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Immigration Law

CA6 on Asylum, Waiver, Jurisdiction: Hussam F. v. Sessions

Hussam F. v. Sessions - "Four years ago, Petitioner came to the United States on a K-1 fiancé visa, using a Syrian passport. Although he was a Syrian citizen, his family had fled Syria decades ago to escape persecution. Petitioner therefore had difficulty obtaining a passport from a Syrian consulate in the usual manner, and he instead relied on his father to get a passport for him through unknown contacts in Syria. As it would turn out, however, this was a mistake. The passport was not legitimate; it had been stolen from the Syrian government while blank, and Petitioner’s biographical information was later inscribed without official approval. When U.S. immigration officials learned of this, they initiated removal proceedings. An immigration judge (“IJ”) concluded that Petitioner was removable, but granted withholding of removal and asylum based on the risk of religious persecution that Petitioner would face if removed to Syria. The IJ also granted him a waiver of removal under 8 U.S.C. § 1227(a)(1)(H), a statute that, if certain eligibility requirements are met, permits waiver of an alien’s inadmissibility due to fraud or misrepresentation. The Government appealed, however, and the Board of Immigration Appeals (“BIA” or “Board”) reversed in part. The Board affirmed the grant of withholding, but concluded that Petitioner was not entitled to asylum or to the § 1227(a)(1)(H) waiver. The Board reasoned that he was statutorily ineligible for asylum, and that he did not deserve that form of relief as a matter of the Board’s discretion because he intentionally failed to tell immigration officials about the non-traditional manner in which his passport had been obtained. The Board also concluded that, with respect to the waiver, Petitioner neither met the statutory eligibility requirements nor merited the waiver as a matter of the Board’s discretion. Petitioner now seeks review of the BIA’s decision. As explained below, the Board’s discretionary denial of asylum amounted to an abuse of discretion because the Board unreasonably applied its own binding precedent. That precedent dictates that asylum may not be denied solely due to violations of proper immigration procedures, and also that the danger of persecution—which all agree exists in this case—should outweigh all but the most egregious countervailing factors. As for the waiver, by statute courts are generally deprived of jurisdiction to review discretionary determinations such as the denial of a waiver under § 1227(a)(1)(H). This jurisdictional limitation does not apply here, however, because the BIA engaged in de novo review of the IJ’s factual findings, in violation of its regulatory obligation to review those findings only for clear error. ... The petition for review is granted and the case is remanded to the BIA for further proceedings consistent with this opinion."

[Hats off to Sehla Ashai, Kristine Cruz and Pei Yu!  Here's a link to the audio of the oral argument.]