7th Circuit halts deportation of crime victim, allows immigration judges to close cases

An Indianapolis man who came to the United States as a child and subsequently qualified for a limited visa as a victim of crime who cooperated with law enforcement was wrongly ordered deported, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Friday. The decision also rejected caselaw that limited immigration judges’ ability to administratively close cases when warranted.

The unanimous panel reversed a removal order upheld by the Board of Immigration Appeals in Yeison Meza Morales v. William Barr, 19-1999.

Yeison Meza Morales has lived in the United States since coming here as a child in 2002. In October 2013, he was walking through an Indianapolis neighborhood when he encountered a group of men arguing. As he ran from them, one of the men shot Meza Morales in the ankle while running. He recovered and cooperated with the police investigation, the 7th Circuit noted.

As such, Meza Morles qualified for a U Visa — an immigration category reserved for crime victims who assist police but that is limited to 10,000 nationwide per year. Because many more U Visas are applied for than are available, those not granted them are placed on a waiting list in chronological order.

Meza Morales applied for a U Visa in August 2017, but before his application could be acted upon, the Department of Homeland Security charged him “as removable under 8 U.S.C. § 1182(a)(6)(A)(i) as a noncitizen present in the United States without being admitted and under 8 U.S.C. § 1182(a)(2)(A)(i)(II) for a 2014 conviction for possession of marijuana,” Judge Amy Coney Barrett wrote for the panel.

“The immigration judge deemed him removable under both charges. Meza Morales, appearing pro se, admitted both charges but explained that he was a crime victim and had already applied for a U visa. … In his next appearance, Meza Morales asked the immigration judge either to continue the case further or to administratively close it — two procedural devices that allow an immigration judge to temporarily set aside a pending case. The immigration judge rejected both options and instead entered an order of removal.”

Meza Morales appealed, but the Board of Immigration Appeals affirmed the removal order, which the 7th Circuit stayed pending appeal. Meza Morales was subsequently deemed eligible for a U visa but placed on a waiting list due to the cap, and while that determination released him from detention, Meza Morales continued to petition for review because he still faced deportation proceedings. The judge ruled that he was bound by Matter of Castro-Tum, 27 I. & N. Dec. 271, 283 (Att’y Gen. 2018), to reject Meza Morales’ request for administrative closure, and the Board of Appeals affirmed.

“We disagree,” Barrett wrote, holding judges in immigration proceedings have broad authority to administratively close cases where “appropriate and necessary for disposition” of cases. “We therefore reject Castro-Tum and hold that immigration judges are not precluded from administratively closing cases when appropriate.”

Further, the panel pointed to recent holdings including those involving continuances in Matter of Mayen, 27 I. & N. Dec. 755 (B.I.A. 2020), and Guerra Rocha v. Barr, 951 F.3d 848, 853 (7th Cir. 2020), in which the 7th Circuit “emphasized that prima facie eligibility for a U visa was the most important factor to consider in deciding whether to grant a continuance.”

In granting Meza Morales’ petition for review and remanding to the Board of Immigration Appeals, the 7th Circuit concluded, “the Board should reconsider on remand whether a continuance was appropriate in light of new opinions in Matter of Mayen and Guerra Rocha v. Barr. It should also reconsider whether to administratively close the case.”

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