Justia Immigration Law Opinion Summaries

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Gilfredo Lopez-Sorto, a Salvadoran native and former gang member, sought review of an order by the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) affirming an Immigration Judge’s (IJ) decision denying him deferral of removal under the Convention Against Torture (CAT). Lopez-Sorto, who had been a lawful permanent resident in the U.S. since 1982, was convicted of second-degree murder and other charges in 1995, and served 26 years in prison. Upon his release, he was transferred to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody and removal proceedings were initiated against him. He did not challenge his removability, but sought deferral of removal under the CAT, fearing torture if deported to El Salvador due to his gang-related tattoos and criminal record.The IJ concluded that Lopez-Sorto had not established that he would more likely than not be tortured if he returned to El Salvador, and ordered his removal. The BIA affirmed the IJ’s decision. Lopez-Sorto appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, arguing that the IJ and BIA used the wrong legal standard to evaluate his claim, failed to aggregate his various asserted risks of torture, and ignored his experts’ testimony.The Fourth Circuit disagreed with Lopez-Sorto's arguments. It found that the IJ and BIA had applied the correct legal standard, properly aggregated the asserted risks of torture, and did not ignore the expert witnesses' testimony. The court therefore denied the petition for review. View "Lopez-Sorto v. Garland" on Justia Law

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The case revolves around Aleksandra Malgorzata Stankiewicz, a lawful permanent resident of the United States, who was convicted in 2003 for violating a New Jersey statute that criminalizes distributing a controlled substance on or near school property. In 2018, removal proceedings were initiated against her, with the immigration judge and the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) concluding that her conviction was an aggravated felony, making her both removable and ineligible to apply for cancellation of removal.The BIA dismissed Stankiewicz's appeal, maintaining its reasoning that her conviction was an aggravated felony. Stankiewicz then petitioned the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit for review of the BIA's decision.The Second Circuit Court of Appeals held that Stankiewicz's conviction under the New Jersey statute is not an "aggravated felony" under federal law. The court applied the "categorical approach," comparing the state law to any federal controlled substance offense that is a felony subject to a prison sentence greater than one year. The court found that neither of the parties' proposed federal analogs categorically matches the New Jersey statute. The court therefore granted Stankiewicz's petition for review, vacated the agency’s ruling, and remanded the case to the BIA for further proceedings. View "Stankiewicz v. Garland" on Justia Law

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This case involves two legal permanent residents, Carol Williams Black and Keisy G.M., who were detained by the U.S. government for several months without a bond hearing under the authority of 8 U.S.C. § 1226(c), pending the conclusion of their separate removal proceedings. Black and G.M. each sought habeas relief, asserting that their prolonged detentions without any bond hearing violated their Fifth Amendment rights to due process. The district court granted Black's petition and he was released, while G.M.'s petition was denied.In the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, the court concluded that the constitutional guarantee of due process precludes a noncitizen’s unreasonably prolonged detention under section 1226(c) without a bond hearing. The court affirmed the district court’s judgment granting habeas relief to Black, concluding that the district court properly required the government to show the necessity of his continued detention by clear and convincing evidence. As to G.M., the court concluded that his detention had become unreasonably prolonged and reversed the district court’s judgment denying habeas relief. View "Black v. Decker" on Justia Law

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The case involves Jose Luis Amador-Bonilla, a citizen of Guatemala and Nicaragua, who was charged with violating 8 U.S.C. § 1326, Illegal Reentry After Removal from the United States. Amador-Bonilla had entered the United States without authorization multiple times and had been removed six times. He was arrested in Oklahoma and charged with illegal reentry, an offense for which he had already been convicted twice. He moved to dismiss the indictment, arguing that the illegal reentry provision of the Immigration and Nationality Act violates his right to equal protection under the Fifth Amendment.The United States District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma denied Amador-Bonilla's motion to dismiss the indictment. The court determined that rational basis review applied to Amador-Bonilla’s challenge and that the challenge failed because Amador-Bonilla failed to show there was no “rational relationship between the disparity of treatment and some legitimate governmental purpose.” The court also found that even if the Arlington Heights framework arguably applied, Amador-Bonilla “failed to demonstrate that [8 U.S.C. § 1326] was passed with a discriminatory purpose as a motivating factor.”The United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court's decision. The court concluded that 8 U.S.C. § 1326 does not violate the Fifth Amendment. The court found that Amador-Bonilla failed to show that Congress enacted the provision in 1952 with a discriminatory purpose as a motivating factor. The court also noted that all parties agreed that the provision otherwise satisfies rational basis review. View "United States v. Amador-Bonilla" on Justia Law

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In the case of Antonio E. Gonzalez v. State of Maryland, the defendant, Antonio E. Gonzalez, was charged with assaulting his then-wife, M., and their son, F. During the trial, Gonzalez's counsel attempted to cross-examine M. about her application for a U visa, which is a visa for noncitizens who are victims of certain crimes and are helpful to law enforcement in the investigation or prosecution of criminal activity. The trial court ruled that it would not permit cross-examination of M. concerning her immigration status because Gonzalez's counsel had not established an adequate foundation for such inquiry.The Supreme Court of Maryland held that the trial court erred in precluding Gonzalez's counsel from cross-examining M. about her U visa application. The Supreme Court concluded that, given the nature of the requirement that, for a U visa to be approved, an applicant must be helpful in the investigation or prosecution of criminal activity and provide a certification from a law enforcement or government official to that effect, a sufficient factual foundation for impeachment of a witness concerning a U visa application is established under Maryland Rule 5-616(a)(4) where there has been a showing that a U visa application, based on the witness being a victim of a crime that the defendant is charged with, has been submitted to the government for approval.However, the Supreme Court also concluded that, because any error in precluding cross-examination concerning U visa application was harmless, it was not necessary to deviate from general practice of refraining from addressing issue not decided by the trial court or raised in petition for writ of certiorari. The Supreme Court concluded that trial court’s error was harmless beyond reasonable doubt as defendant testified to committing acts that formed basis of offenses for which he was convicted, witness’s testimony was consistent with another witness’s testimony who was not applicant for U visa, witness’s testimony was consistent with initial description of incident, and other evidence corroborated that both witnesses had been assaulted by defendant. View "Gonzalez v. State" on Justia Law

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The petitioner, Nguyen Chi Cuong Nmn Huynh, a Vietnamese citizen and lawful permanent resident of the United States, was convicted in Iowa for knowingly purchasing or possessing a visual depiction of a minor engaging in a prohibited sexual act. Following this conviction, the Department of Homeland Security sought his removal under the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), arguing that his crime constituted "sexual abuse of a minor," an aggravated felony that warrants removal. An immigration judge found Huynh removable, and the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) dismissed his appeal.The United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit reviewed de novo whether Huynh's state crime qualifies as sexual abuse of a minor. The court applied the "categorical approach," examining whether the state statute defining the crime of conviction categorically fits within the generic federal definition of a corresponding aggravated felony. The court found that the Iowa statute is broader than the generic federal offense of sexual abuse of a minor.The court held that the conduct criminalized by the Iowa statute, namely, knowingly possessing a prohibited image, falls outside the generic federal offense of sexual abuse of a minor. The court reasoned that none of the definitions of "sexual abuse of a minor" in the INA, reliable dictionaries, or a closely related statute captures simple possession of child pornography. The court also found that the BIA's preferred definition, which requires something more than simple possession of child pornography, does not apply to Huynh's case.The court also considered the Department of Homeland Security's charge that Huynh committed a "crime involving moral turpitude" within five years of his admission to the United States. The court found that the government could not defend the BIA's decision on this charge and granted the government's request for voluntary remand for the BIA to reconsider its decision.In conclusion, the court granted Huynh's petition for review, vacated the BIA's order, and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "Huynh v. Garland" on Justia Law

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Ulises Romeo Lucas-Hernandez was arrested by Border Patrol Agent Brian Mauler in a remote area north of the U.S.-Mexico border. During the arrest, Agent Mauler asked Lucas-Hernandez three questions in Spanish about his citizenship and immigration status. Lucas-Hernandez was subsequently charged with misdemeanor attempted entry by an alien under 8 U.S.C. § 1325(a)(1). Before trial, Lucas-Hernandez moved to exclude Agent Mauler from testifying to his Spanish-to-English translation of the questions and answers, arguing that the statements were hearsay and that Agent Mauler was not qualified as an expert to translate the statements. The magistrate judge denied the motion regarding hearsay, reasoning that the statements made by a defendant are considered party admissions, not hearsay.The magistrate judge found Lucas-Hernandez guilty of violating 8 U.S.C. § 1325(a)(1) and he was sentenced to time served. Lucas-Hernandez challenged his conviction in district court, asserting that Agent Mauler’s testimony of his field statements was hearsay and fell outside the hearsay exclusion in Rule 801(d)(2) because Agent Mauler was not a “mere language conduit” under United States v. Nazemian. The district court affirmed the magistrate judge’s ruling and found that Nazemian did not apply, and so Agent Mauler’s testimony as to Lucas-Hernandez’s field statements was not hearsay.The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit held that the Nazemian analysis applies to the statements of a party opponent that are translated by the testifying witness. However, the court concluded that any error in admitting Agent Mauler’s testimony was harmless, considering the evidence presented from Lucas-Hernandez’s A-file, the database searches, and the circumstances when he was found by Agent Mauler. Therefore, the court affirmed the district court’s ruling upholding Lucas-Hernandez’s conviction under 8 U.S.C. § 1325(a)(1). View "United States v. Lucas-Hernandez" on Justia Law

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The case involves an Indonesian family, Edwin Kurniawan Tulung, Elizabeth Angelia Karauwan, and their son Enrico Geraldwin Tulung, who fled to the United States in 2004 due to fear of persecution for their Christian faith. They entered the US on tourist visas and applied for asylum, withholding of removal, and protection under the Convention Against Torture (CAT). Their application was denied by an Immigration Judge in 2009, a decision affirmed by the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) in 2011 on the grounds that past harm did not rise to the level of persecution and future persecution was not sufficiently likely. The family's petition for review was denied in 2012.The family filed their first motion to reopen based on changed country conditions in 2014, which was denied by the BIA. They did not appeal. In 2020, they filed their second motion to reopen, which was also denied by the BIA. Again, they did not seek judicial review. Instead, they filed three motions in 2022: a third motion to reopen, a motion to reconsider the denial of the second motion to reopen, and a motion to amend the second motion to reopen. The BIA denied all three motions.The United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit affirmed the BIA's denial of the motions to reconsider and amend. However, it found that the BIA committed an error of law in reviewing the motion to reopen. The court held that the BIA incorrectly disregarded evidence by comparing it to conditions at the time of the previous motion to reopen, rather than at the time of the original merits hearing. The court vacated the BIA's denial of the motion to reopen and remanded for further proceedings. View "Tulung v. Garland" on Justia Law

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The case involves Marken Leger, a Haitian citizen who has lived in the United States as an asylee since 2000. In 2009, Leger pleaded no contest to a charge of lewd and lascivious battery, in violation of Florida Statute § 800.04(4). In 2013 and 2018, Leger pleaded no contest to two other offenses, both for the possession of marijuana, in violation of Florida Statute § 893.13(6)(b). The government initiated removal proceedings against him in 2019, alleging that his convictions made him removable under the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA).The immigration judge concluded that Leger was removable, finding that his marijuana possession convictions constituted controlled substance offenses under the INA and that his conviction under Florida Statute § 800.04(4) was an aggravated felony. Leger appealed to the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA), which affirmed the immigration judge’s decision.In the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, the court held that Leger's marijuana possession convictions did not constitute controlled substance offenses as defined under federal law, and thus, the BIA erred in determining that Leger was subject to removal on these grounds. The court also held that Leger's conviction under Florida Statute § 800.04(4) did not constitute the sexual abuse of a minor and was not an aggravated felony under the INA. The court vacated the BIA's decision and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "Marken Leger v. U.S. Attorney General" on Justia Law

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The defendant, Luis Antonio Flores Atilano, was found guilty of being an alien in possession of a firearm, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 922(g)(5)(A) and 924(a)(8), and was sentenced to 36 months’ imprisonment. The case arose when law enforcement officers were dispatched to a motel room in South Dakota, where they found Atilano. Upon searching him and his belongings, they discovered three firearms and ammunition. Atilano, who was born in Mexico and entered the U.S. in 2008, claimed that he believed he was lawfully in the U.S. due to paperwork completed by his wife, and that he had the firearms for self-protection due to threats from gang members.The district court held a one-day bench trial, during which the government presented evidence including law enforcement witnesses, Atilano’s recorded interview with law enforcement, and various other exhibits. The court found Atilano guilty of being an alien in possession of three firearms and eight rounds of ammunition. Atilano was subsequently sentenced to a within-Guidelines sentence of 36 months’ imprisonment.On appeal to the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, Atilano argued that the evidence was insufficient to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he knew he was an alien unlawfully present in the U.S. and that he was acting under duress at the time of the offense. The court, however, affirmed the district court's decision. It found that there was sufficient evidence for a reasonable factfinder to conclude Atilano knew he was in the U.S. unlawfully. The court also rejected Atilano's duress defense, stating that his evidence consisted of a generalized and speculative fear of violence and he failed to show that he had no reasonable legal alternative to committing the crime. View "United States v. Atilano" on Justia Law