Justia Immigration Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit
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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

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A.A., a Syrian citizen, fled involuntary military service in a government-controlled Militia (Jaysh al-Sha’bi), arrived in New York, surrendered to U.S. Customs and Border Protection, and applied for asylum, withholding of removal, and deferral of removal under the Convention Against Torture (CAT). An IJ granted A.A. deferral of removal under the CAT, finding that A.A. was likely to be tortured if he returned to Syria, but denied his applications for asylum and for withholding of removal, concluding that the Militia is a “Tier III” terrorist organization under 8 U.S.C. 1182(a)(3)(B)(vi)(III); any alien who provides “material support” to a Tier III organization is barred from receiving asylum and withholding of removal. The IJ concluded that A.A. provided material support because, during his service, A.A. trained to use an assault weapon, performed guard duty, and performed errands for his superiors. The BIA rejected A.A.’s argument that the Militia is beyond the scope of the Tier III provision.The Third Circuit denied a petition for review. Although the definition of “organization” does not specifically refer to state actors, the Tier III provision encompasses state actors, including the Militia. There is no statutory exception for individuals, like A.A., who are forced to provide material support to terrorist organizations; while the administrative duress exemption might have afforded A.A. relief, it did not, and A.A. has no right to judicial review of that decision. View "A.A. v. Attorney General United States" on Justia Law

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Romero, a citizen of Mexico, sought admission to the U.S. at a Houston airport in 2011. Relying on a fraudulent passport, he claimed to be a U.S. citizen. Romero was removed to Mexico. In 2013, Romero re-entered and was again removed. In 2013, Romero re-entered and evaded officials for six years. An alien subject to reinstatement of a removal order may seek withholding of removal if the alien has a reasonable fear of persecution based on his race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion and may seek relief under the Convention Against Torture (CAT). During a “reasonable fear” interview, Romero, represented by counsel, testified that he is afraid to return to Mexico because Valencia, the father of Romero’s wife’s daughter and an alleged cartel member, will harm him. He stated that he has never been harmed, nor does he fear harm in Mexico based on his race, religion, sex, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group. Romero had been threatened by Valencia by phone but Valencia never acted on the threats. Romero did not report the threats to the police.An IJ affirmed the asylum officer’s determination that Romero did not have a reasonable fear of torture as required for CAT relief or reasonable fear of persecution as required for withholding of removal. The Third Circuit denied a petition for review, concluding that the findings were supported by substantial evidence. View "Romero v. Attorney General United States" on Justia Law

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In April 2020, a Pennsylvania district court ordered the release of 22 immigration detainees because of the COVID-192 pandemic, by granting a temporary restraining order without affording the government an opportunity to be heard. The Petitioners had filed a joint petition, alleging they were at risk of serious harm from COVID-19, although they vary in age from 28-69, have divergent health conditions, have unique criminal histories, and have diverse home and family situations.The Third Circuit vacated those orders, stating that exigent circumstances do not empower a court to jettison fundamental principles of due process or the rules of procedure. Considering all the responsive measures implemented to detect and to prevent the spread of the virus, the challenges of facility administration during an unprecedented situation, and the purposes served by detention, the petitioners did not show a substantial likelihood of success on their claim that the conditions of their confinement constitute unconstitutional punishment and did not establish that the government was deliberately indifferent toward their medical needs. The court too readily accepted the all-or-nothing request for immediate release and erred in not considering as part of the balancing of harm practical difficulties involved in locating and re-detaining the petitioners should the government ultimately prevail or should a petitioner abscond, commit a crime, or violate another term of release. View "Hope v. Warden Pike County Correctional Facility" on Justia Law

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Abdulla was born in Yemen in 1976. His father became a naturalized U.S. citizen. Abdulla’s parents divorced. Abdulla and his brother, Fawaz, joined their father in the U.S. Abdulla became a lawful permanent resident in 1990. Fawaz received proof of citizenship in 1995, Abdulla claims that his application was never processed. In 2014, Abdulla was convicted of food stamp and wire fraud. DHS served a notice to appear (NTA) in removal proceeding on Abdulla, providing that the hearing date and time remained to be set. Abdulla’s counsel argued that Abdulla had acquired derivative citizenship and that DHS had failed to establish that Abdulla’s convictions were aggravated felonies. He did not argue that the NTA was improper for failure to provide the date and time or that the immigration court lacked jurisdiction, given Abdulla’s derivative citizenship.An IJ denied Abdulla’s motion to terminate. Abdulla’s counsel petitioned for asylum, withholding of removal, and relief under the Convention Against Torture, citing Yemen's civil war. On October 4, 2018, the IJ denied Abdulla’s petition and ordered removal. Abdulla’s BIA appeal was due on November 5, 2018, but was filed on December 21, 2018, by new counsel. Abdulla contended that his failure to timely file occurred for reasons that were beyond his control and exceptional because he reasonably expected his prior counsel to preserve his appeal rights and that upon learning that counsel had failed to do so, he acted with “speed, diligence, and zeal.” The BIA dismissed his appeal. The Third Circuit held that it lacked jurisdiction to review the BIA’s decision not to self-certify the late-filed appeal or Abdulla’s unexhausted merits claim and non-colorable due process claim. View "Abdulla v. Attorney General of the United States" on Justia Law