Justia U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Immigration Law
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Cabrera, a citizen of Mexico, legally entered the U.S. on a B-2 visa and overstayed. In 2015, her boyfriend physically assaulted her in front of her child. The responding officer noted her physical injuries. Cabrera’s child stated that the man had grabbed Cabrera and choked her. Cabrera’s boyfriend was charged with criminal domestic violence, Cabrera aided the police in prosecuting him, rendering her eligible to seek a U visa, available to noncitizens who have been a victim of criminal activity and who help authorities investigating or prosecuting that crime, 8 U.S.C. 1101(a)(15)(U). Cabrera obtained the required certification, attesting to her help, from law enforcement in December 2017. In February 2018, before Cabrera filed her U visa application, DHS issued her notice to appear. A month later, Cabrera filed her U visa application. She moved to continue the deportation proceedings.The IJ denied the motion, acknowledging there was a “significant probability” that USCIS would grant the U visa. The BIA dismissed Cabrera's appeal, finding that she failed to show good cause for a continuance. The Fourth Circuit vacated. The BIA and IJ abused their discretion. The BIA has held that there is a “rebuttable presumption” that a movant who has filed a prima facie approvable application for a U visa warrants a favorable exercise of discretion for a continuance. The BIA failed to explain why it departed from established policies. View "Cabrera v. Garland" on Justia Law

Posted in: Immigration Law
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Herrera-Martinez owned a restaurant and a bar in Honduras with a business partner. In 2002, narco-traffickers began to pressure him to sell drugs; they allegedly beat him and threatened his life after he reported them to police. Herrera-Martinez fled to the United States and hired a lawyer, but skipped his last immigration hearing. Herrera-Martinez was later deported but returned after five days. Herrera-Martinez pled guilty to burglary of a habitation with intent to commit theft and was, again, deported. During his third stay in the U.S. Herrera-Martinez was detained for illegal reentry. He sought withholding of removal and protection under the Convention Against Torture, testifying that the narco-traffickers killed his former business partner after he left Honduras and murdered his brother-in-law.An IJ held that Herrera-Martinez experienced “at best a severe level of harassment,” did not establish a well-founded fear of future persecution, did not show persecution on account of any recognized social groups, and did not establish that Honduran officials would acquiesce in any torture. On remand, the IJ additionally found Herrera-Martinez not credible. The BIA affirmed. The Fourth Circuit denied a petition for review. Herrera-Martinez’s withholding claim failed because the particular social group he advanced, prosecution witnesses, was not particular. Herrera-Martinez’s testimony was not credible; he failed to show that it is more likely than not he would be tortured if he returned to Honduras and that the Honduran government would acquiesce to such torture. View "Herrera-Martinez v. Garland" on Justia Law

Posted in: Immigration Law
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Ge, then a citizen of China, entered the U.S. on a student visa. After pursuing his education for four years, he enlisted in the Army through the Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest (MAVNI) program, which allows foreign nationals to enlist in the armed forces and thereafter apply for naturalization under 8 U.S.C. 1440(a). Ge filed his application in May 2016. After completing interviews and tests administered by USCIS, he received notice in July 2017, that his naturalization oath ceremony had been scheduled for later that month. Days later, he was informed that the ceremony had been canceled. USCIS had a new policy, requiring that enhanced Department of Defense background checks for all MAVNI applicants before their naturalization applications could be granted.Ge filed suit in December 2018, under 8 U.S.C. 1447(b). The district court directed USCIS to adjudicate Ge’s naturalization application within 45 days. Shortly after the court’s remand order, Ge reported that he had been sworn in as a citizen. The court dismissed Ge’s action. Ge then sought attorneys fees under the Equal Access to Justice Act, 28 U.S.C. 2412, alleging that he was the “prevailing party” and that USCIS’s position was not “justified in law and fact at all stages.” The district court denied his motion, ruling that Ge did not qualify as a prevailing party because its remand was not a judgment on the merits or consent decree that created a “material alteration of the legal relationship of the parties.” The Fourth Circuit affirmed. After the remand order, Ge was still the applicant; USCIS was still the agency that could grant or deny the application. The legal relationship had not changed. View "Ge v. United States Citizenship & Immigration Services" on Justia Law

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Pugin, a citizen of Mauritius, was admitted to the U.S. in 1985 as a lawful permanent resident. In 2014, Pugin pleaded guilty in Virginia to being an accessory after the fact to a felony. He was sentenced to 12 months imprisonment with nine months suspended. Pugin was charged with removability because he was convicted of an aggravated felony: “an offense relating to obstruction of justice, perjury, or subornation of perjury,” 8 U.S.C. 1101(a)(43)(S), 1227(a)(2)(A)(iii).The IJ employed the categorical approach to determine whether the Virginia conviction qualified as obstruction of justice, noting that the BIA had previously decided that a federal conviction for accessory after the fact is a crime relating to obstruction of justice. The IJ then held that Virginia accessory after the fact is an offense relating to obstruction of justice because, like its federal counterpart, the offense requires the defendant “act with the ‘specific purpose of hindering the process of justice.’” The Fourth Circuit affirmed that Pugin may be deported. The BIA definition of “obstruction of justice” under the Act is entitled to "Chevron" deference and the Virginia offense of accessory after the fact categorically matches that definition. View "Pugin v. Garland" on Justia Law

Posted in: Immigration Law
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Canales-Granados, born in El Salvador, was admitted to the U.S. as a lawful permanent resident in 2001. In 2018, he was convicted of criminal offenses, which he attributes to a multi-year struggle with substance abuse. He pleaded guilty to Virginia petit larceny, felony eluding, felony hit and run, and driving under the influence. For the latter three convictions, he was sentenced to 15 years and 60 days in prison. All but five days of the sentence were suspended; he was instead sentenced to a residential addiction treatment program.Charged with removability under 8 U.S.C. 1227(a)(2)(A)(ii) because he was an alien convicted of two or more crimes involving moral turpitude (CIMTs) not arising out of a single scheme of criminal misconduct, Canales-Granados contended that neither Virginia felony hit and run nor Virginia felony eluding qualified as CIMTs. An IJ agreed that the hit and run conviction was not a CIMT but determined that felony eluding was. That conviction, when combined with Canales-Granados’ petit larceny conviction, gave him two CIMTs, rendering him removable. The BIA affirmed. The Fourth Circuit affirmed. The phrase “crime involving moral turpitude” is neither unconstitutionally vague nor violative of the nondelegation doctrine. Virginia’s felony eluding statute qualifies as such an offense. View "Granados v. Garland" on Justia Law

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In 2016, Gonzalez was granted deferred action on his removal from the U.S. under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA). After his conviction for a misdemeanor in North Carolina, the DHS terminated Gonzalez’s grant of deferred action; he was immediately placed in removal proceedings. During the course of his proceedings before the IJ, DHS restored Gonzalez’s DACA grant of deferred action. Gonzalez asked the IJ to either administratively close his case, terminate the removal proceedings, or grant a continuance based on his mother’s pending application to be a legal permanent resident (LPR). The IJ denied all requests for relief. While the matter was pending in the BIA, Gonzalez’s mother obtained LPR status, and Gonzalez sought remand. The BIA affirmed the IJ’s decision and denied the motion to remand, reasoning that neither the IJs nor the BIA had the authority to terminate removal proceedings and that administrative closure and a continuance were inappropriate based on the speculative possibility of Gonzalez’s mother earning LPR status.The Fourth Circuit vacated. IJs and the BIA possess the inherent authority to terminate removal proceedings. The BIA improperly denied the request for administrative closure because it failed to address Gonzalez’s specific argument based on his DACA status. View "Gonzalez v. Garland" on Justia Law

Posted in: Immigration Law
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The Montgomery County Council established the Emergency Assistance Relief Payment Program (EARP) in March 2020 to provide emergency cash assistance to County residents with incomes equal to or less than 50% of the federal poverty benchmark who were not eligible for federal or state pandemic relief. Although eligibility for EARP aid is not dependent on a person’s status as an undocumented immigrant, such individuals are eligible to receive EARP payments. To fund EARP, the County appropriated $10,000,000 from reserve funds to the County’s Department of Health and Human Services. Taxpayers filed suit in Maryland state court, asserting that EARP violated 8 U.S.C. 1621(a), which, with few exceptions, generally prohibits undocumented persons from receiving state and local benefits. Recognizing that Section 1621 does not authorize private enforcement, the plaintiffs cited the Maryland common law doctrine of taxpayer standing, which “permits taxpayers to seek the aid of courts, exercising equity powers, to enjoin illegal and ultra vires acts of [Maryland] public officials where those acts are reasonably likely to result in pecuniary loss to the taxpayer.” The case was removed to federal court based on federal question jurisdiction, 28 U.S.C. 1331. The court granted the County summary judgment. The Fourth Circuit affirmed. Congress has declined to authorize private parties to enforce Section 1621, a legislative decision that cannot be circumvented by invocation of a state’s law of taxpayer standing. View "Bauer v. Elrich" on Justia Law

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The Fourth Circuit denied a petition for review challenging the BIA's order denying petitioner's application for asylum, withholding of removal, and protection under the United Nations Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT). Petitioner claims that he fears persecution by the gangs and police of El Salvador on account of his status as a former member of the MS-13 gang.The court concluded that petitioner does not identify any purported error in the social-distinction standard applied by the BIA in its order. In this case, the BIA agreed with the IJ that petitioner's proposed groups do not satisfy the social-distinction test because he has not shown that gang members who have renounced their gang membership are recognized in Salvadoran society to be a distinct group. The court concluded that the IJ did not apply the wrong standard and correctly stated that the relevant inquiry was whether "society in El Salvador recognizes former gang members as a group." The court explained that, although the IJ referred to petitioner's repeated testimony that his tattoos would identify him as a former gang member, it did not employ a literal visibility standard for social distinction. The court also concluded that the record does not support petitioner's claim that the IJ failed to consider the documentary evidence in assessing whether his proposed social groups were cognizable. To the contrary, the IJ made clear reference to documents submitted by petitioner and DHS. Finally, the court concluded that, viewed as a whole, the administrative record does not compel a finding that Salvadoran society views former MS-13 members or former MS-13 members who left for moral reasons as socially distinct.In regard to petitioner's CAT claim, the court concluded that the IJ and BIA specifically addressed some of the evidence petitioner contends they ignored; the BIA similarly referenced country-conditions evidence; and petitioner presents nothing to rebut the presumption that the agency considered that evidence to the extent it was relevant. The court also concluded that substantial evidence supported the BIA's finding that petitioner has not shown it is more likely than not he will be tortured if removed to El Salvador. View "Nolasco v. Garland" on Justia Law

Posted in: Immigration Law
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Galvan, a citizen of Mexico, entered the U.S. in 2003 on a six-month nonimmigrant visa but remained in this country with his wife, a citizen of Mexico without legal immigration status, and their four U.S.-citizen children. Galvan, twice convicted of DUI, applied for cancellation of removal, 8 U.S.C. 1229b, arguing that his removal would result in “exceptional and extremely unusual hardship” for his children. His wife testified that Galvan had been the family’s main source of income, his absence during his detention had required her to work longer hours, which had impacted her ability to take care of the children. One child had been diagnosed with ADHD and suffers from anxiety; his wife was concerned that the children would not be able to participate in their established activities.While the IJ found all the witnesses credible, he denied Galvan’s application; Galvan met the temporal and good moral character criteria for cancellation and had not been convicted of any disqualifying offenses but failed as a matter of law to prove that his removal would cause “exceptional and extremely unusual hardship.” The BIA affirmed. The Fourth Circuit denied a petition for review. While the statutory standard of “exceptional and extremely unusual hardship” presents a mixed question of law and fact, giving the court jurisdiction, the IJ did not err in determining that Galvan failed to prove eligibility for cancellation of removal. View "Galvan v. Garland" on Justia Law

Posted in: Immigration Law
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Petitioner and her minor daughter petitioned for review of the BIA's final order affirming the denial of their application for asylum, withholding of removal, and protection under the Convention Against Torture (CAT). At issue on appeal is whether the IJ and the BIA erred in concluding that petitioner failed to demonstrate that she was persecuted on account of her membership in her proposed particular social group, namely her nuclear family.Under well-established precedent in this circuit, and based on the unrebutted, substantial evidence in the record, the Fourth Circuit held that any reasonable adjudicator would be compelled to conclude that petitioner's membership in her nuclear family was at least one central reason for her persecution. Petitioner has established a nexus between her membership in her proposed particular social group and the persecution she suffered. In this case, the court agreed with petitioner's contention that she has established that she was persecuted in Honduras on account of her membership in her proposed social group where gang members extorted money from her each month because her husband worked in the United States. Furthermore, the IJ and the BIA erred by applying a legally incorrect and "excessively narrow" approach to analyzing whether petitioner satisfied the statutory nexus requirement. Accordingly, the court reversed the agency's determination as to nexus, vacated the final order of removal and the denial of petitioner's application for asylum and withholding, and remanded for further proceedings. Finally, the court concluded that it lacked jurisdiction to consider petitioner's CAT claim because she failed to exhaust all available administrative remedies. View "Perez Vasquez v. Garland" on Justia Law

Posted in: Immigration Law