Justia U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Immigration Law
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Nkemchap Nelvis Takwi sought review of a decision by the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) dismissing his appeal from a removal order entered by an Immigration Judge (IJ) and denying his motion to remand. Mr. Takwi was a 36-year-old native and citizen of Cameroon. In August 2019, he came to the United States without authorization and claimed he would be persecuted if returned to Cameroon. An asylum officer conducted an interview and found Mr. Takwi had a “credible fear of persecution.” Shortly thereafter, the government charged Mr. Takwi as “subject to removal” because he was a noncitizen who attempted to enter the United States without valid entry documents. The Tenth Circuit granted the petition and remanded this matter to the BIA because the IJ did not make an explicit adverse credibility determination, and the BIA did not afford Mr. Takwi the required rebuttable presumption of credibility. View "Takwi v. Garland" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Gabriel Villegas-Castro was a Mexican citizen who entered the United States without being admitted or paroled. The government sought removal, and Villegas-Castro requested asylum, cancellation of removal, withholding of removal, and protection under the Convention Against Torture. The Board of Immigration Appeals ordered removal, rejecting all of Villegas-Castro’s requests. In its opinion, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals addressed three issues involving: (1) the scope of the immigration judge’s authority when the Board orders a remand; (2) the Board’s failure to apply the clear-error standard to the immigration judge’s factual findings; and (3) the immigration judge’s discretion to reconsider eligibility for withholding of removal and deferral of removal under the Convention Against Torture. The Court found: the immigration judge properly considered petitioner's second application for asylum but the Board's reasoning did not support its denial of asylum; and the Board erred in failing to apply the clear-error standard. With regard to the Convention Against Torture, the Court found the immigration judge abated consideration of these applications, but the Board sua sponte rejected the applications, concluding that Villegas-Castro couldn’t obtain relief because the immigration judge had earlier deemed Villegas-Castro ineligible for withholding of removal under federal law and the Convention Against Torture. The Tenth Circuit found the immigration judge had discretion to revisit these conclusions. "Until the immigration judge entered a final decision on removal, the Board had no basis to sua sponte deny withholding of removal or deferral of removal under the Convention Against Torture." The Court granted the petition for judicial review, and remanded the matter for the Board to reconsider Villegas-Castro’s application for asylum, to apply the clear-error standard to the immigration judge’s credibility findings, and to reconsider the applications for withholding of removal and deferral of removal under the Convention Against Torture. View "Villegas-Castro v. Garland" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Edgar Tarango-Delgado appealed the Board of Immigration Appeals’ (“BIA”) denial of his two motions to reopen his removal proceedings. Tarango-Delgado, a Mexican citizen, came to the United States in 1977, when he was seven months old. He became a lawful permanent resident at age ten. And for almost four decades, he lived in the U.S. with his parents, siblings, wife, and children. In 2015, state police arrested Tarango-Delgado and charged him with aggravated animal cruelty, a felony. He pleaded guilty to that charge. But, before entering his plea, his counsel failed to advise him that pleading guilty would have deportation consequences because aggravated animal cruelty was a crime of moral turpitude. A few months after he pleaded guilty, the government commenced removal proceedings. Tarango-Delgado moved for post-conviction relief in state court, arguing he received ineffective assistance of counsel. This was ultimately denied, and Tarango-Delgado was removed in 2017. Almost a year after his removal, a Colorado state court ruled on Tarango-Delgado’s ineffective-assistance-of-counsel motion, concluding that Tarango-Delgado had not “knowingly and voluntarily” pleaded guilty to the aggravated-animal-cruelty charge, and vacated his conviction and reinstated the original aggravated-animal-cruelty charge. In January 2019, Tarango-Delgado filed his first motion to reopen his immigration proceedings before an IJ. The IJ denied Tarango-Delgado’s motion to reopen. In late February or early March 2019, a few days after the IJ denied Tarango-Delgado’s first motion to reopen, he reentered this country without authorization. And a few weeks later, after the Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”) learned about the illegal reentry, it reinstated Tarango-Delgado’s prior removal order. Tarango-Delgado applied for withholding of removal under the Convention Against Torture (“CAT”). An asylum officer found that Tarango-Delgado credibly feared returning to Mexico and referred his petition to an IJ. But the IJ denied his petition for CAT relief. The BIA affirmed. Tarango-Delgado pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor animal-cruelty charge, which by definition would no longer qualify as a crime of moral turpitude. Tarango-Delgado then filed a second motion to reopen his immigration proceedings. The government raised a new argument: Tarango-Delgado's motion could not be considered because he had illegally reentered the U.S. after being removed. Tarango-Delgado appeals the BIA’s denial of his two motions to reopen. Because the Tenth Circuit concluded that 8 U.S.C. 1231(a)(5) barred the reopening of his removal proceedings, the BIA’s denials were affirmed. View "Tarango-Delgado v. Garland" on Justia Law

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Jenifer Miladis Alvarado-Diaz and Magdaly Suleydy Perez-Velasquez appealed the district court’s affirmance of their convictions for entering the United States in violation of 8 U.S.C. 1325(a)(1). Alvarado and Perez crossed the U.S.-Mexico border into New Mexico by walking around a fence, miles away from the nearest designated port of entry. Alvarado was stopped by a border patrol agent after she made it about 180 yards past the border, and a border patrol agent saw Perez just as she walked into the country. Each was detained. Alvarado and Perez admitted to the agents that they were nationals of El Salvador and Guatemala, respectively, and had no authorization to enter the country. They contended “enter” was a term of art that required more than a physical intrusion; it also required “freedom from official restraint” and “inspection or intentional evasion of inspection.” The district court affirmed the convictions because, even assuming freedom from official restraint was required for an “entry,” the Defendants were not under official restraint. The defendants argued they were under official restraint because they had been continuously surveilled, but the court noted that continuous surveillance alone did not equate to restraint. On appeal to the Tenth Circuit, defendants reiterated arguments made at the district court. The Tenth Circuit rejected these arguments and affirmed the district court's judgment. View "United States v. Perez-Velasquez" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Tojiddin Berdiev faced immigration removal proceedings since 2007. After more than a decade of petitions, motions, and appeals, the Board of Immigration Appeals denied Berdiev’s untimely motion to reopen removal proceedings (Berdiev’s second motion), then denied Berdiev’s motion to reconsider. In each of its two orders, the Board held that: (1) Berdiev was not entitled to equitable tolling of his untimely motion to reopen; and (2) exercise of the Board’s sua sponte reopening authority was unwarranted. Berdiev argued to the Tenth Circuit that the Board abused its discretion in making the first determination and relied on an erroneous legal premise in making the second. On equitable tolling, the Court concluded the Board did not abuse its discretion. On the exercise of the Board’s sua sponte reopening authority, however, the Court concluded the Board at least partly relied on a legally erroneous rationale; the Court could not determine whether the Board would have reached the same outcome independently based solely on valid reasons. Accordingly, the Court granted Berdiev’s petitions for review, vacated the Board’s two orders solely as to the sua sponte reopening decision, and remanded to the Board to reconsider that decision. View "Berdiev v. Garland" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Victor Zarate-Alvarez, a native and citizen of Mexico, sought review of a Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) decision denying his application for cancellation of removal. Zarate pleaded guilty to knowing or reckless child abuse in violation of Colorado law. Several years later, the Department of Homeland Security initiated removal proceedings, charging him with removability under 8 U.S.C. 1182(a)(6)(A)(i) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) because he was present without having been admitted or paroled. Zarate conceded removability and filed an application for cancellation of removal under 8 U.S.C. 1229b(b). After a hearing, an Immigration Judge (IJ) denied the application, concluding that Zarate was ineligible for cancellation under section 1229b(b)(l)(C) because his state child abuse conviction constituted “a crime of child abuse, child neglect, or child abandonment” within the meaning of 8 U.S.C. 1227(a)(2)(E)(i). The BIA agreed with the IJ’s determination and dismissed Zarate’s appeal. Challenging the Board's decisions, Zarate argued: (1) the BIA’s most recent interpretations of section 1227(a)(2)(E)(i) were not entitled to deference; and (2) his state conviction was not a categorical match to a “crime of child abuse” as defined by the Board. The Tenth Circuit rejected both arguments and affirmed the Board. View "Zarate-Alvarez v. Garland" on Justia Law

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Petitioners Ana Orellana-Recinos and her son, Kevin Rosales-Orellana, natives and citizens of El Salvador, sought review of a Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) order dismissing their appeal of an immigration judge's (IJ) dismissal of their applications for asylum. They contended they were persecuted because of their membership in a particular social group: namely, Kevin’s immediate family. Even assuming that Kevin’s immediate family qualified as a particular social group under the Immigration and Nationality Act, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals concluded the BIA properly found that Petitioners were not persecuted “on account of” their membership in that group. In addition, the Court rejected the government’s argument that the Court lacked jurisdiction to review Petitioners’ challenge to the BIA’s decision. View "Orellana-Recinos v. Barr" on Justia Law

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Defendant-Appellant Abiel Perez-Perez pled guilty to being an alien in possession of a firearm. On appeal, he challenged the district court’s failure to advise him of two elements of that offense: (1) the alien was illegally or unlawfully present in the United States; and (2) the alien knew that he was illegally or unlawfully present. The government conceded that the omission of these elements constituted error that was now plain on appeal. The only dispute was whether Perez satisfied the third and fourth prongs of plain-error review. The Tenth Circuit concluded Perez could not satisfy the third prong because he could not show that the error affected his substantial rights. "Although Perez has a credible claim that, at the time of the offense, he did not know he was unlawfully present in the United States, he has failed to show a reasonable probability that he would not have pled guilty but for the district court’s error. This is because the context of Perez’s guilty plea makes clear that he pled guilty to avoid mandatory minimum sentences attached to charges the government dismissed in exchange for the guilty plea. Perez fails to show how the district court’s error impacted that choice, and he thus fails to satisfy the third plain-error prong." View "United States v. Perez-Perez" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Daniel Awuku-Asare appealed a Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) decision to affirmed his removal order. Awuku-Asare entered the country on a nonimmigrant F-1 visa and could lawfully remain in the United States so long as he complied with the conditions of his visa. Relevant here, maintaining an F-1 visa status requires maintaining a full course of study at an approved educational institution. But Awuku-Asare did not comply with this full-course-of-study requirement because he was incarcerated for approximately 13 months for a crime of which he was ultimately acquitted. In an issue of first impression for the Tenth Circuit, Awuku-Asare argued that “the failure to maintain status must be attributable to the nonimmigrant to render him [removable],” and that because of circumstances beyond his control caused the lapse in his status, he was not removable. The Tenth Circuit determined the plain meaning of the relevant statute did not support Awuku-Asare's interpretation, therefore his arguments were rejected and the BIA's decision affirmed. View "Awuku-Asare v. Garland" on Justia Law

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Ethiopian native, petitioner Thewodros Wolie Birhanu petitioned the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals for review of a final order of removal issued by the Board of Immigration Appeals (“BIA”). The BIA dismissed Birhanu’s appeal of the Immigration Judge's (“IJ”) decision finding him removable. The BIA and the IJ found: (1) Birhanu was removable as an alien convicted of two or more crimes involving moral turpitude (“CIMTs”) not arising out of a single scheme of criminal misconduct; (2) he was not entitled to asylum or withholding of removal because his convictions qualified as particularly serious crimes; and (3) he was not entitled to relief under the Convention Against Torture (“CAT”). The Tenth Circuit dismissed Birhanu's claims under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act as unexhausted, and denied the balance of his petition for review on the merits. View "Birhanu v. Wilkinson" on Justia Law