Yesterday the Ninth Circuit sitting en banc issued a 6-5 decision in Cuellar de Osorio v. Mayorkas, an immigration case that has a very good chance of making it onto the Supreme Court’s plenary docket this fall.
The decision affects a child’s ability to immigrate to the U.S. with their undocumented parent if the child turns twenty-one before the U.S. finishes processing their parent’s visa (which can take years).
In 1998, Rosalina Cuellar de Osorio’s mother, a U.S. Citizen, petitioned the U.S. to let her daughter immigrate to the U.S. as the beneficiary of a family-sponsored immigrant visa. Later that year, her visa was approved. Rosalina’s son, who was thirteen years old at the time, was also set to receive a visa and immigrate to the U.S. as soon as his mother received her visa because he was unmarried and under the age of twenty-one.
But due to the limited number of visas issued each year, Lisa’s name was placed on a lengthy waiting list. Finally, just months after her son’s twenty-first birthday in 2005, Rosalina received her visa and was granted entry into the U.S. Rosalina’s son, who had qualified for a visa as a derivative beneficiary of his mother back in 1998, had “aged out” of his beneficiary status by 2005, however. He was therefore no longer eligible to immigrate with his mother as her “child.”
As such, Rosalina asked the U.S. to keep her son’s name at the top of the waiting list as if he had applied for a visa back in 1998, pursuant to section 3 of the Child Status Protection Act. The U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services denied Rosalina’s request, concluding that the Act did not apply to “derivative beneficiaries” like her son. The district court that subsequently reviewed the decision ultimately deferred to the immigration judge’s interpretation of the Act.
On appeal before the entire Ninth Circuit, the 6-5 majority reversed the decision, instead “conclude[ing] that the plain language of the CSPA unambiguously grants automatic conversion and priority date retention to aged-out derivative beneficiaries.”
Writing for the five dissenters, Judge Milan D. Smith, Jr. argued that the Act was not clear on the issue, as evidenced by the following conflicting interpretations:
The statutory provision at issue in this case, 8 U.S.C. § 1153(h), “is far from a model of clarity.” Robles-Tenorio v. Holder, 444 F. App’x 646, 649 (4th Cir. 2011). The Second Circuit recently held that § 1153(h)(3) means the exact opposite of what the majority holds. See Li v. Renaud, 654 F.3d 376, 382-83 (2d Cir. 2011). Other courts, including the original three-judge panel in this case, concluded that § 1153(h)(3) is ambiguous, and that the Board of Immigration Appeals’s (BIA) decision is entitled to deference under Chevron U.S.A. Inc. v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc., 467 U.S. 837 (1984). See, e.g., Cuellar de Osorio v. Mayorkas, 656 F.3d 954, 965-66 (9th Cir. 2011), vacated, 677 F.3d 921 (9th Cir. 2012); Zhong v. Novak, No. 08-4597, 2010 WL 3302962, at *7-9 (D.N.J. Aug. 18, 2010); Co v. U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Serv., No. CV 09-776-MO, 2010 WL 1742538, at *4 (D. Or. Apr. 23, 2010); cf. Robles-Tenorio, 444 F. App’x at 649 (“It is unclear whether the text and structure of (h)(1) and (h)(3) can be reconciled in any coherent or reasonable fashion.”). If the meaning of § 1153(h)(3) were truly as clear and unmistakable as the majority holds, it certainly has eluded more than its share of reasonable jurists.
The dissent goes on to note rather ironically that “there is currently a circuit split over whether the existence of a circuit split is evidence of statutory ambiguity,” citing the following cases:
Compare Snell Island SNF LLC v. NLRB, 568 F.3d 410, 419-20 (2d Cir. 2009) (evidence), vacated on other grounds, 130 S. Ct. 3498 (2010), McCreary v. Offner, 172 F.3d 76, 82-83 (D.C. Cir. 1999) (same), and In re S. Star Foods, Inc., 144 F.3d 712, 715 (10th Cir. 1998) (same), with Allapattah Servs., Inc. v. Exxon Corp., 333 F.3d 1248, 1254 n.4 (11th Cir. 2003) (not evidence), aff’d, 545 U.S. 546 (2005), and Rosmer v. Pfizer Inc., 263 F.3d 110, 118 (4th Cir. 2001) (same).