Friday, May 14, 2021
Another Twist on Niz-Chavez . . . by Geoffrey Hoffman
A fascinating twist on the factual scenario in Niz-Chavez is what to do if your client had an NTA with a so-called "fake date." The "fake date" problem is one you will remember well if you practice immigration law before EOIR, and it garnered national attention in 2019 when ICE issued these fake dates for thousands of immigrants, many of whom showed up in court only to find that there was nothing on any judge's docket to indicate they were scheduled for a hearing that day. Reports of fake dates were prevalent in Dallas, Orlando, Miami, Seattle, and I am sure other places as well. See news articles such as this one. In addition, and as a separate matter, there was a well-known so-called "parking date" (November 29) issued on thousands of NTAs and that was also never a "real date" as everyone knew.
There is an interesting theory about why the "fake dates" were issued in the first place: that the government was trying to respond to Pereira v. Sessions itself. Despite its argument in federal court to try to restrict Pereira as much as possible, in practice ICE tacitly was affirming, so the argument goes, that in Pereira the Supreme Court had defined, as we have argued all along, what is and what is not a proper and valid NTA. In an effort to immunize itself from responsibility for defective NTAs without any time or place of hearing, ICE thought it might make sense to input "fake dates" in their NTAs, thus (at least superficially it would seem) immunizing itself from the argument that the NTAs were defective for "lack" of a real date and place. Then the "real date" - according to the argument - could be issued as a follow-up in the form of a notice of hearing by EOIR.
The question now arises whether clients with fake-date NTAs can utilize Pereira and now Niz-Chavez to defeat the "stop-time" effect for cancellation of removal, where such fake NTAs existed, even where there is a subsequent notice of hearing with a "real date" from EOIR. The short answer is "Yes" - and I will discuss in the rest of this article why this should be the case and why it should not come as a surprise for several reasons.
It is arguably a much stronger case for the application of Niz-Chavez because the issuance of a "fake date" that was never intended to be used by EOIR in any way is affirmatively wrong. It is not just mere negligence by leaving "TBA" with a blank date and place of hearing on the NTA. ICE should not be able to hide behind an NTA where the information is filled in on the NTA but the information is patently false and made up or fabricated. Just as an asylum seeker who fabricates a date or other information on their forms cannot benefit from such information in applying for relief before the court, the government should get no benefit either from their incorrect and misleading actions. The counter-argument from the government will be that the NTA was valid "on its face" since it had some "date and place" in the document and therefore (a) stopped time for cancellation purposes and (b) conferred jurisdiction because it was "facially" valid.
This counter-argument is flawed. To embrace such a rationale would exalt form over substance. It also would allow an agency to game the system. It would also defeat the very mechanism that the Supreme Court set out in Pereira and now Niz-Chavez. Respondent should be entitled to reopen their proceedings in all "fake date" cases since a valid NTA was not filed in the immigration court. The only remaining issue will be proof. The respondent and his or her attorney will have to prove there was no hearing that was actually held on that day. If no hearing existed at all, then the stop time rule should not apply and the fake NTA cannot be "cured" by a subsequently issued notice by a different agency, that is EOIR, as per Niz-Chavez.
Finally, in reopening a client's case it would be helpful if there were a showing of some effort on the part the respondent to check. Proof may be difficult and EOIR FOIA and other investigation will be important. Ideally, the client or the their attorney or both went to court but no hearing was on the docket that day, and there was an effort to check that was documented in some way. If there never was receipt of the NTA at all, whether containing a fake date or not, and an in absentia order was issued, then the question becomes whether jurisdiction could have vested at all in such a case. As I have argued, if the NTA is defective it cannot result in the vesting of jurisdiction. A fake date and place arguably cannot confer jurisdiction, even if the NTA was filed with the court. Since there was no hearing actually scheduled the NTA should be found defective under Pereira and Niz-Chavez.