The introductory paragraph to this decision--and the court staff's summary--are misleading, they suggest that an immigrant is not eligible for 212(c) relief if he is an aggravated felon who filed his application for relief after November 29, 1990. The case actually holds, however, that only aggravated felon immigrants who served a sentence of "over 5 years" in prison for the aggravated felony are ineligible for 212(c) (assuming the conviction occurred before April 30, 1997) (see page 4 of the opinion). Of course, this actual holding is not entirely accurate either because the statute says "at least 5 years," not "over 5 years."
All this doesn't inspire a lot of confidence, but the actual holding of the case is consistent with previous interpretations of six other circuits. The court rejected the petitioner's argument that the bar on aggravated felons only applied if the immigrant had an "admission" after November 29, 1990. And "admission" in the sense of reentering the U.S. at a port of entry from abroad. (Lawrence was admitted in 1987.) Instead, the court deferred to the agency's longstanding interpretation that the filing of the application for relief is the "admission," at least for applicants who have not departed the U.S. and sought readmission after conviction. That may not correspond to the statutory language, but Lawrence would not even be eligible for 212(c) if the court hewed closely to 212(c)'s statutory language, which requires the immigrant to depart the U.S. and seek readmission after the conviction (since he did not seek readmission after his conviction in 1992).