By Gary Endelman
Of all the unexpected consequences of Arizona v USA, perhaps the least likely is the potential reshaping of licensure regulations for the immigration bar. So long as the states did not seek to regulate immigration, lawyers licensed in one state could practice immigration law in another, save for those jurisdictions such as California and Colorado that banned such practice. Relying on ABA Model Rule 5.5(d) and Supreme Court precedent in the case of Sperry v. Florida, 373 US 379, 383-84 (1963), immigration was a federal practice and any credentialed advocate could join in. That is why USCIS recognized this multi-jurisdiction bar in 8 CFR 292.1(a)(1) and 1.1(f). The State Department is no less courteous:
9 FAM 40.4 N12.3 Local or U.S.-Licensed Attorneys Practicing Abroad You must extend to a U.S. attorney who has been practicing abroad and is a member of a State bar association or to a local attorney-at-law, the same courtesies in correspondence that are extended to an attorney practicing in the United States, provided you are satisfied that the required relationship exists.
This has never been without controversy. New York makes out of jurisdiction lawyers register every two years at a $375 fee. In Texas, a solo immigration practitioner from New York State moved to Houston but did not bother to sit for the Texas bar exam. She was not given a Texas-size welcome; the Unauthorized Practice of Law Committee of the Texas State Bar sued her, expressing a concern for the integrity of the Texas family and penal code as well as the potential harm to Texas residents. Ultimately, the case was dropped. See John Council, Out of Bounds: Lawyer Without Texas Bar Card Fights for Right to Practice, 18 Tex. Law. 24. (2002); Gregory Siskind, New York Immigration Lawyer Wins Battle to Practice in Texas, Immigration Daily available here. For those who want a deep dive into the delicacies of this controversy, see the wonderful article by Charles Kuck and Olesia Gorinshety as well as the masterful insights provided by Cyrus Mehta.
The exemption from state bar rules depends upon dealing exclusively with federal law. Can this easily or always be done? That is the concern voiced by Texas Ethics Opinion No. 516:
Without issuing an opinion on the subject of unauthorized practice of law, the committee assumes that the representation of clients in Texas by an out-of-state attorney solely on issues or matters of federal law in the area of immigration and nationality law before the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service and in federal courts does not constitute the unauthorized practice of law in Texas. The committee further assumes sat this is incorrect regardless of whether the out-of-state attorney lives in or outside of Texas, maintains an office in Texas, or is employed by an attorney who is licensed to practice law in Texas, so long as the representation of clients in Texas by an out-of-state attorney is in fact limited only to issues or matters of federal law…However, the committee recognizes that the foregoing assumptions do not resolve all unauthorized practice of law problems presented in this question. As a practical matter, it simply may not be possible to separate federal and state law issues when representing clients on matters under the U.S. Immigration and Nationality Act. Representing clients on immigration and nationality law may require an out-of-state attorney to know and advise such clients on issues and matters involving Texas law. For example, Texas law governing family matters such as marriage, divorce and adoption may be determinative in certain immigration cases; likewise, immigration law questions may necessarily involve giving advice on Texas criminal law statutes, Texas employment laws, or other Texas law. Accordingly, the risk of engaging in the unauthorized practice of law in Texas inevitably increases with the number of immigration and nationality cases handled by an out-of-state attorney. http://www.law.uh.edu/libraries/ethics/opinions/501-600/eo516.pdf
This is where SB 1070 comes in. If the Supreme Court finds that Arizona can use its retained police powers to regulate and punish conduct by and the presence of undocumented immigrants, then it will be much more difficult to separate state from federal law in the analysis of any immigration problem,whether in Arizona or in all the other States that either have their own state immigration laws already or will be encouraged to adopt them. No longer will immigration lawyers be able to refrain, if they can now, from state law questions. Should this happen, and the lines between state and federal jurisprudence between irretrievably blurred to the point where they cease to exist, it is hard to imagine how any immigration lawyer who is not licensed in the state where they practice can avoid engaging in the unauthorized practice of law. Do we really want this? As Proverbs warns us, he “who troubleth his own house shall inherit the wind.”
By Gary Endelman and Cyrus D. Mehta
Warning against the danger of faction in his famous Federalist Paper No. 10, James Madison sought to moderate the impact through the diffusion of power amongst the three branches of the federal government as well as between state and federal authority. This coming Wednesday, the United States Supreme Court will hear oral argument over the most contentious provisions of Arizona SB 1070. It is perhaps no small exaggeration to say that the outcome of this case will determine if prosecutorial discretion as a tool of immigration enforcement can survive.
In an age of finite resources, to govern is to choose. That is why ICE Director John Morton decided this past June 2011 to exercise prosecutorial discretion in removal cases involving non-citizens who demonstrate favorable factors, such as their length of presence in the US, the person’s ties to the community, including the presence of immediate relative who may be US citizens or permanent residents, the circumstances of the person’s entry into the US, particularly if he or she was brought in as a young child and whether the person is likely to be granted permanent residency in the future, to name a few. Mr. Morton in a separate policy memo also included the victims and witnesses of crime, including domestic violence, and those persons who were plaintiffs in non-frivolous lawsuits or otherwise engaged in action to protect their civil rights. Director Morton elected to concentrate on deporting national security concerns or those non-citizens with a serious criminal history. This was not the first time that those who were charged with enforcement of our immigration laws embraced the virtues of prosecutorial discretion. On November 17, 2000, then INS Commissioner Doris Meissner explained it this way:
Prosecutorial Discretion is the authority of an agency charged with enforcing a law to decide whether to enforce, or not to enforce, the law against someone. The INS, like other law enforcement agencies, has prosecutorial discretion and exercises it every day…The favorable exercise of prosecutorial discretion means a discretionary decision not to assert the full scope of the INS’s enforcement authority as permitted under the law…It is important to recognize not only what prosecutorial discretion is but also what it is not. The doctrine of prosecutorial discretion applies to law enforcement decisions whether, and to what extent, to exercise the coercive power of the Government over liberty and property, as authorized by law in cases when individuals have violated the law..The distinction is not always an easy bright-line rule to apply… Like all law enforcement agencies, the INS has finite resources, and it is not possible to investigate and prosecute all immigration violations
It is an oversimplification, but still an insightful one, to conclude that, thanks largely to the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 ( IIRAIRA), the importance of prosecutorial discretion has increased in inverse measure to the shrinking remedial actions left open to immigration judges whose ability to grant relief from removal, especially in the context of criminal convictions, has been dramatically curtailed. If the consequences of deportation can no longer be avoided or ameliorated, then the decision on whom to target and how to punish become a moments of surpassing criticality. While prosecutorial discretion is not the answer to a legislature run amuck, it may serve to limit the damage. As Assistant Attorney General Robert Raban wrote to Congressman Barney Frank on January 19, 2000, it is in bad times, more than good, when justice needs prosecutorial discretion the most:
Consequently, the IIRAIRA rendered the exercise of prosecutorial discretion by the INS the only means for averting the extreme hardship associated with certain deportation and/or removal cases…
The State of Arizona, it would seem, has other priorities. While ICE may feel the need to choose, Arizona manifestly does not. Indeed, the four provisions of SB 1070 are precisely the ones that most flagrantly impose burdens on ICE in the absence of federal selection. In the absence of a matching federal mechanism, SB 1070 requires Arizona law enforcement officers to check the immigration status of anyone they stop, arrest or detain if they have a “reasonable suspicion “ the person is unlawfully present. SB 1070 complete disregards the Morton prosecutorial discretion policy, which now allows an ICE official to grant a stay of removal to a person who even has a removal order. While SB 1070 may still consider this person to be unlawfully present, under the federal prosecutorial discretion policy, this individual who has been granted a stay of removal, along with an order of supervision, may even apply for a work permit. Furthermore, ignorant or indifferent to federal policies that implicitly tolerate or openly protect the undocumented, SB 1070 criminalizes a failure to carry immigration registration documentation. It has already been pointed out that a battered woman who has obtained discretionary deferred action after filing an I-360 self-petition under the Violence Against Women Act will not be conferred with a registration document. Yet, such a person is allowed to remain and even work in the US until he or she obtains permanent residence. While neither the Immigration Reform Control Act of 1986 or the INA as a whole consider unauthorized employment as criminal conduct, SB 1070 does; even to apply for or solicit work is no less felonious. In the absence of federal warrant or any expression of federal interest in prosecution, SB 1070 sanctions warrantless arrest based on probable cause that the alien in question has committed a deportable offense. The New York Times recently but accurately termed this “an invitation to chaos:”
While Arizona says its law merely empowers law enforcement to work cooperatively with federal officers, that is demonstratively false. The four provisions at issue go beyond federal law, turning federal guidelines into state enforcement rules and violations of federal rules into state crimes. They transform a federal policy that allows discretion in seeking serious criminals among illegal immigrants into a state mandate to target everyone in Arizona illegally…
This concern is at the core of the pre-emption argument against SB 1070, though it has not received much ink in the popular press. In effect, Arizona seeks to impose an unfunded mandate on Washington, precisely the reverse of what is the norm. As Judge Paez wrote for the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in United States v. Arizona, 641 F. 3d 339, 352-53 (9th Cir.2011):
By imposing mandatory obligations on state and local officers, Arizona interferes with the federal government’s authority to implement its priorities and strategies in law enforcement, turning Arizona officers into state-directed DHS agents…the threat of 50 states layering their own immigration enforcement rules on top of the INA weighs in favor of preemption…
It is for this reason that the United States devoted a full 7 pages of it’s appellate brief to the Supreme Court ( pp.17-23) on this very issue. The curtailment of prosecutorial discretion is the negation of federal priorities. On pp. 22-23, we get to the heart of the matter:
The framework that the Constitution and Congress have created does not permit the States to adopt their own immigration programs and policies or to set themselves up as rival decision makers based on disagreement with the focus and scope of federal enforcement. Yet that is precisely what SB 1070 would do, by consciously erecting a regime that would detain, prosecute and incarcerate aliens based on violations of federal law but without regard to federal enforcement provisions, priorities and discretion. SB 1070 cannot be sustained as an exercise in cooperative federalism when its very design discards cooperation and embraces confrontation.
It is not hard to understand or appreciate why or how Arizona is frustrated, for good people of diverse views share this same conviction that ours is a broken immigration regime. It is the particular manner in which Arizona has elected to manifest this dissatisfaction that places the prosecutorial discretion of federal authorities at risk. We must not sacrifice constitutional verities to contemporary passions. Let us return to Madison Federalist No. 51:
Ambition must be made to counteract ambition. The interest of the man must be connected with the constitutional rights of the place. But what is government itself but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary…
In an increasingly complex, hyper-technical system, the need for discretion as a way to make intelligent choices seems more open and obvious than ever. It is widely acknowledged that we have a dysfunctional immigration system whose systemic dislocation has contributed to the buildup of the undocumented population. In the absence of Congressional intervention to restore a permanent balance, the Administration can and must exercise discretion, devoid of ideology or sentiment, to cobble together interim solutions as the need for them arises. Despite SB 1070, rhetoric is not reality and the targeted exercise of discretion to reconcile divergent and often competing interests is something that the Supreme Court should endorse. James Madison would.
By Gary Endelman and Cyrus D. Mehta
In the recent landmark Supreme Court decision of Vartelas v. Holder, No. 10-1211, 565 U.S. ___, U.S. LEXIS 2540 (March 28, 2012), which partially restores the rights of lawful permanent residents (LPR) with pre-1996 convictions, Justice Ginsburg, who wrote the opinion for the majority, made an interesting reference to piepowder courts. For an explanation of the potential significance of Vartelas v. Holder, we refer readers to our previous blog entitled Fleuti Lives! Restoration of A Constitutional Decision.
Piepowder, or dusty feet courts, as Justice Ginsburg’s decision explains in footnote 12, were temporary mercantile courts quickly set up to hear commercial disputes at trade fairs in Medieval Europe. These courts were set up to resolve disputes while the merchants’ feet were still dusty.
Justice Ginsburg made this reference to piepowder courts in the immigration context in our modern era, stating that an immigration official at the border would not set up a piepowder court to determine whether an LPR committed an offense identified in INA § 212(a)(2) to determine whether he or she was inadmissible. This is what Justice Ginsburg said: “Ordinarily to determine whether there is clear and convincing evidence that an alien has committed a qualifying crime, the immigration officer at the border would check the alien’s record of conviction. He would not call into session a piepowder court to entertain a plea or conduct a trial.”
The Supreme Court’s observation on quaint “dusty feet” courts, although charming, is also extremely significant. Most lawyers who do not practice immigration law, and of course everyone else, will be surprised to know that a non-citizen, including an LPR, can be found inadmissible under INA § 212(a)(2) for being convicted or who admits having committed certain crimes, such as crimes involving moral turpitude or controlled substance offenses. Thus, a non-citizen, including an LPR, need not have a criminal conviction to be found inadmissible, he or she can be equally snared for having admitted to the commission of a crime. Clearly, with respect to an LPR travelling from abroad, Justice Ginsburg’s observation appears to restrict a CBP officer’s ability at an airport from trying to obtain a confession regarding the commission of a CIMT. A CBP official cannot set up a piepowder court at the airport, like the merchants of a bygone era, to try an LPR who has travelled through many time zones, and who instead of having dusty feet may have bleary eyes, for the purposes of bludgeoning him or her into an admission for having committed a crime.
Admittedly, the observation on piepowder courts was obiter dictum. It was made in the context of whether INA § 101(a)(13)(C), enacted by the Illegal Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 (IIRIRA), which allows the government to charge a long term LPR as an arriving alien for having committed an offense under 212(a)(2), could be applied retroactively. The Supreme Court in Vartelas v. Holder held that the doctrine enunciated in Rosenberg v. Fleuti, 374 U.S. 449 (1963), that an LPR who made a brief, casual and innocent trip abroad should not be charged as an arriving alien, still applies to LPRs with pre- IIRIRA criminal conduct. Noting that there was a presumption against retroactive legislation under Landgraf v. USI film Products, 511 U.S. 244 (1994), the Supreme Court in Vartelas concluded that INA § 101(a)(13)(C)(v) resulted in an impermissible retroactive effect as it created a “new disability” to conduct completed prior to IIRIRA’s enactment in 1996. This new disability was Vartelas’ inability to travel after 1996, which he could freely do so prior to 1996. The Court criticized the Second Circuit in the same case below, which did not find INA §101(a)(13)(C)(v) retroactive since it did not reference a conviction but only the commission of a crime, which if pleaded to prior to 1996 in reliance of more favorable treatment under pre-1996 law, would have been impermissibly retroactive as in INS v. St. Cyr, 533 U.S. 289 (2001). It was at this point that Justice Ginsburg said that “[t]he practical difference (between a conviction and commission of a crime), so far as retroactivity is concerned, escapes our grasp” and then made her observation that an immigration official would in any event need to determine under the clear and convincing standard at the border by checking the record of conviction, rather than convene a piepowder court, to determine whether the alien committed the crime.
It is also significant that Justice Ginsburg in her observation on piepowder courts affirmed that the burden has always been on the government to establish that an LPR is not entitled to that status, and this burden established in Woodby v. INS, 385 U.S. 276 (1966), is that the government must prove by “clear, unequivocal and convincing” evidence that the LPR should be deported. This burden applies to all LPRs regardless of whether they have pre-1996 or post-1996 criminal convictions. Thus, under a Woodby analysis too, since the government bears a heavy burden of proof, it would be turning the tables on the LPR if the government tried to extract a confession regarding the commission of a crime and thus be able to escape from the heavy burden it bears under the “clear, unequivocal and convincing” standard. This can potentially happen with an LPR who may have had the charges dismissed or reduced, but a nasty CBP official still wants to know the real story via a hypothetical piepowder court at the airport. Indeed, the Board of Immigration Appeals held many years ago in Matter of Guevara, 20 I&N Dec.238 (1990) that an alien’s silence alone does not provide sufficient evidence under the Woodby standard, in the absence of other evidence, to establish deportability. The following extract from Matter of Guevara is worth noting:
The legal concept of a “burden of proof” requires that the party upon whom the burden rests carry such burden by presenting evidence. If the only evidence necessary to satisfy this burden were the silence of the other party, then for all practical purposes, the burden would actually fall upon the silent party from the outset. Under this standard, every deportation proceeding would begin with an adverse inference which the respondent be required to rebut. We cannot rewrite the Act to reflect such a shift in the burden of proof. [citing Woodby v. INS, supra; other citations omitted]
Of course, an LPR can still voluntarily admit to the commission of a crime if he or she chooses to, but such an admission needs to meet rigid criteria. The BIA has set forth the following requirements for a validly obtained admission: (1) the admitted conduct must constitute the essential elements of a crime in the jurisdiction in which it occurred; (2) the applicant must have been provided with the definition and essential elements of the crime in understandable terms prior to making the admission; and (3) the admission must have been made voluntarily. See Matter of K-, 7 I&N Dec. 594 (BIA 1957).
Justice Ginsburg’s piepowder observation in Vartelas v. Holder, together with Matter of K and Matter of Guerra, provide more arsenal to an LPR who is charged as an arriving alien based on the commission rather than the conviction of a crime under INA § 212(a)(2). Beyond this, the disinclination to sanction ad hoc investigation through a “dusty feet” court conducted without legal sanction or moral restraint reflects a commendable preference for the stability of the written record as the framework for informed decision.
The conceptual framework that governs any discussion of retroactivity is the traditional two-step formula announced in Landgraf v. USI Film Products, supra. Since Congress did not expressly instruct on how far back IIRIRA could go, we move to the second prong announced by the High Court at page 277 of Landgraf, namely whether giving retrospective effect to INA 101(a)(13)(C)(v) will contradict basic notions of proper notice and upset “settled expectations” on which the actor “reasonably relied.” When in doubt, retroactivity is disfavored. The Supreme Court got it right. “Elementary considerations of fairness dictate that individuals should have an opportunity to know what the law is and to conform their conduct accordingly.” Landgraf, 511 US at 265.
Justice Ginsburg’s admonition reflects a profound appreciation of the due process rights that returning LPR’s have traditionally enjoyed. While Woodby may not have been a constitutional decision, the warning against piepowder courts can only be understood in a constitutional context. Remember the returning LPR seaman in Kwong Hai Chew v Colding, 349 US 590(1953) that authorities sought to exclude without a hearing; the Supreme Court reminded us that he deserved full constitutional rights to a fair hearing with all the due process protection that would have been his had he never left. Remember what Rosenberg v Fleuti, 374 US 449, 460(1963) taught us: “A resident alien who leaves this country is to be regarded as retaining certain basic rights.” Remember the ringing injunction of Shaughnessy v. US ex rel Mezei, 345 US 206, 213(1953): “A lawful resident alien may not captiously be deprived of his constitutional rights to procedural due process.” In essence, behind Justice Ginsburg’s distaste for piepowder courts when applied to returning resident aliens, regardless of when their conviction or admission took place, is nothing less than the right “to stay in this land of freedom.” Landon v. Plasencia, 459 US 21, 36 (1982) quoting Bridges v. Wixon, 306 US 135, 154 (1945).
The refusal to sanction IIRIRA retroactivityin Vartelas v. Holder provides the kind of predictabilitythat LPRs need and deserve before they leave the USA and seek to return. This, after all, is why retroactivity is disfavored .This is precisely why a piepowder court is not allowed; an LPR should know what this status means, what his or her rights are and should be able to leave the US with the confidence that an uneventful return is not only possible but entirely to be expected. In this sense, the refusal to embrace IIRIRA retroactivity and the caution against a piepowder court spring from the same place and say the same thing- predictability is at the very essence of a lawful society. After all, to borrow Einstein’s happy phrase, God does not play dice with the universe.
This post originally appeared on The Insightful Immigration Blog.
By Gary Endelman and Cyrus D. Mehta
There was a time when a lawful permanent resident (LPR) or green card holder had more rights than today.
Prior to the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 (IIRIRA), if an LPR with a criminal conviction travelled abroad, he or she was not found inadmissible, or excludable as it was then known, if the trip was brief, casual and innocent.
This was as a result of a landmark decision of the Supreme Court, Rosenberg v. Fleuti, 374 U.S. 449 (1963). Fleuti, an LPR and Swiss national, was found excludable after he returned from a visit to Mexico of only about a couple of hours under the then exclusion ground of being an alien “afflicted with psychopathic personality” based on his homosexuality. This was only an excludable and not a deportable ground. If Flueti had not departed the US, he would not have been in the predicament he was in after his brief trip to Mexico. The Supreme Court interpreted a then statutory provision involving involuntary departures not resulting in an entry into the US, INA §101(a)(13), to hold that Congress did not intend to exclude long term residents upon their return from a trip abroad that was “innocent, causal and brief.”Thus, under the Fleuti doctrine, such an LPR was not thought to have left the US so as to trigger excludability.
In 1996, IIRIRA changed this by amending § 101(a)(13), which now provides:
(C) An alien lawfully admitted for permanent residence in the United States shall not be regarded as seeking an admission into the United States for purposes of the immigration laws unless the alien —
(i) has abandoned or relinquished that status,
(ii) has been absent from the United States for a continuous period in excess of 180 days,
(iii) has engaged in illegal activity after having departed the United States,
(iv) has departed from the United States while under legal process seeking removal of
the alien from the United States, including removal proceedings under this Act and
(v) has committed an offense identified in section 212(a)(2), unless since such offense
the alien has been granted relief under section 212(h) or 240A(a), or
(vi) is attempting to enter at a time or place other than as designated by immigration officers or has not been admitted to the United States after inspection and authorization by an immigration officer.
The Board of Immigration Appeals in Matter of Collado-Munoz, 21 I&N Dec. 1061 (BIA 1998), interpreted this amendment as eliminating the Fleuti doctrine. Thus, post 1996, an LPR who was convicted of a crime involving moral turpitude (CIMT) and who travelled abroad would be seeking admission in the US under new § 101(a)(13)(C)(v) and could be put on the same footing as any alien seeking admission who may not have the same long term ties to the US as the LPR. Such an LPR would be found inadmissible of that CIMT even if that crime did not trigger removability had he or she not left the US. The BIA eliminated the Flueti doctrine despite a long line of Supreme Court cases holding that returning LPRs were entitled to the same due process rights as they would if they were placed in deportation proceedings. For instance, in Kwong Hai Chew v. Colding, 344 U.S. 590 (1953), involving a seaman LPR whose entry was deemed prejudicial to the public interest and who was detained at Ellis Island as an excludable alien, the Supreme Court held that we must first consider what would have been his constitutional rights had he not undertaken his voyage to foreign ports but remained continuously in the US. Even in Landon v. Plasencia, 459 U.S. 21 (1982), where the LPR’s trip abroad involved a smuggling operation and was not considered so innocent, the Supreme Court held that she could seek the Fleuti exception even in exclusion proceedings as well as enjoy all the due process rights as an LPR. Landon recognized the LPR’s long terms ties with the country noting that her right to “stay and live and work in this land of freedom” was at stake along with her right to rejoin her family. It seemed that the BIA in Matter of Collado-Munoz, an administrative agency, was limited by its inability to rule upon the constitutionality of the laws it administered despite the robust dissent of Board Member Rosenberg who stated that “[w]e are, however, authorized and encouraged to construe these laws so as not to violate constitutional principles.” Circuit courts deferred to the BIA interpretation while “recognizing that there are meritorious arguments on both sides of the issue.” See Tineo v. Ashcroft, 350 F.3d 382 (3d Cir. 2003).
As a result after IIRIRA, LPRs with prior convictions who travelled abroad briefly for holidays, weddings or to visit sick relatives were found inadmissible upon their return, and were also detained under the mandatory detention provision pursuant to § 236(c) if the conviction was a CIMT. This was true even if the conviction occurred prior to 1996 when Fleuti existed. In January 2003, Vartelas, an LPR, returned from a week- long trip to Greece, and immigration officials at the airport determined he was an alien seeking admission pursuant to § 101(a)(13)(c)(v) as he was convicted in 1994 for conspiring to make counterfeit security, which was characterized as a CIMT. Vartelas challenged his designation as an arriving alien seeking admission all the way to the Supreme Court, and in Vartelas v. Holder, No. 10-1211, 565 U.S. ___, U.S. LEXIS 2540 (March 28, 2012), the Supreme Court recently held that the Fleuti doctrine still applies to LPRs with pre-IIRIRA convictions who travel abroad. Noting that there was a presumption against retroactive legislation under Langraf v. USI film Products, 511 U.S. 244 (1994), the Supreme Court concluded that INA § 101(a)(13)(C)(v) resulted in an impermissible retroactive effect as it created a “new disability” to conduct completed prior to IIRIRA’s enactment in 1996. This new disability was Vartelas’ inability to travel after 1996, which he could freely do so prior to 1996. The Vartelas court noted, “Once able to journey abroad to fulfill religious obligations, attend funerals and weddings of family members, tend to vital financial interests, or respond to family emergencies, permanent residents situated as Vartelas now face potential banishment. We refer you the excellent practice advisory of the Legal Action Center of the American Immigration Council on how to represent clients with pre-1996 convictions who have been positively impacted by Vartelas v. Holder.
We think differently. Although the Supreme Court passed up the opportunity to rule on the viability of Flueti for post 1996 conviction; in footnote 2 while acknowledging that the BIA read INA §101(a)(13)(C) to overrule Flueti the Court noted, “Vartelas does not challenge the ruling in Collado-Munoz. We therefore assume, but do not decide, that IIRIRA’s amendments to §101(a)(13)(A) abrogated Fleuti.” This is significant since the Supreme Court explicitly did not affirmatively decide that Flueti had been repealed for LPRs who had convictions after the enactment of IIRIRA. Practitioners with have LPR clients who have been charged as arriving aliens after a brief trip abroad should continue to advocate for the viability of the Flueti doctrine on behalf of their clients in removal proceedings.
There are compelling arguments for doing so, and we commend readers to the brilliant amicus brief that Ira Kurzban and Debbie Smith wrote for the American Immigration Lawyers (AILA) Association in Vartelas v. Holder providing suggestions on how to convincingly make them. The key argument is that that the §101(a)(13)(C) categories never abrogated Flueti; rather they codified some of the characteristics of Flueti by suggesting, for example, that an LPR would not be seeking admission if the trip overseas was brief (§101(a)(13)(C)(ii)) and that it was innocent (§101(a)(13)(C)(iii)). Moreover, § 101(a)(13)(C) employs “shall not …unless” language, which suggests that the provisions within are only necessary conditions to trigger inadmissibility, but not necessary and sufficient conditions to trigger inadmissibility.
Moreover, the burden has always been on the government to establish that an LPR is not entitled to that status, and this burden established in Woodby v. INS, 385 U.S. 276 (1966), is that the government must prove by “clear, unequivocal and convincing evidence that the LPR should not be deported. Subsequent to Woodby, in Landon v. Plasencia, supra, the Supreme Court held that a returning resident be accorded due process in exclusion proceedings and that the Woodby standard be applied equally to an LPR in exclusion proceedings. With the introduction of the § 101(a)(13)(C) provisions rendering a returning LPR inadmissible, the CBP’s Admissibility Review Office and more than one government lawyer argued that the heavy burden of proof that the government had under Woodby had shifted to the LPR. Indeed, INA §240(c)(2) places the burden on the applicant for admission to prove “clearly and beyond doubt” that he or she is not inadmissible. Fortunately, a recent decision of the BIA in Matter of Rivens, 25 I&N Dec. 623 (BIA 2011) shatters this assumption once and for all. The BIA by affirming the Woodby standard in Rivens held, “Given this historical practice and the absence of any evidence that Congress intended a different allocation of standard of proof to apply in removal cases arising under current section 101(a)(13)(C) of the Act, we hold that the respondent – whose lawful permanent resident status is uncontested – cannot be found removable under the section 212(a) grounds of inadmissibility unless the DHS first proves by clear and convincing evidence [footnote omitted] that he is to be regarded as an applicant for admission in this case by having “committed an offense indentified in section 212(a)(2).” It is surprising that Justice Ginsburg did not mention Rivens although footnote No. 1 in that decision reveals that the BIA was keenly attuned to what the Supreme Court might do with the Vartelas case.
Thus, the survival of Woodby, notwithstanding the enactment of §101(a)(13)(C), carries with it the survival of Fleuti. Even though the Vartelas Court did not have to decide if Fleuti still lived, it reminds us that, despite the failure of the BIA to realize it in Collado-Munoz, Fleuti is at heart a constitutional decision. Vartelas belongs in this same line of cases because it too emphasizes the special protection that the Constitution offers to returning LPRs. The portion of Vartelas that could serve as a springboard for such an argument in a future case is part of footnote 7of the slip opinion:
“The act of flying to Greece, in contrast, does not render a lawful permanent resident like Vartelas hazardous. Nor is it plausible that Congress’ solution to the problem of dangerous lawful permanent residents would be to pass a law that would deter such persons from ever leaving the United States.”
The authors credit David Isaacson for pointing that the second sentence, in particular, suggests a potential willingness to avoid reading 101(a)(13)(C)(v) in the way that Collado-Munoz did, essentially on the ground that such a reading makes no sense because of its logical consequence. One might be able to combine this with the constitutional concerns raised in the AILA amicus brief and get Collado-Munoz overturned (and Fleuti restored) on the basis of a combination of purpose-based ambiguity in the statute and the doctrine of avoidance of constitutional doubts, which trumps Chevron deference, see, e.g., Edward J. DeBartolo Corp. v. Florida Coast Bldg. and Const. Trades Council, 485 U.S. 568, 574-575 (1988). The effect would be analogous to Zadvydas v. Davis, 533 U.S. 678 (2001) where the statute was found ambiguous largely because of concerns relating to its purpose and then interpreted in the manner that would not raise serious constitutional concerns. To the authors, this places Vartelas in a much larger context where the full potential of the ruling may be examined and developed in the future.
The significance of Vartelas is not limited to returning permanent residents with pre-1996 convictions. Rather, when viewed with a wide-angle lens, it may serve as the ruling that restores Fleuti as a constitutional decision. Unlike the assumption of the BIA in Collado-Munoz that Fleuti was decided in what Ira Kurzban and Deborah Smith insightfully term a “constitutional vacuum,” Justice Ginsburg has given back to Fleuti the constitutional provenance that sadly it seemed to have lost.Unlike the Fifth Circuit in De Fuentes v. Gonzalez, 462 F.3d 498,503(5th Cir. 2006) that saw no “constitutional core” in Fleuti or the Third Circuit in Tineo v. Ashcroft, 350 F.3d 382,397 (3d Cir 2003) which boldly though mistakenly proclaimed that Fleuti had no basis in constitutional principle, Vartelas harkens back to an appreciation of lawful permanent residence that IIRIRA made us think for a while had vanished: “Once an alien gains admission to our country and begins to develop the ties that go with permanent residence, his constitutional status changes accordingly.” Landon v. Plascencia, 459 US at 32 ( citing Johnson v. Eisentrager, 339 US 763, 770(1950). If that happy day comes when Fleuti is restored in full, legal scholars may well lookback to Vartelas v Holder as the case that made it all possible. The lasting contribution to the law that the Supreme Court has made through Vartelas v Holder may well be not only, or even primarily, in its forthright rejection of IIRIRA retroactivity, but rather in reclaiming for Fleuti its lasting place in the penumbra of constitutional safeguards that have nurtured and protected the rights of lawful permanent residents. In this sense, Fleuti did not create new rights for permanent residents so much as refine and expand existing constitutional alliances. For this reason, a revival of Fleuti would not be a radical leap into terra incognita but the rightful restoration of a constitutional regime that commands our attention and merits our respect. We do not know what the future will be for Fleuti but, now, thanks to Vartelas, there might be a story to tell.
This post originally appeared on The Insightful Immigration Blog.