Federal courts could not review U.S. Attorney General’s decisions denying a discretionary removal waiver — even in a case where the alien argues the decision was based on factual error, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled, 5-4, affirming the opinion of the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit. Patel vs. Garlandn° 20-979 (May 16, 2022).
The ruling was written by Judge Amy Coney Barrett. She was joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Samuel Alito, Brett Kavanagh and Clarence Thomas. The Supreme Court had granted a review to resolve a split in the circuits.
In this case, Pankajkumat Patel and his wife applied for discretionary relief from removal and deportation in the form of two different applications for adjustment of status. They had entered the United States illegally in the 1990s. They have three sons – a US citizen and two lawful permanent residents. In 2007, the Patels attempted to redress their situation by seeking discretionary relief, but their claims for adjustment were denied because Patel had claimed to be a US citizen by checking the wrong box on a driver’s license application. He argued that it was a simple mistake on his part and that he had no intention or reason to pretend to be a US citizen to get a driver’s license because in Georgia (where he lived) , he was eligible for a driver’s license based on having a pending adjustment request and valid work authorization.
The U.S. government supported Patel and argued that the factual findings were not discretionary and, therefore, subject to review. Since the government did not support the Eleventh Circuit’s decision, the Supreme Court appointed an amicus to plead on its behalf, Taylor AR Meehan, a former 11and Circuit and Supreme Court Judicial Clerk. Meehan is one of the few women to have been selected for this role. Meehan argued that all authoritative decisions encompassing all decisions related to granting or denying discretionary relief are not reviewable.
Judge Neil Gorsuch, joined by Judges Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, expressed strong dissent:
It’s no secret that when processing applications, licenses and permits, the government sometimes makes mistakes. Often it’s petty names — a misspelled name, a misplaced app. But sometimes a bureaucratic error can have life-changing consequences. Our case is such a case. An immigrant to this country has applied for legal residency. The government rejected his candidacy. Apparently, the government did so based on a glaring factual error. In such circumstances, our law has long allowed individuals to ask a court to review the matter and correct any errors.
No more. Today, the Court holds that a federal bureaucracy can make an obvious factual error, which will result in the expulsion of an individual from this country, and nothing can be done about it. No court can even hear the case. It’s a bold claim promising disastrous consequences for countless legal immigrants. And it’s such an unlikely assertion of raw administrative power that not even the agency that allegedly erred, or any other branch of executive power, endorses it. The majority today acts alone to protect the government from the embarrassment of having to correct even its most obvious errors.
Partly because of auto voter laws, other immigrants since 2017 have made Patel’s mistake. The severity of this ruling further underscores how one small mistake can ruin an immigrant’s chance to immigrate to the United States.
© 2022 Jackson LewisNational Law Review, Volume XII, Number 139