The Supreme Court heard oral argument on Monday in a case that raises a critical question of whether a federal court can review a noncitizen’s eligibility for certain types of discretionary immigration relief, or whether that decision rests on the sole determination of a government agency official.
The case—Patel v. Garland—centers around Pankajkumar Patel, a native of India, who erroneously checked a box on a Georgia drivers’ license application labeled “U.S. citizen.” That mistake has haunted him for years while trying to adjust his status.
The immigration statute, including the provisions governing review of eligibility determinations for discretionary relief is complicated. But as the Supreme Court has recognized in other cases, the presumption of access to judicial review is clear. Such review is a crucial element of our country’s commitment to due process.
At issue in this case is a section of the immigration statute that controls judicial review of orders of removal where a noncitizen seeks one of five specific types of relief from removal. Among those types are adjustment of status and cancellation of removal.
Patel is a noncitizen who filed for adjustment of status after living and working in the United States for 15 years, based on a petition filed by his employer. An immigration court determined he was ineligible for adjustment of status because the government claimed Patel misrepresented that he was a U.S. citizen when he inadvertently checked the relevant box on an application for a Georgia drivers’ license.
Patel tried to appeal, arguing that he checked the box in error, but the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals said that it did not have jurisdiction over the question because the immigration statue prohibited judicial review over the eligibility determination.
Immigration court proceedings generally have two stages: a removal stage and a relief stage. First, the court must determine if the immigrant is removable. Logically, not until after the court determines removability may the person ask for relief from that removal order. At the relief stage, a court must answer two questions: first, whether the noncitizen is eligible for relief; and second, whether the court should grant that relief in its discretion.
The immigration court found Patel ineligible for relief. His attorneys argued that all questions as to the eligibility for relief should be reviewable, because the immigration statute only prohibits review of the ultimate discretionary decision to grant relief.
Counsel for the government argued that any question of eligibility that is subject to a discretionary determination should not be reviewed under the terms of the statute but agrees that Patel’s case is not subject to such a determination. However, a Supreme Court-appointed attorney defending the lower court’s decision argued for no review of any questions of eligibility, subject to limited statutory exceptions.
If the Supreme Court adopts the lower court’s position, whether a noncitizen can access further court review may depend on the initial charging decision of an immigration official. This is because charges of whether a noncitizen is removable in the first place can overlap with whether they are eligible for certain forms of relief.
As the friend-of-the-court brief submitted by the American Immigration Council and its co-signatories highlights, the Supreme Court previously rejected the idea that the availability of immigration relief should rely on such arbitrary charging decisions.
Moreover, noncitizens seeking adjustment of status who are not in court proceedings would have no chance for a court to review an official’s determination that they are ineligible for such relief. Such a position goes against multiple cases decided by the Supreme Court that have recognized a strong presumption in our country in favor of judicial review.
The Justices did not reveal how they would rule in this case at oral argument, but they asked many pointed questions recognizing the importance of judicial review. There is reason to hope that the Court will follow its past decisions and once again emphasize the critical importance of judicial review.
FILED UNDER: Supreme Court