Holder, Attorney General vs. Martinez Gutierrez


The immigration laws have long given the Attorney General discretion to permit certain otherwise-removable aliens to remain in the United States. The Attorney General formerly exercised this authority by virtue of §212(c) of the Immigration and Nationality Act(INA), 66 Stat. 187, 8 U. S. C. §1182(c) (1994 ed.). But in 1996, Congress replaced §212(c) with §1229b(a)(2006 ed.).

The new section, applicable to the cases, provide as follows:

“(a) Cancellation of removal for certain permanent residents

“The Attorney General may cancel removal in the case of an alien who is inadmissible or deportable from the United States if the alien—

“(1) has been an alien lawfully admitted for permanent residence for not less than 5 years,

“(2) has resided in the United States continuously for 7 years after having been admitted in any status, and

“(3) has not been convicted of any aggravated felony.”

Section 1229b(a) thus specify the criteria that make an alien eligible to obtain relief from the Attorney General. The first paragraph require that the alien have held the status of a lawful permanent resident (LPR) for at least five years. And the second add that the alien must have lived in the United States for at least seven continuous years after a lawful admission, whether as an LPR or in some other immigration status.

The question before the Supreme Court was whether, in applying this statutory provision, the BIA should impute a parent’s years of continuous residence or LPR status to his or her child. That question arise because a child may enter the country lawfully, or may gain LPR status, after one of his parents does. A parent may therefore satisfy the requirements of §§1229b(a)(1) and (2), while his or her child, considered independently, does not. In these circumstances, is the child eligible for cancellation of removal?

The Board has required each alien seeking cancellation of removal to satisfy §1229b(a)’s requirements on his own, without counting a parent’s years of continuous residence or LPR status. That position prevail if it is a reasonable construction of the statute, whether or not it is the only possible interpretation or even the one a court might think best. [Chevron U. S. A. Inc. v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc., 467 U. S. 837, 843–844, and n. 11 (1984); INS v. Aguirre-Aguirre, 526 U. S. 415, 424–425 (1999) (according Chevron deference to the Board’s interpretations of the INA)]. The Court held that the BIA’s view on imputation meets that standard, and so need not decide if the statute permits any other construction. The Supreme Court held that Board’s approach is consistent with the statute’s text. Section 1229b (a) does not mention imputation, much less require it. The Court observed that the provision calls for “the alien”—not, say, “the alien or one of his parents”—to meet the three prerequisites for cancellation of removal. Because the Board’s rejection of imputation under§1229b (a) was held “based on a permissible construction of the statute,” the Supreme Court reversed the Ninth Circuit’s judgments.