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The Board of Immigration Appeals finally has declared surrender on the issue of 212(c) relief after decades of litigation. With its decision in this case, it has adopted the position urged by the amicus curiae brief of the American Immigration Lawyers Association to return to its position in Matter of Hernandez-Casillas, 20 I&N Dec. 262 (BIA 1990), before the Attorney General overruled it.

The Board held 212(c) is available to waive all grounds of deportability except those comparable to the grounds of excludability (inadmissibility) excluded from 212(c) by its text (relating to terrorists, saboteurs, and war criminals). 212(c) thus is available to waive even convictions that would not make an immigrant inadmissible for a crime involving moral turpitude or controlled substance offense. It found this was the only option offered by the parties and amici that would fulfill the Supreme Court's mandate in Judulang to avoid mechanical distinctions in 212(c) eligibility criteria that do not rationally relate to an immigrant's fitness to remain in the U.S.

The Board further held that proof of reliance on the possibility of 212(c) relief was not necessary to establish eligibility and that 212(c) was available to immigrants convicted after trial, not just pursuant to a plea. This was not necessary to resolve Abdelghany's case, but the Board nonetheless seems to have wanted to settle all of the 212(c) issues once and for all. Moreover, the conclusion was all but compelled by the Supreme Court's retroactivity holding on the continued vitality of the Fleuti exception in Vartelas.

Likewise, the Board held that 212(c) eligibility also does not hinge on whether the conviction actually made the immigrant deportable at the time of the conviction. Again, the focus is on whether a new law imposes a disability on a past action, not on whether there was reliance--as Vartelas teaches. The Board buttressed that conclusion by quoting the double bulwark language of United States v. Leon-Paz, 340 F.3d 1003, 1006−07 (9th Cir. 2003). The Ninth Circuit held Leon-Paz “had two bulwarks to protect himself against attacks on his residence in this country.” "The first was the fact that he had pled to a crime that was below the aggravated felony threshold, and the second was § 212(c) itself in case the definition of aggravated felony changed as it often had and has.”

Nonetheless, some limitations on 212(c) relief remain related to the statutory history. An immigrant is not eligible if: (1) the applicant’s removal or deportation proceedings commenced on or after April 24, 1996, and the conviction renders the applicant removable or deportable under one or more of the deportability grounds enumerated in section 440(d) of the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996, Pub. L. No. 104-132, 110 Stat. 1214, 1277 (as amended); or (2) the applicant is subject to the grounds of inadmissibility under sections 212(a)(3)(A), (B), (C), or (E), or (10)(C) of the Act; or (3) the applicant has served an aggregate term of imprisonment of at least 5 years as a result of one or more aggravated felony convictions entered between November 29, 1990, and April 24, 1996.

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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).

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Relief under former section 212(c) is unavailable for a permanent resident who has served a "term of imprisonment" of more than 5 years for conviction of an aggravated felony, but what if part of that was credited for time spent in civil psychiatric pre-trial confinement pending a determination of competence to stand trial? In an unpublished 1 member decision, the Board held that the entire 392 days that Corpuz spent in that civil confinement does count, which pushed him over 5 years.

The Ninth Circuit disagreed. It found that the common meaning of imprisonment does not include civil confinement, but it declined to entirely disregard Corpuz's time in civil psychiatric confinement because Corpuz did receive credit from the sentencing judge for that time. The court found that counting all of it, though, would be unfair because there is no credit for good conduct and the confinement can last a long time compared to typical pre-trial confinement. The court thus attempted to achieve what it determined was the statutory purpose by holding that the immigration judge should determine how long the confinement would have been if there was good time credit. It called this constructive good time credit.

Something tells me there will be a petition for rehearing in this case, although grant of en banc rehearing seems unlikely given Corpuz's situation would seem to be rare and there is no conflicting precedent.

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This decision extends the Supreme Court's decision in INS v. St. Cyr, which held that permanent residents who pled guilty to a removable offense prior to Congress' enactment of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRAIRA) in 1996 remained eligible for discretionary relief from removal under former section 212(c) even though IIRAIRA repealed that form of relief. Although St. Cyr concerned a resident who pled guilty, Peng extends that holding to permanent residents who were convicted at trial of a crime involving moral turpitude who can plausibly argue they relied on the availability of 212(c). The decision rejected, however, Peng's argument that IIRAIRA's creation of a 7 year residence requirement for relief from removal under 212(h) was impermissibly retroactive.

Here, Peng could plausibly argue reliance on the existing state of the pre-IIRAIRA law when she decided to go to trial. A guilty plea to the charged offense (conspiracy to defraud the former INS, 18 U.S.C. § 371 (1995)) would result in no immigration benefit. She would be deportable no matter whether she pled guilty or was convicted at trial. Likewise, she would be eligible for 212(c) as a discretionary form of relief from deportation no matter whether she pled guilty or was convicted at trial. However, the option of proceeding to trial offered the benefit of the possibility of acquittal. In choosing that option, she plausibly could be said to rely on the availability of 212(c) even if the jury convicted her and the judge sentenced her to the maximum potential sentence. The maximum potential sentence was 5 years, and the aggravated felony definition at the time required a sentence to more than 5 years (an aggravated felony would have disqualified her from 212(c)).

The court contrasted this situation with that of a resident charged with an offense that could be an aggravated felony depending on the sentence imposed by the judge. Since it would leave the sentence in the hands of the judge and thus leave the question of whether it was an aggravated felony in the hands of the judge, a decision to go to trial would preclude a showing of plausible reliance.

Although the court found the repeal of 212(c) impermissibly retroactive because Peng plausibly could have relied on 212(c) as relief from removal, it dismissed without much explanation her argument that IIRAIRA's changes to 212(h) were not impermissibly retroactive. Adjustment of status with a waiver under 212(h) was another form of discretionary relief that was available to Peng when she decided to go to trial in her case. She could have relied on it to the same extent she relied on 212(c). Congress, however, later imposed a requirement of 7 years of continuous residence prior to the initiation of removal proceedings for a permanent resident to be eligible for 212(h). That disqualified Peng from something she plausibly could have relied upon, so it is not apparent why the court would reach a different conclusion. The brief treatment in the opinion mentions that she already had permanent resident status at the time she went to trial and seems to suggest that makes a difference. Perhaps the panel did not understand that adjustment with a 212(h) waiver is a long-recognized form of discretionary relief not just for non-residents, but also for residents like Peng.

Finally, the court rejected Peng's argument that imposing a 7 year continuous residence requirement on aliens previously granted permanent resident status, but not on those who have not previously held permanent resident status, violates equal protection. It cited Taniguchi v. Schultz, 303 F.3d 950 (9th Cir. 2002) for the proposition that residents have greater rights so Congress may rationally hold them to a higher standard.

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In a per curiam decision, the Ninth Circuit held that a juvenile offender has a conviction under 8 USC § 1101(a)(48)(A) if he is charged as an adult and receives the conviction after attaining the age of majority, since in that case the Federal Juvenile Delinquency Act, 18 U.S.C. §§ 5031-504, would not apply.

The court also summarily found no equal protection violation in distinguishing between juvenile offenders depending on whether they reach the age of 18 before adjudication or conviction and depending on whether the conviction is as a juvenile or adult (rather than the offender's age at the time of the offense). The court did not even address the petitioner's arguments, if there were any.

When this opinion was first issued in January 31, 2011, the court had held that 212(c) was not available for lack of a comparable statutory ground of inadmissibility. The court withdrew and reissued the decision, overruling the 212(c) holding based on Judalang and leaving the rest of the decision as it was.

Read the decision at http://www.ca9.uscourts.gov/datastore/opinions/2012/02/13/07-72316.pdf.

The Ninth Circuit held that a stipulated facts trial is functionally equivalent to a guilty plea for purposes of eligibility for 212(c) under the Supreme Court's decision in St. Cyr. In this case, the noncitizen was charged with heroin importation and possession with intent to distribute. She had brought the heroin back to the U.S. in 1980 after using it in Thailand to manage pain from a surgery she had there. In the criminal proceedings, she waived many of her constitutional rights and agreed to a court trial where she stipulated to possession of $100k worth of heroin with the intent to use it exclusively for herself. The criminal court found her guilty of importation and not guilty of possession with intent to distribute.

DHS put her in removal proceedings in 2005 based on inadmissibility for a controlled substance offense. The immigration judge and BIA found her ineligible to waive her inadmissibility under former section 212(c), which was repealed in 1996. She would have been eligible for 212(c) if she had been put in exclusion proceedings 20 years earlier, and clearly would be eligible even now--if she had entered a guilty plea. Given retroactivity concerns, the Supreme Court determined in St. Cyr that 212(c) remains available for persons who pled guilty prior to its repeal because they presumably would be relying on its availability when they gave up their constitutional rights. The BIA held this case was distinguishable because the Tyson had a court trial instead of pleading guilty.

The Ninth Circuit held that a stipulated facts trial in these circumstances was more like a guilty plea than a contested court or jury trial, since her stipulation virtually assured her conviction on the importation count. In fact, the panel found it was akin to a no-contest plea, which the regulations specifically recognize preserves 212(c) eligibility. 8 C.F.R. § 1212.3(h). The fact that the record evidence of quid pro quo for the plea is weak is not determinative, although the government did benefit by saving resources and she received a relatively light plea.

Read the decision at http://www.ca9.uscourts.gov/datastore/opinions/2012/01/27/08-70219.pdf.

In a Christmas gift to a couple of my clients, the Supreme Court rejected the Board of Immigration Appeal's statutory comparability test for use of former section 212(c). Since 212(c) refers to inadmissibility, the test provided that the waiver is available for a ground of deportability only if the statutory text is substantially similar to the text of a ground of inadmissibility. The Supreme Court, in a rare unanimous decision, convincingly demonstrated that the Board's test was untethered to the plain language of 212(c) and that it was arbitrary and capricious. The comparability test is arbitrary and capricious because determining whether a ground of deportability is too broad or too narrow has nothing to do with the immigrant's fitness to remain in the U.S. In other words, the inclusion of too many or too few other crimes in a ground of deportability is irrelevant. The Court therefore held the Board's rule did not survive even the deferential review given to it under Administrative Procedure Act.

The Court noted the Board was free to develop a new rule, but the reasoning behind the Court's decision suggests a rule that focuses on the immigrant's actual conviction. If it would make an immigrant inadmissible, then it should to be waivable under 212(c) even for a charge of deportability. The Court did not actually hold that, but indicated that such a rule would not be irrational. Hopefully, the Board will get the hint.

Read the opinion at http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/11pdf/10-694.pdf.

The Ninth Circuit held that the deadline for special motions to reopen proceedings to apply for 212(c) relief under St. Cyr was a constitutionally sound procedural rule.

Luna filed late and had argued that the deadline “irrationally disallows any alien not made aware of the time limitation from seeking a reopening.” The Ninth Circuit noted, though, that the rule was published in the Federal Register and that persons are presumed to know the law.

Further, the Ninth Circuit rejected Luna's argument for tolling of the deadline because the record did not show due diligence. It left open the possibility of tolling under other circumstances, though.

Read the opinion at http://www.ca9.uscourts.gov/datastore/opinions/2011/09/19/08-71086.pdf.

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