbed, pulled out a knife and caused the person to flee. Larios pleaded guilty to “threaten[ing] to commit any crime of violence with the purpose to terrorize another . . . or in reckless disregard of the risk of causing such terror,” N.J. Stat. 2C:12-3(a). In removal proceedings, he sought cancellation of removal, 8 U.S.C. 1229b(b)(1), a discretionary form of relief unavailable to those who have “been convicted of an offense under section 1182(a)(2),” including “a crime involving moral turpitude” (CIMT).Larios argued that his crime could not qualify as a CIMT because, under the categorical approach, the elements of a state statute must define an offense not broader than the federal statute, while “the least culpable conduct necessary to sustain a conviction under the [New Jersey] statute,” a threat to commit “simple assault,” did not meet the criteria to qualify as “turpitudinous.” The Third Circuit held the statute was divisible and remanded. On remand, however, the IJ declined to apply the modified categorical approach. The BIA affirmed. After a second remand, the BIA again rejected Larios’s application.The Third Circuit granted Larios's third petition, stating that under the modified categorical approach, Larios’s crime of conviction has a minimum mental state of recklessness but lacks any statutory aggravating factors, so the least culpable conduct is a reckless threat to commit a violent property crime, which is not turpitudinous. View "Larios v. Attorney General United States" on Justia Law

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Mirambeaux, a citizen of the Dominican Republic, was admitted to the U.S. as a lawful permanent resident in 1999. In 2008, Mirambeaux pled guilty to the distribution of a controlled dangerous substance. In 2018, he was charged as removable under 8 U.S.C. 1227(a)(2)(B)(i), for that conviction, and under 1227(a)(2)(A)(iii), as an aggravated felon. Mirambeaux applied for withholding of removal but declined to seek protection under the Convention Against Torture (CAT). Mirambeaux argued that he fears returning to the Dominican Republic, citing the murders of three friends over the last 10 years. He was not able to identify a specific person or group he feared, and referenced “[c]rime in general.” Mirambeaux sought a continuance to gather support documents. The IJ denied the motion, stating “he’s been detained for several months now. . . The Court does not see good cause why those documents have not been obtained.” The IJ concluded that Mirambeaux’s aggravated felony conviction left him statutorily ineligible for asylum, for withholding of removal, and under CAT, noting that Mirambeaux could not specify who harmed his friends or why, nor was he able to establish that the government would not be able to protect him. The BIA affirmed. The Third Circuit dismissed a petition for review for lack of jurisdiction. Mirambeaux failed to state a colorable constitutional claim or question of law within the meaning of 8 U.S.C. 1252(a)(2)(C)-(D). View "Mirambeaux v. Attorney General United States" on Justia Law

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Hernandez-Morales, a citizen of Mexico, entered the U.S. illegally in 1995. He shares custody of his daughters, who are U.S. citizens. During the week, the daughters live with their father in a well-regarded school district. He has a successful career as a chef, working at the same restaurant for 15 years. Hernandez-Morales was convicted of simple assault on his wife and of driving under the influence. Hernandez-Morales unsuccessfully sought cancellation of removal, 8 U.S.C.1229b; the IJ found his removal would not cause his daughters “exceptional and extremely unusual hardship” and he would not merit relief because of his criminal convictions. The BIA dismissed the "hardship" appeal and did not reach his criminal record.The Third Circuit dismissed an appeal, reasoning that it lacks jurisdiction to review discretionary denials of relief under section 1229b and whether hardship is “exceptional and extremely unusual” “is a "quintessential discretionary judgment.” While the court retains jurisdiction over constitutional claims or questions of law, Hernandez-Morales did not assert a constitutional claim but only challenged the IJ’s finding that his wife could take over his lease and keep their daughters in their current school and weighing of his moral character. “A party may not dress up a claim with legal clothing to invoke” jurisdiction. View "Hernandez-Morales v. Attorney General United States" on Justia Law

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In 1993, Tazu left his native Bangladesh, entered the U.S. without inspection, and applied for asylum based on political persecution. Eight years later, an IJ denied that application. Tazu appealed to the BIA, alleging ineffective assistance of counsel. In 2003, the BIA denied his appeal, giving him 30 days to depart. Nearly six years later, he was detained for removal. An attempt at removal failed. His passport had expired; the airline would not let him board the plane. A passport would not likely be issued quickly. In 2009, Tazu was granted supervised release. He complied with the terms of his release, held a job, paid taxes, and raised his children. Seeking a provisional waiver, in 2017, his son, a U.S. citizen, filed Form I-130, which was approved. Tazu did not immediately take the next step, a Form I212. In 2019, the government got Tazu’s renewed passport and re-detained him for removal. He sought habeas relief in New Jersey, filed his Form I-212, and moved to reopen his removal proceedings based on ineffective assistance of counsel. He lost on every front.The Third Circuit ordered the dismissal of the habeas petition; 8 U.S.C. 1252(g) strips courts of jurisdiction to review any “decision or action by the Attorney General to ... execute removal orders.” Section 1252(b)(9) makes a petition for review—not a habeas petition—the exclusive way to challenge a removal action and funnels Tazu’s claims to the Second Circuit. Tazu has a petition for review pending in the Second Circuit. He can stay with his family while that litigation is pending,. View "Tazu v. Attorney General United States" on Justia Law

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Jabateh was a rebel commander during the Liberian civil war. He later fled to the United States seeking asylum. His conduct in Liberia, characterized by brazen violence and wanton atrocities, made honest immigration application impossible. He concealed his crimes and portrayed himself as a persecuted victim. Jabateh’s fraud succeeded for almost 20 years.In 2016, Jabateh was charged with the fraud in his immigration documents, 18 U.S.C. 1546(a) and perjury, 18 U.S.C. 1621. The five-year limitations period for misconduct related to Jabateh's 2001 application for permanent residency had passed, leaving only Jabateh’s oral responses in a 2011 Interview affirming his answer of “no” to questions related to genocide and misrepresentations during his immigration applications. The district court noted “the force of the prosecution’s trial evidence,” establishing that Jabateh personally committed or ordered his troops to commit murder, enslavement, rape, and torture “because of race, religion, nationality, ethnic origin or political opinion.”The Third Circuit affirmed, rejecting challenges to the sufficiency of the evidence and to Jabateh’s 360-month sentence. The court acknowledged that section 1546(a) criminalizes fraud in immigration documents and that Jabateh was not charged with fraud in his immigration documents, only with orally lying about those documents. Jabateh, however, failed to raise this argument at trial. “Given the novelty of the interpretative question, and the lack of persuasive" guidance, the court declined to hold that this reading of section 1546(a) meets the stringent standards for “plain error” reversal. View "United States v. Jabateh" on Justia Law