Immigration in the Supreme Court, 2020 Term

by Kevin R. Johnson


In the 2020 Term, the Supreme Court decided five immigration cases. The U.S. government prevailed in four of the five cases, an 80 percent success rate. This rate was higher than that seen in recent Terms. In my estimation, there are no blockbusters among the five immigration decisions. The decisions primarily focused on interpreting the complexities of the Immigration & Nationality Act. The cases are in the chronological order of their decision.

  1. Pereida v. Wilkinson. Holding: A noncitizen seeking cancellation of removal, who bears the burden of persuasion to secure relief, fails to carry his burden of showing that he has not been convicted of a disqualifying offense when the conviction is ambiguous about whether it included a disqualifying offense. U.S. government wins.

Kate Evans for SCOTUSblog encapsulates the impacts of the decision:

"Under the majority’s reasoning, the decision is limited to cutting off deportation relief when a noncitizen’s conviction could be for a disqualifying or non-disqualifying offense and the criminal records are unclear. . . . What is clear is that unavailable or insufficient court records will prevent many long-time immigrants from even asking an immigration judge to consider the hardship of deportation on their U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident family members. For them, instead of leaving the decision to the immigration judge’s discretion, deportation is now mandatory." 

  1. Niz-Chavez v. Garland. Holding:A notice to appear sufficient to trigger the stop-time rule for measuring the time necessary for cancellation of removal is a single document containing all the information about the individual’s removal hearing specified in 8 U.S.C. § 1229(a)(1). Niz-Chavez is a follow-up to the Court's decision in Pereira v. Sessions (2018), which held that a the Notice to Appear (NTA) is invalid if it does not specify the date and time of the hearing. That decision has had significant ripple effects on the notices provided to noncitizens by the U.S. government. Noncitizen wins.

Ashley Oldfield in the Wake Forest Law Review notes that: "Thus, Niz-Chavez presents another opportunity to challenge an immigration court’s jurisdiction. After all, `if men must turn square corners when they deal with the government, it cannot be too much to expect the government to turn square corners when it deals with them.'”

  1. Garland v. Dai,Garland v. Alcaraz-Enriquez. Holding:The Ninth Circuit's judicially-created rule that, absent an express adverse credibility finding by an immigration judge or the Board of Immigration Appeals, a court of appeals must treat the noncitizen’s testimony as credible, is inconsistent with the Immigration and Nationality Act. U.S. government wins.

Victoria Neilson for CLINIC sums up the decision as follows:

"The Dai decision does not fundamentally change appellate review in asylum cases other than within the Ninth Circuit. It remains to be seen whether this interpretation will affect any other areas of judicial review beyond the limited credibility determination analysis in this case. . . . 

Once the BIA issues its decision, federal courts will employ highly deferential review, upholding the BIA’s finding regarding credibility unless `any reasonable adjudicator' should have reached the opposite conclusion. Practitioners should be mindful of these standards at each stage of review and craft their arguments accordingly. Where the record contains conflicting evidence, practitioners should explain why the inconsistencies should not lead to a finding of adverse credibility." (bold added)

  1. Sanchez v. Mayorkas. Holding: The Court held 9-0 that two Temporary Status (TPS) recipients from El Salvador, who was not lawfully admitted into the United States, is not eligible to adjust his status to lawful permanent resident. This decision affected tens of thousands of TPS recipients, many of whom had been threatened with loss of their legal status by the Trump administration. U.S. government wins.

Elura Nanos for Law and Crime encapsulated the decision as follows:

"The Supreme Court of the United States unanimously decided Sanchez v. Mayorkas . . . , ruling that a married couple who fled earthquakes in El Salvador cannot receive green cards even though they have been lawfully in the U.S. for 20 years . . . . The ruling, which has potential to affect hundreds of thousands of immigrants with TPS, was not unexpected, but is being hailed as evidence of the urgency to create a `pathway to citizenship” for TPS holders and other immigrants.'"

  1. Johnson v. Guzman Chavez: The issue in the case was whether the detention of a noncitizen who is subject to a reinstated removal order and who is pursuing withholding of removal based on alleged persecution is governed by one of two provisions of the immigration statute (8 U.S.C. § 1231 or 8 U.S.C. § 1226). Jack Chin described the case as "rais[ing] a complex question about bond for migrants in removal proceedings." Since 1996, when Congress expanded the immigrant detention powers of the U.S. government, the courts have seen increasing numbers of immigration detention cases in recent years.

Holding: The Court held that 8 U.S.C. § 1231, not § 1226, governs the detention of noncitizens subject to reinstated orders of removal. Section 1231, which the U.S. government argued applied, was narrower than Section 1226, in providing bond hearings to noncitizens. Justice Alito delivered the opinion of the Court, except as to footnote 4, which was joined by Chief Justice Roberts, Kavanaugh, and Barrett. Justice Breyer, joined by Justices Sotomayor and Kagan dissented. The dissent summarized the case as follows:

"The question in this case is whether respondents are entitled to a bond hearing while immigration authorities engage in the lengthy process of determining whether respondents have the legal right (because of their fear of persecution or torture) to have their removal withheld. The Court points to two statutory provisions that might answer that question. The first, §1226, is a more general provision governing detention, and favors respondents. It says that `pending a decision on whether the alien is to be removed from the United States,' 8 U. S. C. §1226(a), the Government `may release the alien on . . . bond' or `conditional parole.' §§1226(a)(2)(A), (B) . . . . The second, §1231, is a provision that more specifically applies to `aliens ordered removed,' and can be read to favor the Government because it does not expressly provide for a bond hearing during what it calls the 90-day `removal period.' 8 U. S. C. §1231(a)(2) . . . .

The Court agrees with the Government."

U.S. government wins.

***

By my count, the Supreme Court decided eight immigration cases in the 2019 Term, including the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (Department of Homeland Security v. Regents of the University of California) and the expedited removal (Department of Homeland Security v. Thuraissigiam) cases. It does not seem to me that the Court's immigration decisions this Term were as significant in terms of legal change or impacts as either of the DACA or expedited removal cases.

The Court might have ended up reviewing more immigration cases. The Court dropped from the docket a couple of cases after the Biden administration changed Trump administration policies. Those cases were challenges to the controversial Migrant Protection Protocol (Remain in Mexico) policy and the Trump administration's reinvigorated "public charge" rule.

There are, of course, other decisions from the 2020 Term that do directly interpret the U.S. immigration laws but will affect noncitizens. One of those cases is Borden v. United States, which involved the interpretation of the term "violent felony" in a federal criminal statute and likely will affect the interpretation of "aggravated felony" for removal purposes. 

So far, the Court has only granted certiorari in one immigration case for the 2021 Term. Patel v. Garland raises the question whether 8 U.S.C. 1252(a)(2)(B)(i) precludes judicial review of non-discretionary determinations underlying the determination of the Board of Immigration Appeals that a noncitizen is inadmissible to the United States for permanent residence and therefore ineligible for adjustment of status. John Elwood for SCOTUSblog explained the basics of the case as follows:

"Petitioner Pankajkumar Patel checked a box on a Georgia driver’s license application falsely stating that he is a U.S. citizen, even though he was eligible for a license regardless of his citizenship. . . . When Patel later sought to adjust his status to lawful permanent resident and obtain a green card, a divided panel of the Board of Immigration Appeals denied him relief, holding that he is inadmissible because he `falsely represented' himself as a U.S. citizen for a benefit under state law. . . . . When Patel sought review of that decision, the en banc U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit parted with decisions of other courts — and rejected the government’s own reading of the governing statute — to hold that the court lacked jurisdiction to review threshold eligibility findings for discretionary relief from removal, including whether the immigrant is inadmissible for incorrectly representing himself as a U.S. citizen. (The government takes the position that the statute forecloses only review of discretionary decisions not to grant relief, not factual findings that are factored into those decisions.) "

This post originally appeared on ImmigrationProf Blog. Reprinted with permission.


About The Author

Kevin R. Johnson is Dean, Mabie-Apallas Professor of Public Interest Law, and Professor of Chicana/o Studies. He joined the UC Davis law faculty in 1989 and was named Associate Dean for Academic Affairs in 1998. Johnson became Dean in 2008. He has taught a wide array of classes, including immigration law, civil procedure, complex litigation, Latinos and Latinas and the law, and Critical Race Theory. In 1993, he was the recipient of the law school's Distinguished Teaching Award.


The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinion of ILW.COM.