Holder v. Gutierrez; Holder v. Sawyers

Opinion Summary:

An immigration statute, 8 U.S.C. 1229b(a), authorized the Attorney General to cancel the removal of an alien from the United States who, among other things, has held the status of a lawful permanent resident (LPR) for at least five years, and has lived in the United States for at least seven continuous years after a lawful admission. Respondents both sought to impute their parents' years of continuous residence or LPR status to themselves. At issue was whether the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) could reasonably conclude that an alien living in this country as a child must meet those requirements on his own, without counting a parent's years of residence or immigration status. The Court held that the BIA's approach was based on a permissible construction of the statute under Chevron U.S.A. Inc. v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc.

NOTE: Where it is feasible, a syllabus (headnote) will be released, as is being done in connection with this case, at the time the opinion is issued. The syllabus constitutes no part of the opinion of the Court but has been prepared by the Reporter of Decisions for the convenience of the reader. See United States v. Detroit Timber & Lumber Co., 200 U. S. 321 .




certiorari to the united states court of appeals for the ninth circuit

No. 10–1542. Argued January 18, 2012—Decided May 21, 2012 [ 1 ]

Title 8 U. S. C. §1229b(a) authorizes the Attorney General to cancel the removal of an alien from the United States who, among other things, has held the status of a lawful permanent resident (LPR) for at least five years, §1229b(a)(1), and has lived in the United States for at least seven continuous years after a lawful admission, §1229b(a)(2). These cases concern whether the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA or Board) should impute a parent’s years of continuous residence or LPR status to his or her child. That issue arises because a child may enter the country lawfully, or may gain LPR status, after one of his parents does—meaning that a parent may satisfy §1229b(a)(1) or §1229b(a)(2), while his child, considered independently, does not. In In re Escobar, 24 I. & N. Dec. 231, the BIA concluded that an alien must meet §1229b(a)’s requirements on his own. But the Ninth Circuit found the Board’s position unreasonable, holding that §1229b(a)(1) and §1229b(a)(2) require imputation. See Mercado-Zazueta v. Holder, 580 F. 3d 1102; Cuevas-Gaspar v. Gonzales, 430 F. 3d

Respondent Martinez Gutierrez illegally entered the country with his family in 1989, when he was 5 years old. Martinez Gutierrez’s father was lawfully admitted to the country two years later as an LPR. But Martinez Gutierrez was neither lawfully admitted nor given LPR status until 2003. Two years after that, he was apprehended for smuggling undocumented aliens across the border. Admitting the offense, he sought cancellation of removal. The Immigration Judge concluded that Martinez Gutierrez qualified for relief because of his father’s immigration history, even though Martinez Gutierrez could not satisfy §1229b(a)(1) or §1229b(a)(2) on his own. Relying on Escobar, the BIA reversed. The Ninth Circuit then granted Martinez Gutierrez’s petition for review and remanded the case to the Board for reconsideration in light of its contrary

Respondent Sawyers was lawfully admitted as an LPR in October 1995, when he was 15 years old. At that time, his mother had already resided in the country for six consecutive years following a lawful entry. After Sawyers was convicted of a drug offense in August 2002, the Government began removal proceedings. The Immigration Judge found Sawyers ineligible for cancellation of removal because he could not satisfy §1229b(a)(2). The BIA affirmed, and Sawyers petitioned the Ninth Circuit for review. There, he argued that the Board should have counted his mother’s years of residency while he was a minor toward §1229b(a)(2)’s 7-year continuous-residency requirement. The Court of Appeals granted the petition and remanded the case to the

Held: The BIA’s rejection of imputation is based on a permissible construction of §1229b(a). Pp. 6–

(a) The Board has required each alien seeking cancellation of removal to satisfy §1229b(a)’s requirements on his own, without relying on a parent’s years of continuous residence or immigration status. That position prevails if it is a reasonable construction of the statute, whether or not it is the only possible interpretation or even the one a court might think best. See e.g., Chevron U. S. A. Inc. v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc., 467 U. S. 837 –844, and n. 11. The BIA’s approach satisfies this

The Board’s position is consistent with the statute’s text. Section 1229b(a) does not mention—much less require—imputation. Instead, it simply calls for “the alien” to meet the prerequisites for cancellation of removal. See §§1101(a)(13)(A) and (a)(33). Respondents contend that this language does not foreclose imputation, but even if so, that is not enough to require the Board to adopt that policy. Pp. 6–

(b) Neither does the statute’s history and context mandate imputation. Section 1229b(a) replaced former §212(c) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), which allowed the Attorney General to prevent the removal of an alien with LPR status who had maintained a “lawful unrelinquished domicile of seven consecutive years” in this country. Like §1229b(a), §212(c) was silent on imputation. But every Court of Appeals that confronted the question concluded that, in determining eligibility for §212(c) relief, the Board should impute a parent’s years of domicile to his or her child. Based on this history, Sawyers contends that Congress would have understood §1229b(a)’s language to provide for imputation. But in enacting §1229b(a), Congress eliminated the very term—“domicile”—on which the appeals courts had founded their imputation decisions. And the doctrine of congressional ratification applies only when Congress reenacts a statute without relevant change. See Jama v. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, 543 U. S. 335

Nor do the INA’s purposes demand imputation. As respondents correctly observe, many provisions of immigration law advance the goals of promoting family unity and providing relief to aliens with strong ties to this country. But these are not the INA’s only goals, and Congress did not pursue them at all costs. For example, aliens convicted of aggravated felonies are ineligible for cancellation of removal, regardless of the strength of their family ties, see §1229b(a)(3). In addition, as these cases show, not every alien with LPR status can immediately get the same for a spouse or minor child. A silent statute cannot be read as requiring imputation just because that rule would be family-friendly. Pp. 7–

(c) Respondents advance two additional arguments for why the Board’s position is not entitled to Chevron deference. First, they claim that the Board’s approach to §1229b(a) is arbitrary because it is inconsistent with the Board’s acceptance of imputation under other, similar provisions that are silent on the matter. See §1182(k) and §1181(b). But the Board’s decision in Escobar provided a reasoned explanation for these divergent results: The Board imputes matters involving an alien’s state of mind, while declining to impute objective conditions or characteristics. See 24 I. & N. Dec., at 233–234, and n. 4. Section 1229b(a) hinges on the objective facts of immigration status and place of residence. See id., at 233. So the Board’s approach to §1229b(a) largely follows from one straightforward

Second, respondents claim that the BIA adopted its no-imputation rule only because it thought Congress had left it no other choice. But Escobar belies this contention. The Board did explain how §1229b(a)’s text supports its no-imputation policy. But the Board also brought its experience and expertise to bear on the matter: It noted that there was no precedent in its decisions for imputing status or residence, and it argued that allowing imputation under §1229b(a) would create anomalies in the statutory scheme. Escobar thus expressed the BIA’s view that statutory text, administrative practice, and regulatory policy all pointed toward disallowing imputation. In making that case, the opinion reads like a multitude of agency interpretations to which this and other courts have routinely deferred. Pp. 10–

No. 10–1542, 411 Fed. Appx. 121; No. 10–1543, 399 Fed. Appx. 313, reversed and

Kagan, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court.


1  Together with No. 10–1543, Holder, Attorney General v. Sawyers, also on certiorari to the same court.

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