Justia Immigration Law Opinion Summaries

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Contreras-Rojas appealed the sentence imposed following his guilty plea conviction of illegal reentry, arguing that the enhancement of his sentence under 8 U.S.C. 1326(b)(1) is unconstitutional because the fact of a prior conviction was neither found by a jury nor alleged in the indictment.The Fifth Circuit granted summary affirmance. The Supreme Court’s 1998 “Almendarez-Torres” decision held that a prior conviction is not a fact that must be alleged in an indictment or found beyond a reasonable doubt by a jury for purposes of a statutory sentencing enhancement. The Fifth Circuit reiterated that “[i]n the future, barring new developments in Supreme Court jurisprudence, arguments seeking reconsideration of Almendarez-Torres will be viewed with skepticism.” View "United States v. Contreras-Rojas" on Justia Law

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A border patrol agent found and stopped Rizo-Rizo near the U.S./Mexico border. Rizo-Rizo admitted that he was a citizen of Mexico without appropriate immigration documents. The agent arrested him. Rizo-Rizo was then questioned again, waived his Miranda rights, and confirmed that he was a citizen of Mexico who had just “illegally entered.” Rizo-Rizo was charged with the misdemeanor of attempted illegal entry, 8 U.S.C. 1325(a)(1), and chose to plead guilty without a plea agreement. The magistrate listed these elements of attempted illegal entry. Defense counsel objected, claiming that “the Defendant ha[d] to know he was an alien” and that the magistrate had improperly omitted an element of the offense. The magistrate overruled the objection. Rizo-Rizo pled guilty and was sentenced to time served.The district court and Ninth Circuit affirmed, holding that knowledge of alienage was not an element of 8 U.S.C. 1325(a)(1). The statute describes a regulatory offense and no presumption in favor of scienter applies. View "United States v. Rizo-Rizo" on Justia Law

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Mabuneza, a citizen of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) entered the U.S. in 2000 as a refugee and became a lawful permanent resident in 2001. After a 2006 conviction for petit larceny and a 2016 conviction for aggravated sexual abuse, Mabuneza was placed in removal proceedings.Mabuneza applied for asylum, withholding of removal, and protection under the Convention Against Torture (CAT), asserting that he received refugee status because he had faced persecution as a member of the Tutsi ethnic group and that he would be targeted again if he were deported; that he would be viewed as a political dissident for being featured in Chicago Tribune articles describing his family’s experiences as refugees; that he would be detained upon return to the DRC as a traitor; and that he would be seen as a threat due to his sexual abuse conviction. Mabuneza submitted country conditions evidence showing that persons returning to the DRC may face suspicion from the police and be arrested and detained and that the Congolese government sometimes tortures detainees and prisoners for political and human rights activism.The BIA dismissed an appeal from the IJ's denial of relief. The Seventh Circuit denied a petition for review. The IJ did not make any factual or legal error in finding that Mabuneza did not face a substantial risk of torture as a recent deportee. View "Mabuneza v. Garland" on Justia Law

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Arreaga-Bravo, a 31-year-old from Guatemala. arrived in the U.S. in 2016. In removal proceedings, she sought withholding of removal under the Convention Against Torture (CAT), claiming that she had fled Guatemala to escape harassment and sexual violence by the Mara 18 gang. She discussed the rape of her 15-year-old sister, which was not reported to the police because the nearest police station was four hours away; after the family moved, another sister was raped but the police never investigated. The family moved again. Arreaga-Bravo’s friend was raped by multiple men; in 2016, Arreaga-Bravo was targeted by gang members to enlist as a gang girlfriend. Arreaga-Bravo refused and began to receive threats. Eventually, two men grabbed her on the street, pulled out a knife, and threatened to kill her unless she surrendered to the gang.The IJ granted Arreaga-Bravo CAT relief, finding that Arreaga-Bravo was generally credible, candid, and forthcoming, that it is more likely than not that Arreaga-Bravo will be harmed if she returns to Guatemala, and that the Guatemalan government would acquiesce in Arreaga-Bravo’s tortureThe BIA reversed, finding that it was not “sufficiently persuade[d]” that Arreaga-Bravo faces a particularized risk of torture and that it was “unable to agree” with the IJ’s conclusions. The Third Circuit vacated. Rather than defer to the IJ’s factual findings and review for clear error, the BIA inserted itself into the fact-finder role and disagreed with the IJ’s weighing of the evidence. View "Bravo v. Attorney General United States" on Justia Law

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Pineda-Teruel is a citizen of Honduras, where he owns a coffee farm. He entered the U.S. in 2007, was removed to Honduras in 2017, reentered the U.S. in 2019, and was apprehended at the border. Pineda-Teruel applied for withholding of removal, 8 U.S.C. 1231(b)(3)(A), and protection under the Convention Against Torture, claiming that the mafia had demanded money from him in Honduras and threatened to kill him but had killed his two cousins who were working at the farm. Pineda-Teruel said that he feared for his life.The IJ denied Pineda-Teruel’s application, finding that he failed to establish past persecution or the likelihood of future persecution if he were to relocate within Honduras and that there was no nexus between Pineda-Teruel’s fear of harm—which was due to the mafia’s belief that he had money from his time in the U.S.—and any claimed status as a member of a statutorily protected social group. The BIA dismissed Pineda-Teruel’s appeal, concluding that his past experiences in Honduras did not rise to the level of past persecution or torture and he had not established a clear probability of torture in the future given that he had successfully relocated within Honduras. The Seventh Circuit denied a petition for review, noting that Pineda-Teruel claimed that the men who threatened him and killed his cousins were now living in the U.S. View "Pineda-Teruel v. Garland" on Justia Law

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Jaco left Honduras fleeing domestic violence. She and her child entered the U.S. in 2016. Although her former partner has not contacted her since she entered the U.S., her mother and a neighbor reported that he is trying to find her and that he wants revenge. In removal proceedings, Jaco applied for asylum, withholding of removal, and protection under the Convention Against Torture (CAT). Her child sought derivative asylum.The IJ denied Jaco’s claims, finding “insufficient evidence . . . indicating the government of Honduras would wish to torture or acquiesce in the torture of” Jaco and that Jaco’s proposed social group—women in Honduras unable to leave their domestic relationships—was not cognizable. The BIA reasoned that “[g]enerally, claims by aliens pertaining to domestic violence perpetrated by non-governmental actors will not qualify for asylum.” On remand, the BIA again dismissed the appeal, refusing to consider new groups proposed by Jaco and noting that Jaco was not married to her former partner, the relationship was not long-lasting, the abuse was not extensive, she moved out of her former partner’s home, and she took her former partner to court and received child support and a protective order. The Fifth Circuit denied a petition for review. The BIA did not abuse its discretion in concluding that Jaco’s particular social group was not cognizable, and substantial evidence supported its conclusion. View "Jaco v. Garland" on Justia Law

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Through a Form I-130, a U.S. citizen can seek to establish that an alien relative is eligible for an immigrant visa, 8 U.S.C. 1151(b)(2)(A)(i) & 1154(a)(1)(A)(i). Relatives residing outside the U.S. must apply for the visa at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate in their country of residence. Angela, a U.S. citizen married to Carlos, a Mexican citizen, filed a Form I-130. Carlos had resided in the U.S. without status for over a year; upon returning to Mexico to apply for a visa he would have been inadmissible for 10 years, 8 U.S.C. 1182(a)(9)(B)(i)(II). Carlos obtained a provisional unlawful presence waiver to return to Mexico. Following an interview, a consular official denied his visa application, alleging that Carlos had sought to obtain an immigration benefit by falsely misrepresenting a material fact, had falsely represented himself to be a U.S. citizen, and had unlawfully resided in the U.S. for over a year. The notice did not cite facts supporting those findings.Angela claimed mistaken identity. The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of her suit for failure to state a claim. Consular officials are not required to identify facts underlying a visa denial when the statutory provision of inadmissibility sets out factual predicates. The doctrine of consular non-reviewability bars judicial review of a consular official’s decision regarding a visa application if the reason given is “facially legitimate and bona fide” but does not strip federal courts of their subject matter jurisdiction. View "Del Valle v. Secretary of State, United States Department of State" on Justia Law

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The First Circuit affirmed the ruling of the district court that there was no per se constitutional entitlement to a bond hearing after six months of detention and otherwise vacated the district court's declaratory and injunctive relief, holding that it was advisory.Petitioners brought this class action on behalf of noncitizen detainees held without possibility of release pending the completion of their removal proceedings. On remand, Petitioners alleged that mandatory detention of the class members under 8 U.S.C. 1226(c) for more than six months violated the Fifth Amendment Due Process Clause or the Eighth Amendment excessive Bail Clause. The district court ruled that there was no per se constitutional entitlement to a bond hearing after six months of detention but that the length of time that might constitutionally pass without a bond hearing turned on each noncitizen's individual circumstances. The court then issued declaratory and injunctive relief in favor of all class members. The First Circuit held (1) the district court properly rejected the claim that persons detained for six months under section 1226(c) are automatically entitled to a bond hearing; and (2) the district court improperly granted binding equitable relief. View "Reid v. Donelan" on Justia Law

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The First Circuit vacated the judgment of the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) dismissing Appellant's appeal from a decision of an immigration judge (IJ) ordering him removed from the United States, holding that the BIA failed to address Appellant's request to apply equitable tolling in assessing whether her appeal was timely.Appellant, a native and citizen of Jamaica, applied for asylum, withholding of removal, and protection under the United Nations Convention Against Torture. The IJ denied Appellant's requests for relief and ordered her removed to Jamaica. In the midst of the newly-announced health emergency occasioned by the COVID-19 pandemic, Appellant missed the deadline to appeal the IJ's removal order. The BIA summarily dismissed Appellant's appeal as untimely. The First Circuit vacated the BIA's order of dismissal, holding that the BIA erred by failing to consider Appellant's request for equitable tolling in deciding whether her appeal was timely. View "James v. Garland" on Justia Law

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Jenifer Miladis Alvarado-Diaz and Magdaly Suleydy Perez-Velasquez appealed the district court’s affirmance of their convictions for entering the United States in violation of 8 U.S.C. 1325(a)(1). Alvarado and Perez crossed the U.S.-Mexico border into New Mexico by walking around a fence, miles away from the nearest designated port of entry. Alvarado was stopped by a border patrol agent after she made it about 180 yards past the border, and a border patrol agent saw Perez just as she walked into the country. Each was detained. Alvarado and Perez admitted to the agents that they were nationals of El Salvador and Guatemala, respectively, and had no authorization to enter the country. They contended “enter” was a term of art that required more than a physical intrusion; it also required “freedom from official restraint” and “inspection or intentional evasion of inspection.” The district court affirmed the convictions because, even assuming freedom from official restraint was required for an “entry,” the Defendants were not under official restraint. The defendants argued they were under official restraint because they had been continuously surveilled, but the court noted that continuous surveillance alone did not equate to restraint. On appeal to the Tenth Circuit, defendants reiterated arguments made at the district court. The Tenth Circuit rejected these arguments and affirmed the district court's judgment. View "United States v. Perez-Velasquez" on Justia Law