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Immigration Law

CA10 on Jurisdiction, REAL ID, Habeas, Suspension Clause, Citizenship, Exhaustion: Gonzalez-Alarcon v. Macias

Gonzalez-Alarcon v. Macias - "Abraham Gonzalez-Alarcon filed a habeas petition under 28 U.S.C. § 2241 alleging specific facts which, if proven, would demonstrate that he is a United States citizen. He seeks release from custody from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (“ICE”) following ICE’s reinstatement of a prior order of removal on that basis.

Dismissing Gonzalez-Alarcon’s petition, the district court concluded that he was required to exhaust administrative remedies, jurisdiction was barred by the REAL ID Act, and the petition for review process is an adequate substitute for habeas such that the REAL ID Act’s jurisdiction-stripping provisions do not offend the Suspension

We conclude that the exhaustion provision at issue, 8 U.S.C. § 1252(d), does not govern facially valid citizenship claims. That subsection applies only to aliens. And because district courts have jurisdiction to determine their own jurisdiction, a court must first consider whether a petitioner is in fact an alien before requiring exhaustion. If a petitioner is a citizen, the provision does not apply.

We further hold that the REAL ID Act’s jurisdiction-stripping provisions raise serious Suspension Clause concerns in one limited context. With respect to a United States citizen subject to a reinstated order of removal for whom the deadline to seek judicial review has passed, the REAL ID Act appears to bar federal court review. These restrictions would effectively strip citizenship from those who do not clear various procedural hurdles. Citizenship cannot be relinquished through mere neglect. Afroyim v. Rusk, 387 U.S. 253, 268 (1967). And “[t]he very nature of the writ demands that it be administered with the initiative and flexibility essential to insure that miscarriages of justice within its reach are surfaced and corrected.” Harris v. Nelson, 394 U.S. 286, 291 (1969). Under the Suspension Clause, Gonzalez-Alarcon must be granted some path to advance his facially valid claim of citizenship in federal court.

Before permitting Gonzalez-Alarcon to proceed under the Great Writ, however, we conclude he should first attempt to obtain review of his citizenship claim through the REAL ID Act. In a similar case, the Ninth Circuit held that a habeas petitioner should file a motion to reopen his immigration proceedings—even though such a motion would be procedurally improper—and file a petition for review of any denial challenging the “jurisdictional issue” of citizenship. Iasu v. Smith, 511 F.3d 881, 893 (9th Cir. 2007). In Gonzalez-Alarcon’s case, such a petition would be filed in the Fifth Circuit, where his original removal proceedings occurred. See § 1252(b)(2). We ordered supplemental briefing as to whether Gonzalez-Alarcon could obtain judicial review of his citizenship claim by following the procedure suggested in Iasu. The government represents to us that Gonzalez-Alarcon “could appeal the denial of such a motion to reopen to the Fifth Circuit in a petition for review.” In light of this position, we conclude that the appropriate course of action is to stay our hand until Gonzalez-Alarcon has attempted to obtain judicial review within the confines of the REAL ID Act. Exercising jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1291, we vacate the district court’s decision and remand with instructions to dismiss without prejudice.