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CA10 Stop-Time Victory: Estrada-Cardona v. Garland

August 17, 2022 (2 min read)

Estrada-Cardona v. Garland

"The Attorney General may allow otherwise-removable aliens to remain in the country if, among other things, they have accrued 10 years of continuous physical presence in the United States. We call this form of discretionary relief “cancellation of removal.” Under the statutory “stop-time rule,” the period of continuous physical presence ends (A) when the alien is served with a notice to appear, or (B) when the alien has committed certain criminal offenses. 8 U.S.C. § 1229b(d)(1). Nothing more, nothing less. In the latest installment of “What Triggers the Stop-Time Rule?” the Government asks us to hold that the issuance of a final order of removal is a third, extra-statutory event sufficient to stop the clock. The plain language of the statute supports no such conclusion. Declining to read ambiguity into a statute where none exists, we hold a final order of removal does not stop the accrual of continuous physical presence. ... This petition for review represents the latest chapter in the Government’s ongoing efforts to dig itself out of a hole it placed itself in. ... After years of statutory short-circuiting, the Government finds itself in the uncomfortable position of being wrong. ... Because Congress unambiguously replaced the final-order rule with the stop-time rule, the BIA’s application of the final-order rule was legal error. Petitioner continued to accrue continuous physical presence after the immigration judge issued the order to voluntarily depart. ... [W]e hold that because the BIA seems to have considered change-in-the-law equitable tolling arguments before, the BIA abused its discretion in this case by failing to “announce its decision in terms sufficient to enable a reviewing court to perceive that it has heard and thought and not merely reacted.” ... We cannot discern why the BIA found no extraordinary circumstance which would warrant equitable tolling, so the BIA abused its discretion. ...  On remand, the Government is free to argue that Petitioner should not be granted sua sponte reopening or equitable tolling. This opinion is expressly limited to two conclusions. First, the BIA’s application of the final-order rule was legal error. Second, the BIA’s explanations for denying sua sponte reopening and equitable tolling constituted, as a procedural matter, an abuse of discretion. For the reasons stated herein, we GRANT the petition for review and REMAND to the BIA for further proceedings not inconsistent with this opinion."

[Hats way off to Jennifer M. Smith and Mark Barr!]