In May 2022, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down a decision to prevent non-citizens, even those without criminal records, from appealing deportation orders based on administrative errors. The case is Patel vs. Garland.
Mr. Patel's Mistake
The case was brought by a man who had entered the U.S. illegally as a young man. For almost three decades, Mr. Patel and his wife lived as law-abiding U.S. residents. They raised three sons, all of whom are now U.S. citizens. In 2007, Mr. Patel applied to become a permanent resident so that he could obtain a green card and seek lawful employment. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services agency refers to this as applying for an adjustment of status.
Georgia law permits people with pending green-card applications to apply for a driver's license. Therefore, while waiting for the process to move forward, Mr. Patel filled out an application for a Georgia driver's license.
In filling out his application, Mr. Patel incorrectly checked a space self-identifying as a U.S. citizen. This mistake, which he later testified was unintentional, eventually led to his being denied a green card and ordered for deportation a decade later.
The Consequences of Mr. Patel's Mistake
After Mr. Patel turned over his driver's license application to a clerk, an examiner discovered that Mr. Patel had erroneously marked that he was a citizen. Based on this, his license application was rejected, and the Georgia attorney general charged him with willfully supplying incorrect information to a state agency. Mr. Patel insisted he had made a simple mistake. Soon afterward, the Georgia Attorney General's office decided it did not have enough evidence to prove a crime and dropped the prosecution. Although Mr. Patel was never charged with or convicted of a crime, USCIS stopped processing Mr. Patel's application for a green card. A few years later, the agency decided to deport Mr. Patel.
The Deportation Order Appeal
Mr. Patel appealed the deportation order to the Bureau of Immigration Appeals, requesting discretionary relief from deportation based on having built a life for himself and his family in the U.S. At the hearing, the immigration judge questioned Mr. Patel as to how and why he had misrepresented his legal status on the driver's license application all those years ago. The judge observed Mr. Patel as he testified and decided he was not telling the truth. In his opinion rejecting Mr. Patel's request, the judge noted that when Mr. Patel had first entered the U.S., he had not been truthful about his reasons for emigrating from his native country. Using this as additional justification for doubting Mr. Patel's credibility, the judge rejected Mr. Patel's appeal.
The Supreme Court Decision
Mr. Patel appealed to a higher court, and the case eventually made its way onto the Supreme Court's Fall 2021 docket. In Patel vs. Garland, the Court rejected Mr. Patel's appeal by a slim 5-4 vote. The majority framed the dispute as being over whether an appellate court is permitted to overturn an immigration decision based on the lower court's determination of the facts–in this case, the judge's assessment that the petitioner was not credible. The majority noted the axiom of law that an appellate court cannot re-evaluate the facts and evidence as decided by the lower court but must accept the lower court's determinations. The appellate court's role is limited to deciding whether the lower court applied the law correctly. Using this premise, the majority held that appellate courts are not permitted to challenge lower courts' decisions regarding the facts (here, Mr. Patel's credibility) and therefore lack jurisdiction over the appeal. The larger holding is that appellate courts may not overturn a lower-court decision based on factual errors.
The Patel vs. Garland dissent framed the issue differently. It stated that Mr. Patel's deportation order had been based on an error, namely USCIS's failure to realize that he had been legally permitted to apply for a driver's license while his green card request was pending, so what he had written in the citizenship space did not matter.
The dissent pointed out that the Georgia attorney general had dropped its efforts to prosecute Mr. Patel because it lacked sufficient evidence to prove he had committed a crime. Thus, the immigration judge's assessment of Mr. Patel's credibility was unnecessary and beside the point because Mr. Patel had a legal right to apply for a driver's license. The dissent lamented that the majority's ruling would make it impossible for those seeking permanent legal residency to appeal immigration-court decisions, even when the rulings are based on the most glaring bureaucratic errors.
Contact an Experienced Immigration Attorney in Palm Beach
To schedule a consultation with experienced Palm Beach immigration attorney Jacqueline Delgado, call Delgado Law Group at (561) 342-1429 or schedule a consultation here.