Federal courts review immigration decisions in a very limited context. Before the passage of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigration Responsibility Act (IIRIRA), an immigrant could petition a district court for review of her removal. Congress limited the scope of review with IIRIRA, limiting it in the Circuit Court. In other words, an immigrant asking for a review of an administrative decision must ask the federal Circuit Court for review in the first instance. This review was also limited to “questions of law”, meaning that the Circuit Court could not make its own findings of fact.
The Petitioners in the case asked the Supreme Court to review a decision by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. The Fifth Circuit had denied a motion to reopen two cases. The court had ruled that it could not rule on the Petitioners’ factual claims. The reasoning was that to open the case beyond the 90 days deadline would involve factual findings of due diligence, which is not within its jurisdiction under IIRIRA. The two Petitioners petitioned the Supreme Court to review the Fifth Circuit’s decisions.
The main issue in the case was whether “questions of law” in the statute barred a circuit court from applying the law to undisputed facts.
The court ruled that the Fifth Circuit erred in ruling that the application of new law to old facts constituted a “question of law”. The court ruled in the affirmative. First, the court determined that nothing in the statute prohibits the application of the law to settled facts. The court thus determined that the application of the law to new facts is not a question of fact but a question of law.
Second, the court examined the legislative history of the statute. The court stated that there is a strong presumption of judicial review, even in the immigration context. The court added that ruling otherwise would result in a barrier to judicial review. The court them studied the legislative history of Section 1252 of the Immigration and Naturalization Act. The statute included a “zipper clause” consolidating review in the circuit court. The court found that the language of the “zipper clause” supported its decision.
Lastly, the court reasoned that the application of the law to settled facts also is supported by the court’s earlier rulings. The court reasoned that its ruling in St. Cyr, where it held that IIRIRA was not retroactive, supported its decision. The court added the legislative history of the law shows that Congress did not want to prohibit a review of questions law as applied to old facts.
You may wonder what this ruling means for your case. The ruling has huge ramifications on federal court review of removal decisions and motions to reopen. Motions to reopen can now be considered outside of the 90 days deadline if new law arises. For example, we have reopened cases where a new case from the Board of Immigration Appeals was issued that applied to cases. Immigration Courts and the Board may deny the motion, but the circuit court may not deny a Petition for Review simply on the ground that the issue subject to review is one of the facts and not one of law.
Call us today of you are subject to an order of removal and would like it reviewed.
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