Wednesday, July 28, 2010

"Admitted" to the United Staets requires only "procedural regularity"

The Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) made a powerful decision today, in Matter of Quilantan. Essentially, the BIA reaffirmed a 1980 case, Matter of Areguillin. Areguillin held that the term “admitted,” as it is used in one of the laws relating to adjustment of status, means that the entry of the alien proceeded with “procedural regularity.” The BIA explained that a person is “admitted” “when the inspecting officer communicates to the applicant that he has determined that the applicant is not inadmissible.”

There have been some changes to immigration law since 1980; thus, the BIA once again had to revisit the interpretation of “admitted” within the same adjustment of status statute.

In Quilantan, the alien initially entered the United States from Mexico in 1993, using a valid border crossing card. At some point between 1993 and 2000, she lost the card. In December of 2000, she returned to Mexico. After being denied a visitor’s visa at the American consulate, Quilantan approached the border as a passenger in the vehicle of an American citizen friend. The border officer asked the driver whether he was a citizen, and, without asking Quilantan any questions, waved the car through the border.

In 2006, Quilantan married a U.S. citizen, and applied for adjustment of status. The statute at issue, section 245(a) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, requires that the person applying for adjustment of status must have been “inspected and admitted or paroled into the United States.” Thus, the question for the BIA today was whether “admitted” in this context still required nothing more than “procedural regularity,” or if the applicant must prove compliance with some additional, substantive legal requirements.

After thoroughly analyzing the changes in the law that have occurred since Areguillin, the BIA handed Quilantan a victory. In reaffirming Areguillin, the BIA held that the term “admitted,” for purposes of adjustment of status, denotes “procedural regularity,” not compliance with “substantive legal requirements.” Therefore, the BIA decided that Areguillin was the controlling law in Quilantan, holding that “an alien who physically presents herself for questioning and makes no knowing false claim to citizenship is ‘inspected,’ even though she volunteers no information and is asked no questions by the immigration authorities, and that such an alien has satisfied the ‘inspected and admitted’ requirement of [the adjustment of status statute].” Since Quilantan “made a lawful entry into the United States after inspection and authorization by an immigration officer,” the BIA ultimately held that she was not removable and is eligible to adjust her status to that of lawful permanent resident.

The Quilantan holding today is a powerful ruling that will assist immigrants and advocates alike in proving that those immigrants who were not asked questions are just as eligible to adjust status as others who were more thoroughly questioned at the border. It puts the burden on the immigration authorities to ensure compliance with admission requirements, rather than on the immigrant to volunteer information or prompt questioning.

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