Monday, June 9, 2014

Supreme Court Decides Scialabba v. Cuellar de Osorio

The Supreme Court this morning decided Scialabba v. Cuellar de Osorio.  For background on that case, see SCOTUSBLOG.  The issues presented in that case were

(1) Whether Section 1153(h)(3) of the Immigration and Nationality Act– which provides rules for determining whether particular aliens qualify as “children” so that they can obtain visas or adjustments of their immigration status as derivative beneficiaries of sponsored family member immigrants (also known as “primary beneficiaries”) – unambiguously grants relief to all aliens who qualify as “child” derivative beneficiaries at the time a visa petition is filed but age out of qualification by the time the visa becomes available to the primary beneficiary; and

(2) whether the Board of Immigration Appeals reasonably interpreted Section 1153(h)(3).  The Ninth Circuit had rejected the BIA's interpretation of the statute.

Justice Kagan announced the judgment of the Court and delivered an opinion, in which Justices Kennedy and Ginsburg.  Justice Kagan conluded that that the Board of Immigration Appeals'’s textually reasonable construction of the immigration statute's ambiguous language was entitled to deference.  

Chief Justice Roberts, joined by Justice Scalia, agreed that the BIA’s interpretation was reasonable, but not because an agency has authority to resolve direct conflicts within a statute. There is no conflict or internal tension in § 1153(h)(3).  The first clause of the provision defines the persons potentially affected, but does not grant anything to anyone. The particular benefit provided by the statute—automatic conversion and retention of priority date—is found exclusively in the second clause, and that relief requires, at minimum,that an aged-out beneficiary have his own eligible sponsor who is committed to providing financial support for the beneficiary. Beyond that, Congress did not speak clearly to which petitions can be automatically converted. The BIA’s reasonable interpretation of § 1153(h)(3) is consistent with the ordinary meaning of the statutory terms, with the established meaning of automatic conversion in immigration law, and with the structure of the family-based immigration system.

Justice Alito dissented. Justice Sotomayor filed a dissenting opinion, in which Justices Breyer and Thomas (except as to footnote 3) joined.

For my analysis of the decision ("Another stop at the Chevron station and deference to the BIA") on SCOTUSBlog, click here.  Other perspectives can be found here and here.


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