Patel v. Garland: Courts cannot review factual findings denying discretionary relief from removal of noncitizens
Federal courts cannot review factual findings that underlie a denial of discretionary relief from removal of noncitizens, the U.S. Supreme Court held May 16 in Patel v. Garland.
Pankajkumar Patel entered the U.S. illegally in the 1990s. In 2007, he applied for an adjustment that would have excused his illegal entry and granted him lawful permanent resident status.
This adjustment was denied, however, because Patel previously had checked a box on a state driver’s license application that he was a citizen. Federal law disqualifies noncitizens from gaining entry to the U.S. if they have falsely claimed to be a citizen.
The Government sought to remove Patel from the country.
Federal law allows for discretionary relief from removal. To obtain discretionary relief, a noncitizen must convince an immigration judge that he merits favorable exercise of this discretion.
Patel contended before an immigration judge that he had checked the citizen box by mistake. But the immigration judge found Patel’s testimony not credible, and that he had intentionally misrepresented that he was a citizen. Thus, the immigration judge denied discretionary relief from removal.
The Board of Immigration Appeals found that the immigration judge’s findings were not clearly erroneous.
Patel appealed to the Eleventh Circuit, which held it lacked jurisdiction to consider Patel’s claim because federal law prohibits judicial review of it.
The Supreme Court, in a 5-4 opinion, affirmed.
Federal immigration law allows for discretionary relief from removal as “a matter of grace”, the Court said. The burden is on the noncitizen to persuade an immigration judge that he warrants such relief.
But “Congress has sharply circumscribed judicial review of the discretionary relief process,” the Court said.
Title 8 U.S.C. Sec. 1252(a)(2) prohibits judicial review of “any judgment regarding the granting of relief” except as to “constitutional claims or questions of law raised upon a petition for review”.
“Notably, this qualification does not preserve review of questions of fact,” the Court said.
The statute “encompasses not just ‘the granting of relief’ but also any judgment relating to the granting of relief,” the Court said. “That plainly includes factual findings.”
Patel argued that barring judicial review of factual claims would “have the unintended consequence of precluding all review” of United States Citizenship and Immigration Services denial of discretionary relief.
“The reviewability of such decisions is not before us, and we do not decide it,” the Court said. “But it is possible that Congress did, in fact, intend to close that door.”
Justice Gorsuch dissented, joined by Justices Breyer, Sotomayor and Kagan.