Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Romero v. Barr

United States Court of Appeals, Fourth Circuit

August 29, 2019

JESUS HUMBERTO ZUNIGA ROMERO, Petitioner,
v.
WILLIAM P. BARR, Attorney General, Respondent.

          Argued: May 8, 2019

          On Petition for Review of an Order of the Board of Immigration Appeals.

         ARGUED:

          Benjamin Ross Winograd, IMMIGRANT & REFUGEE APPELLATE CENTER, LLC, Alexandria, Virginia, for Petitioner.

          Rebecca Hoffberg Phillips, UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE, Washington, D.C., for Respondent.

         ON BRIEF:

          Georgeanna M. Gardner, GARDNER LAW, PLLC, Raleigh, North Carolina, for Petitioner.

          Joseph H. Hunt, Assistant Attorney General, John S. Hogan, Assistant Director, Office of Immigration Litigation, Civil Division, UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE, Washington, D.C., for Respondent.

          Before AGEE, FLOYD, and THACKER, Circuit Judges.

          AGEE, CIRCUIT JUDGE:

         After an immigration judge ("IJ") denied Jesus Zuniga Romero's request for administrative closure of his case-which would have removed it from the IJ's active docket pending the completion of a separate immigration proceeding-Romero petitioned the Board of Immigration Appeals ("BIA") for review. Although the BIA initially sustained Romero's appeal and administratively closed his case, it later dismissed the appeal after a precedential decision issued by the Attorney General in Matter of Castro-Tum, 27 I. & N. Dec. 271 (A.G. 2018). In Castro-Tum, the Attorney General concluded that IJs and the BIA do not have the general authority to administratively close cases. Romero now brings a petition for review of the BIA's decision to this Court. For the reasons we discuss below, we grant Romero's petition for review, vacate the BIA's decision, and remand for proceedings consistent with this opinion.

         I.

         In 2013, the Department of Homeland Security ("DHS") commenced removal proceedings against Romero, a citizen of Honduras, for being present in the United States without being admitted or paroled. See 8 U.S.C. § 1182(a)(9)(B)(ii). Although Romero accepted a grant of voluntary departure at a hearing before an IJ in 2014, he subsequently sought and received reopening of his case after the IJ determined that Romero was the beneficiary of a pending Form I-130[1] filed by his wife, who was then a lawful permanent resident ("LPR").

         After the I-130 had been approved, Romero filed a motion for administrative closure, advising that his wife had since become a naturalized U.S. citizen and that he wished to file a Form I-601A[2] for a provisional unlawful presence waiver. In order to file the Form, the removal proceedings had to be administratively closed. See 8 C.F.R. § 212.7(e)(4)(iii). As discussed further below, administrative closure is a procedural mechanism primarily employed for the convenience of the adjudicator (namely, IJs and the BIA) in order to allow cases to be removed from the active dockets of immigration courts, often so that individuals can pursue alternate immigration remedies-such as, in Romero's case, pursuing a provisional unlawful presence waiver. Romero advised that if his case were administratively closed, then once the waiver had been approved, he intended to move to re-calendar and terminate removal proceedings so that he could then go through the consular process in Honduras.

         At the final hearing in March 2017, the IJ ultimately denied Romero's motion for administrative closure on the basis that he did not satisfy any of the factors outlined in Matter of Avetisyan, 25 I. & N. Dec. 688 (B.I.A. 2012). Romero appealed to the BIA, which sustained his appeal, concluding in part that he had met "several if not all" of the Avetisyan factors. A.R. 21. The BIA then administratively closed Romero's case.

         In December 2017, DHS filed a motion to reconsider. While that motion was pending, the Attorney General issued a precedential decision in Matter of Castro-Tum concluding that no statute or regulation grants IJs or the BIA the general authority to administratively close proceedings. Further, the Attorney General held that IJs and the BIA may only administratively close cases in situations where a specific regulation or judicially-approved settlement expressly authorizes such action. In June 2018, the BIA granted DHS' motion, concluding that Castro-Tum represented "a significant change in the law" and that it precluded the BIA from exercising any general administrative closure authority. A.R. 3. The BIA then dismissed Romero's appeal and ordered him removed to Honduras.

         Romero timely petitioned for review with this Court, and we have jurisdiction pursuant to 8 U.S.C. § 1252(a)(5).[3]

         II.

         To set the context for our analysis of the merits of the parties' arguments, we note that administrative closure is a docketing tool that has been used by IJs and the BIA since at least the late 1980s. Administrative closure allows the adjudicator to temporarily remove a case from the active docket as a matter of "administrative convenience." In re Gutierrez-Lopez, 21 I. & N. Dec. 479, 480 (B.I.A. 1996) (internal quotation marks omitted); see also Matter of Amico, 19 I. & N. Dec. 652, 654 n.1 (B.I.A. 1988) (noting that "[t]he administrative closing of a case does not result in a final order," but "is merely an administrative convenience which allows the removal of cases from the calendar in appropriate situations"). By administratively closing a case, an IJ or the BIA "temporarily pause[s] removal proceedings" and places the case on hold, generally because there is an alternate form of case resolution pending, or because the case may be affected by events outside of the control of either party or that may not occur for some time. Matter of W-Y-U-, 27 I. & N. Dec. 17, 18 (B.I.A. 2017). After the case is administratively closed, either party may reactivate the case by filing a motion to re-calendar.

         General administrative closure is not specifically authorized by the INA or the regulations governing IJs or the BIA. See Vahora v. Holder, 626 F.3d 907, 917-18 (7th Cir. 2010) (noting that the general power to administratively close a case is "not a practice specified in the [INA]" or "mentioned in the current regulations," but is a "procedural device" employed by quasi-judicial bodies for "orderly management of the docket" and reviewable by courts).[4] However, administrative closure is explicitly authorized or required by federal regulations addressing specific classes of potential visa recipients[5] and pursuant to various judicially-approved settlement agreements. See, e.g., Barahona-Gomez v. Ashcroft, 243 F.Supp.2d 1029 (N.D. Cal. 2002) (requiring administrative closure for aliens who were improperly denied suspension of deportation but failed to appear for rescheduled hearings); Am. Baptist Churches v. Thornburgh, 760 F.Supp. 796 (N.D. Cal. 1991) (requiring administrative closure for class members pending adjudication of claims by an asylum officer).

         Although general administrative closure is not specifically mentioned in the INA or its regulations, the BIA has referenced two regulations that confer broad powers to IJs and the BIA to manage their dockets as the authority for administrative closure. First, 8 C.F.R. § 1003.10(b), which concerns the "powers and duties" of IJs, states in part:

In conducting hearings under section 240 of the Act and such other proceedings the Attorney General may assign to them, immigration judges shall exercise the powers and duties delegated to them by the Act and by the Attorney General through regulation. In deciding the individual cases before them, and subject to the applicable governing standards, immigration judges shall exercise their independent judgment and discretion and may take any action consistent with their authorities under the Act and regulations that is appropriate and necessary for the disposition of such cases. . . . In all cases, immigration judges shall seek to resolve the questions before them in a timely and impartial manner consistent with the Act and regulations.

Id. (emphases added); see also 8 C.F.R. ยง 1240.1(a) (providing that IJs shall have the authority in any removal proceeding to "[d]etermine removability," "make decisions, including orders of removal," "determine applications," "order withholding of removal," and "take any other action consistent with applicable law and ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.