Esquivel-Quintana v. Lynch: Our Reply Brief

We have now submitted our reply brief to the Supreme Court, in response to the Government’s brief in opposition to our petition.

In the reply, we take aim at the Government’s assertion that there is no significant disagreement among the circuit courts of appeals on the question of what constitutes “sexual abuse of a minor” in the context of consensual sex between a person age 16 or 17 and another person who is 3 years older.  We criticize the Government’s characterization of the Ninth Circuit’s decision in Estrada-Espinoza v. Mukasey (2008), a unanimous decision of 11 judges that a conviction under California Penal Code 261.5(c) – the same statute under which our client was convicted – is not “sexual abuse of a minor.”

We also disagree with the Government’s assertion that the Ninth Circuit could change course and conclude that such a conviction is sexual abuse of a minor – we find such a possibility extremely unlikely.  And we find fault with the Government’s approach to the cases in the Fourth and Tenth Circuits – both finding that consensual sex in this context is not “sexual abuse of a minor.”

Perhaps even more importantly, the Government’s silence speaks volumes in response to our argument that the Supreme Court’s decision in Taylor v. United States applies to our case.  In its silence, the Government appears to either concede that Taylor applies, or else assume that it does not apply to our case.  If Taylor applies, then the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) and the Sixth Circuit were required to consider a definition of the crime of conviction that is derived from the way in which the term is now used in the criminal codes of most states and federal law. 

And it is undeniable that the Federal Government, 43 states and the District of Columbia have laws that do not criminalize consensual sex between a 17-year-old and a person 3 years older.  According to the requirements of Taylor, a definition of “sexual abuse of a minor” could not include a conviction under California Penal Code 261.5(c).

In our reply to the Government’s opposition, we also assert that the Sixth Circuit should not have deferred to the BIA’s decision under a 1984 Supreme Court case called Chevron U.S.A. v. Natural Resources Defense Council, for two reasons.  First, the approach required by Taylor resolves the issue, and deference to the BIA is not warranted.  Second, because the term “sexual abuse of a minor” has both criminal and civil applications in federal law, the criminal rule of lenity trumps Chevron deference.

The Government appears to be arguing that the term “sexual abuse of a minor” can mean two different things – it can mean one thing in a civil proceeding, and a different thing in a criminal proceeding.  The Government’s position goes against numerous Supreme Court cases stating that a statute must mean the same thing in all contexts.

In the coming weeks, the Supreme Court will be considering whether to accept our case for consideration.  The odds are stacked against us.  The Supreme Court only accepts about 5 percent of the cases presented to it, despite the fact that many of those cases are wrongly decided at the appeals court level.  We hope that we can beat the odds in this case.

The Importance of Definitions in the Law

This week, we plan to file our reply to the Government’s opposition to our petition in the Supreme Court in Esquivel-Quintana v. Lynch.  For now, I would like to focus on the importance of definitions in the law.

Our client was convicted of a crime under a statute in California – California Penal Code 261.5(c) – that makes it a crime to have consensual sex between a person under age 18 and another person more than 3 years older.  That conduct is perfectly legal under federal law – see 18 U.S. Code Section 2243 – and the laws of 43 states and the District of Columbia.  California is one of only 7 states that makes such conduct a crime.

Here is where the importance of definitions comes in.  In 1990, the U.S. Supreme Court, in a case called Taylor v. United States, declared that in order to increase a prison sentence under a federal statute for persons who re-offend, the reviewing court must work with a definition of the crime at issue that is clear and uniform throughout the country.

In Taylor, the crime at issue was burglary.  The problem in that case was that each of the 50 states had their own separate definitions of what “burglary” was.  Mr. Taylor was convicted of burglary under a state statute, but his prison sentence was being increased because of a federal statute.  The Supreme Court ruled that reviewing courts need a clear working definition of “burglary” – a definition that the reviewing court needs to determine based on a number of sources, including federal law, the laws of the 50 states, and other sources.

In subsequent cases, the Supreme Court has held that the requirement in Taylor applies in cases involving noncitizens who have been convicted of crimes and who are subsequently charged in Immigration Court as being removable or “deportable” from the United States as a result of their criminal convictions.  If a noncitizen is convicted of a crime under a state law, then the reviewing courts in the subsequent removal proceedings – Immigration Courts, the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA), and U.S. courts of appeals – must work with a definition of the crime of conviction that is derived from the contemporary, “generic sense in which the term is now used in the criminal codes of most States,” federal law, and the Model Penal Code. Taylor v. United States, 495 U.S. 575, 598 (1990).

Since at least 2007, in a case called Gonzales v. Duenas-Alvarez, the Supreme Court has applied this requirement from Taylor to the immigration context.  In subsequent cases, including as recently as June 2016, the Supreme Court has continued to require courts to determine a definition of the crime of conviction based on federal law, the laws of most states, and other factors.  See, for example, the Supreme Court’s decisions in Nijhawan v. Holder, (2009), Kawashima v. Holder, (2012), and Moncrieffe v. Holder, (2013).  In the Supreme Court’s most recent case citing Taylor, although the case did not directly address an immigration matter, the Supreme Court mentioned the application of Taylorto immigration cases.  Mathis v. United States, (2016).

In our case, we argue that the requirement of Taylor v. United States applies.  And we argue that the fact that the conduct for which our client was convicted is perfectly legal under federal law, as well as the laws of 43 states and the District of Columbia, means that under Taylor, our client’s conviction is not an “aggravated felony” under immigration law, because conduct that is perfectly legal in such a large majority of the country, and under federal law, could not meet the definition of “sexual abuse of a minor” under the requirements of Taylor.

In their brief in opposition, the Government mentioned Taylor in only one paragraph in which the Government described the Sixth Circuit’s approach to our case.  The Government did not argue that Taylor does not apply.

We will be following up later this week regarding our reply to the Government’s brief in opposition in our case at the Supreme Court.

Esquivel-Quintana v. Lynch: Government’s Opposition

On July 11, 2016, my colleagues and I submitted a petition to the U.S. Supreme Court to review the decision of the Sixth Circuit that upheld the Board of Immigration Appeals holding that my client’s conviction is an aggravated felony.

On September 16, 2016, the Solicitor General of the United States, the office representing the U.S. government against my client, submitted a brief in opposition to our petition.

As I explained in an earlier posting about our petition, we have several reasons for requesting review by the Supreme Court.  

First, the U.S. Courts of Appeals are deeply divided over the question of whether a conviction like my client’s – consensual sex between a 21-year-old and a person just under age 18 – is an “aggravated felony” under U.S. immigration law.

Second, we all need to receive a clear definition of what “sexual abuse of a minor” is, and what it is not.  Only by knowing what the immigration and deportation consequences of a conviction actually are may we all act accordingly – noncitizens, prosecutors, and attorneys representing noncitizens.

Third, we believe that the Sixth Circuit made an incorrect decision in our case.  The U.S. Supreme Court, in a case called Taylor v. United States, requires a clear definition of what constitutes a particular crime.  In our case, we need to know exactly what “sexual abuse of a minor” is, and what it is not.  Under the federal law, the laws of 43 states, and the law of the District of Columbia, consensual sex between a person age 21 and person just under age 18 is not a crime at all.  Under the Supreme Court’s holding in Taylor v. United States, the BIA should have provided a clear definition of what “sexual abuse of a minor” is, and it appears clear that my client’s conviction is not “sexual abuse of a minor.”

The Solicitor General’s brief in opposition claims that there exists no conflicts among the courts of appeal about the definition of “sexual abuse of a minor.”  The government’s assertion appears to ignore the decisions of the 4th, 9th, and 10th Circuits, all of which have rejected the BIA’s case law regarding “sexual abuse of a minor.”

The Solicitor General also argues that the 9th Circuit could, in future cases, agree with the BIA’s decision in Matter of Esquivel-Quintana, the BIA’s decision in our case.  The Solicitor General’s assertion appears extremely unlikely to become a reality.  First, the Department of Homeland Security is not likely to prosecute cases within the 9th Circuit because of the 9th Circuit’s unanimous en banc decision in Estrada-Espinoza v. Mukasey, which held that a conviction for consensual sex between a person under age 18 and a person more than 3 years older – the exact same statute under which my client was convicted – is not an aggravated felony for purposes of immigration law.

In fact, the Department of Homeland Security did not prosecute my client until he left the 9th Circuit and moved to Michigan, in the 6th Circuit.  Second, even if the Department of Homeland Security decided to prosecute such cases within the 9th Circuit, it is not likely that the 9th Circuit would follow the BIA’s holding in our case.  To do so would require the 9th Circuit to have another en banc decision to overturn its own precedent.  This is not likely, in light of the fact that the 9th Circuit has repeatedly followed and reaffirmed its own precedent in this area of the law.

The Solicitor General’s brief in opposition largely appears to ignore our argument that the BIA and the Sixth Circuit failed to comply with the requirements of Taylor v. United States.  Apparently, the Solicitor General might be taking the position that Taylor does not apply to our case.

I will continue to post updates regarding this case as it develops in the weeks and months ahead.

Esquivel-Quintana v. Lynch: “Sleeper” Case?

Next week, we expect to receive the Solicitor General’s response to our petition to the Supreme Court for a writ of certiorari in Esquivel-Quintana v. Lynch.  And, we expect that in October, the Supreme Court will be considering whether or not to accept the case for review.

Meanwhile, David Feder has posted about the case in the Yale Journal on Regulation.

Mr. Feder was one of the attorneys representing the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers in an amicus brief to the Supreme Court regarding our case.

In his post, Mr. Feder argues that if the Supreme Court decides to hear the case, the Court should take the approach that Chevron deference is not appropriate in this case because the statute at issue is a hybrid statute – a civil statute that has criminal law applications.  If the Court takes this approach, then the Court could conclude that the rule of lenity applies, which would mean that if the statute at issue is ambiguous, then my client’s conviction should not be considered to be an “aggravated felony” for purposes of immigration law.

We will continue to provide updates regarding this case.

Esquivel-Quintana v. Lynch: Amicus Brief

The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) has submitted an amicus brief to the Supreme Court in support of our petition.

For more details on this case, please visit:  Cert Petition.   Introduction.   Part 1.  Part 2.   Sixth Circuit Decision.

The NACDL brief asks the Supreme Court to hear our case for two main reasons – because the criminal rule of lenity is important and should be applied to this case, and because the Sixth Circuit’s and the BIA’s handling of the case results in serious problems for persons accused of certain crimes, criminal defense lawyers, and immigration lawyers.

First, NACDL explains that the list of crimes labeled “aggravated felonies” in the Immigration and Nationality Act makes up a statute that has both civil and criminal applications, and is thus referred to as a “hybrid” statute.  The NACDL argues, in agreement with Judge Jeffrey Sutton’s dissent in the Sixth Circuit decision in our case, that if the “hybrid” statute at issue in our case is “ambiguous,” meaning capable of two or more different valid interpretations, then the criminal rule of lenity applies.

The rule of lenity is similar to the baseball rule that the “tie goes to the batter” – if the runner gets to the base at exactly the same time as the fielder with the ball, then the runner is safe.  Similarly, if a statute with criminal applications is ambiguous, then the statute must be interpreted in a manner that is more favorable to the criminal defendant.

Second, NACDL argues that the BIA and the Sixth Circuit handled the categorical approach in an improper way that led to the result against my client.  The Supreme Court has stated, in a number of cases, that agencies such as the BIA and reviewing courts must use a “generic, contemporary definition” of a crime – a definition that is shared by a majority of states, as well as the federal government.

At issue in this case is the definition of “sexual abuse of a minor.”  A major problem with the way the BIA and the Sixth Circuit handled this case is that neither ever provided a “generic, contemporary defintion” of what “sexual abuse of a minor” actually IS.  As a result, my client was labeled as an “aggravated felon” and deported from the United States, because he engaged in conduct that is perfectly legal under federal law, as well as the laws of 43 states and the District of Columbia.  As NACDL explains, the BIA and the Sixth Circuit failed to apply the categorical approach correctly in this case.

Because we still don’t know exactly what “sexual abuse of a minor” is, because the BIA has not told us what it is, criminal defense attorneys and immigration lawyers are not able to properly advise their clients who have been charged with certain crimes, because no one knows whether a certain crime will end up being labeled as an “aggravated felony,” because, again, we don’t have a clear definition of what “sexual abuse of a minor” is.

NACDL urges the Supreme Court to hear this case, in order to clear up the disagreements among the circuit courts, to address the issue of the rule of lenity, and to provide a proper application of the categorical approach, so that we will all be able to know, once and for all, what the “aggravated felony” of “sexual abuse of a minor” is, and what it is not.

USCIS expands provisional unlawful presence waivers to LPRs

USCIS has announced that, beginning August 29, 2016, more persons will be eligible to seek an I-601A provisional waiver of unlawful presence.  Eligibility for the I-601A waiver will be extended to spouses and children of lawful permanent residents.  Eligibility will also extend to the spouses and children who accompany or follow to join the principal immigrants.

The full details of this expansion are available here.

Before this expansion, only spouses and children of U.S. citizens were eligible to apply for the I-601A provisional waiver of unlawful presence.  Beginning August 29, 2016, spouses and children of lawful permanent residents, or “green-card” holders, will also be eligible to apply for the I-601A waiver.

The I-601A provisional waiver provides a significant advantage over the regular I-601 waiver.  The main advantage is that the applicant may apply for the I-601A provisional waiver before leaving the United States to attend the interview for an immigrant visa at a U.S. Consulate or Embassy.  As a result, the amount of time that the applicant spends outside the United States is greatly reduced, from a matter of months or years in some cases, to a matter of weeks in the majority of cases.

Please remember that this expansion of the I-601A provisional waiver of unlawful presence will not take place until August 29, 2016.

Applications for waivers are complex.  I strongly suggest that you work closely with an experienced immigration attorney to handle your waiver application.  I have years of experience handling many waiver applications with success.  Please give me a call at the office at (734) 369-3131 or email me at mike@mcarlinlaw.com for more information.

DAPA: Petition for Rehearing

The Solicitor General’s Office – the part of the U.S. Department of Justice that handles litigation at the Supreme Court – has filed a petition for rehearing of the DAPA case.  The request is for the Supreme Court to rehear the DAPA case after a ninth justice has been appointed to the Court.

The Solicitor General’s petition acknowledges that it is “exceedingly rare” for the Supreme Court to grant rehearing, but that the Court has done so in the past after being deadlocked as a result of a vacancy on the Court, as in this case.

Whether or not the Supreme Court grants rehearing, it is possible that this case could go before the Supreme Court in the future, because if the Supreme Court does not grant rehearing, then the case could continue in the federal district court in South Texas, and then again at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, and then eventually at the Supreme Court.

DAPA: The Aftermath

After the U.S. Supreme Court issued its non-decision in the DAPA case, essentially stating that the lower court’s ruling remains in effect, the DAPA case continues as if the Supreme Court had never accepted the case in the first place.

The case is in the early stages.  It will now return to the U.S. District Court in south Texas, presumably to continue the process of determining whether President Obama’s plan to provide temporary relief from removal to parents of U.S. citizens, and to expand DACA (“DACA 2.0”), is valid or not.

One thing is clear.  The original DACA program remains valid.  You might be eligible to apply for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) if:

  • You were born after June 15, 1981;
  • You came to the United States before reaching your 16th birthday;
  • You have continuously resided in the United States since June 15, 2007, up to the present time;
  • You were physically present in the United States on June 15, 2012, and at the time of making your request for consideration of deferred action with USCIS;
  • You entered the United States without inspection before June 15, 2012, or your lawful immigration status expired as of June 15, 2012;
  • You are currently in school, have graduated or obtained a certificate of completion from high school, have obtained a general education development (GED) certificate, or are an honorably discharged veteran of the Coast Guard or Armed Forces of the United States; and
  • You have not been convicted of a felony, significant misdemeanor, three or more other misdemeanors, and do not otherwise pose a threat to national security or public safety.

But the future of DAPA and DACA 2.0 is uncertain.  Because the Supreme Court did not decide the issue, the case is now back at the federal district court in south Texas.  The case will probably remain pending for many months, and will likely not be decided before the inauguration of the next President of the United States.  The next President could decide to continue to try to move forward with DAPA and DACA 2.0, or to terminate the program.

For now, one thing is clear, at least until the inauguration of the next President:  The original DACA program is still in effect.

Esquivel-Quintana v. Lynch: Cert Petition

I have been representing Mr. Esquivel-Quintana in his immigration case since 2013.  In previous posts, I have described details about the case.  You may find them here:   Introduction.   Part 1.   Part 2.   Sixth Circuit Decision.

In a nutshell, the Board of Immigration Appeals concluded that Mr. Esquivel-Quintana, who came to the United States as a lawful permanent resident at age 12, is an “aggravated felon” because he was convicted in California of engaging in consensual sex with his girlfriend when he was 21 and she was under 18.  The U.S. government deported Mr. Esquivel-Quintana after the BIA’s decision.  The U.S. Court of Appeals, in a divided 2-1 decision, upheld the Board’s decision.

Today, July 11, 2016, in collaboration with Jeffrey Fisher, Professor of Law at Stanford Law School and Co-Director of Stanford’s Supreme Court Litigation Clinic, and other professors at Stanford, we are submitting a petition to the U.S. Supreme Court.  In our petition, which you may view here, we are asking the Supreme Court to review Sixth Circuit’s decision.

With very few exceptions, the U.S. Supreme Court has the discretion to grant or deny any petition for review.  The Supreme Court declines to review of the vast majority of petitions presented.  Despite these odds, we hope that the Supreme Court will decide to hear our case.

In asking the Supreme Court to review the Sixth Circuit’s decision, we are focusing on the fact that the Board of Immigration Appeals in this case has concluded that conduct that is legal under federal law, in 43 states and in the District of Columbia is an aggravated felony for purposes of immigration law.  Moreover, six of the seven states that criminalize this conduct treat it simply as technically unlawful sex; those states have separate crimes on the books that they label as “sexual abuse” of a minor, for conduct that is more serious than simply consensual sex between a person age 21 and a person under age 18.

We have several reasons for requesting review by the Supreme Court.  First, the U.S. Courts of Appeals have deep disagreements regarding the question of whether the conviction at issue in this case – consensual sex between a 21-year-old and a person just under age 18 – is an “aggravated felony” under U.S. immigration law.  Four appeals courts agree with the BIA that such conduct is an aggravated felony:  the Second, Third, Sixth, and Seventh Circuits.  Three appeals courts have determined that such conduct is not an aggravated felony:  the Fourth, Ninth, and Tenth Circuits.

Second, this case presents an issue that is extremely important for many noncitizens, as well as criminal prosecutors and criminal defense attorneys throughout the nation.  Immigrants, prosecutors, and defense attorneys all need to know what the law is, in order to act accordingly.  Mr. Esquivel-Quintana was convicted in California, which is in the Ninth Circuit, which had decided already in previous cases that the conviction is not an aggravated felony.  Mr. Esquivel-Quintana then moved to Michigan, where he was arrested and detained by U.S. immigration officials and eventually deported as an “aggravated felon” because Michigan is in the Sixth Circuit, which decided (in Mr. Esquivel-Quintana’s case) that his California conduct is an “aggravated felony.”  The Sixth Circuit reached this conclusion despite the fact that in Michigan, consensual sex between a person age 21 and a person just under 18 is perfectly legal.  So, persons convicted of this crime in a jurisdiction that has ruled that it is not an aggravated felony are safe, but by crossing state lines into a jurisdiction in which a court of appeals has determined that such conduct is an aggravated felony, are subject to being labeled as “aggravated felons” and deported, as Mr. Esquivel-Quintana was.  This situation makes it extremely difficult for prosecutors and attorneys to inform noncitizens of how to plead to criminal charges, and even where to travel within the United States.

Third, we assert that the Sixth Circuit’s decision in this case was incorrect.  In our view, the BIA and the Sixth Circuit ignored the Supreme Court’s requirements for clearly defining what the meaning of “sexual abuse of a minor” is.  The fact that federal law, 43 states, and the District of Columbia all deem consensual sex between a 21-year-old and a person just under age 18 to be perfectly legal should have led the BIA and the Sixth Circuit to conclude that such conduct is not “sexual abuse of a minor” under federal immigration law.

As noted above, the Supreme Court declines the review the vast majority of cases presented.  We hope that the Supreme Court will decide that our case is one of those few cases that the Supreme Court decides to review.

We will keep you updated on the progress of our petition.  We expect that the Supreme Court will decide whether or not to review our case either by the end of 2016 or by early 2017.

Waivers for Unlawful Presence

If you entered the United States without permission, you might be eligible to apply for a waiver of unlawful presence.  Depending on the circumstances of your situation, you might be able to obtain the waiver, and then obtain permanent resident (green card) status.  Best of all, you might be able to remain in the United States while your application is pending.  If you are approved for the waiver, you would travel to a U.S. consulate outside the United States for an immigrant visa, and then you would return to the United States with the visa and become a permanent resident.  Your time outside the United States, in most cases, is approximately 2 weeks.

In order to be eligible to apply for this type of waiver, you must have either a spouse or parent who is a U.S. citizen.  You must also meet certain other requirements in order to be eligible.  For example, certain criminal convictions might make you ineligible to apply for this type of waiver.

In order to be granted the waiver, you would need to convince U.S. immigration officials that the denial of the waiver would result in an “extreme hardship” to your U.S. citizen spouse or parent.  The question of what qualifies as “extreme hardship” is complicated.  For more information about extreme hardship, please see my previous postings on the subject:

What is “extreme hardship”?  Part 1

What is “extreme hardship”?  Part 2

The process of obtaining a waiver of unlawful presence is complex.  In order to avoid problems and to have the best chance of success, you should work with an experienced immigration attorney.  I have handled many immigration waiver cases and I have a strong record of success.  I would be glad to speak with you about your case.  Please contact my office for details.  Thank you.