Guerrero-Lasprilla v. Barr: Immigration Act allows courts to apply a legal standard to undisputed or established facts
The Immigration and Nationality Act does not prohibit federal courts from reviewing questions of law that involve applying a legal standard to undisputed or established facts, the U.S. Supreme Court held March 23 in Guerrero-Lasprilla v. Barr.
INA, 8 U.S.C. Sec. 1252(a), provides for judicial review of final Government orders directing removal of aliens from the U.S..
A subdivision of that section, Sec. 1252(a)(2)(C), limits the scope of review where the removal is based on an alien having committed certain crimes, including aggravated felonies and drug offenses.
Another subdivision, the Limited Review Provision, Sec. 1252(a)(2)(D), states that in such instances, courts may consider only “constitutional claims or questions of law.”
The question before the Court was whether the phrase “questions of law” in the Limited Review Provision includes the application of a legal standard to undisputed or established facts.
Pedro Pablo Guerrero-Lasprilla was ordered removed from the country in 1998 due to a drug conviction. He left the country, and his time for filing a timely motion to reopen his removal proceedings expired.
Nevertheless, he filed a motion to reopen his proceedings in 2017. He had become eligible for discretionary relief under various judicial decisions, and claimed that his time limit for filing should be equitably tolled. The Board of Immigration Appeals denied his request for equitable tolling by ruling he had failed to demonstrate the requisite due diligence.
The Fifth Circuit denied review on grounds that whether an alien acted diligently in attempting to reopen removal proceedings for purposes of equitable tolling is a “factual question,” which the court “lacked jurisdiction” to review under the Limited Review Provision.
The Supreme Court, in a 7-2 opinion by Justice Breyer, reversed.
Nothing in the statute’s language “precludes the conclusion that Congress used the term ‘questions of law’ to refer to the application of a legal standard to settled facts,” the Court said.
“Indeed, we have at times referred to the question whether a given set of facts meets a particular legal standard as presenting a legal inquiry,” the Court said. “Do the facts alleged in a complaint, taken as true, state a claim for relief under the applicable legal standard?”
“While that judicial usage alone does not tell us what Congress meant by the statutory term ‘questions of law,’ it does indicate that the term can reasonably encompass questions about whether settled facts satisfy a legal standard,” the Court said.
The Court reversed the Fifth Circuit’s “jurisdictional” decision, and remanded for further consideration.
Justices Thomas and Alito dissented. They said the Court “effectively nullifies a jurisdiction-stripping statute” and “expand[s] the scope of judicial review well past the boundaries set by Congress.”