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CA7 on Categorical Approach: Aguirre-Zuñiga v. Garland

June 17, 2022 (1 min read)

Aguirre-Zuñiga v. Garland

"Jonathan Aguirre-Zuniga became a lawful permanent resident of the United States in 2007. Approximately ten years later, he pled guilty to delivery of methamphetamine in Indiana. The Department of Homeland Security concluded that his conviction was an aggravated felony subjecting him to deportation, and the Immigration Judge (IJ) and the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) agreed. The question before the Court is whether the Indiana law prohibiting the delivery of methamphetamine criminalizes more conduct than the corresponding federal law given that Indiana defines “methamphetamine” in a way federal law does not. Aguirre-Zuniga’s freedom to remain in the United States hangs in the balance. For when a state statute is broader than its federal counterpart, a conviction under that statute cannot trigger a noncitizen’s deportation. We hold that Aguirre-Zuniga’s conviction is not an aggravated felony for purposes of removal because the statute of his conviction is facially overbroad. We therefore grant Aguirre-Zuniga’s petition, vacate the BIA’s decision, and remand for further proceedings. ... The government’s view ... begs the question: How does Indiana law define “methamphetamine”? The government’s brief is mum on the issue. And, when asked at oral argument, the government responded that “meth means meth.” But that recursive logic does not comport with the chemistry. ... The government’s position would have us drive the Indiana Statute into a no man’s land. We decline to do so. ... Because there are optical and positional isomers of methamphetamine, and the Indiana legislature chose not to limit the Indiana Statute to optical isomers at the time of Aguirre-Zuniga’s conviction, “Indiana’s generic use of ‘isomer’ in relation to methamphetamine must be broader than optical isomers.” De La Torre, 940 F.3d at 951. Section 35-48-4-1.1 was facially overbroad at the time of Aguirre-Zuniga’s conviction; thus, it does not qualify as an aggravated felony under the INA. We therefore GRANT Aguirre-Zuniga’s petition, VACATE the BIA’s decision, and REMAND the matter to the BIA for further proceedings consistent with this opinion."

[Hats off to Adam Gershenson, Adam Katz, Andrew Barr and Chuck Roth!]