Garcia v. Sessions, No. 16-3234 (7th Cir. 2017)

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Justia Opinion Summary

Garcia, a Honduran national, came to the U.S. in 2003. He was ordered removed and departed in 2005. Garcia claims that he was kidnapped and beaten upon his return to Honduras because of his opposition to deforestation. He returned to the U.S. in 2014 and, after being apprehended, sought asylum. The Chicago Asylum Office issued a positive reasonable fear determination. The IJ granted Garcia statutory withholding of removal, stating that she lacked the authority to reconsider the reinstatement of Garcia’s removal order. The BIA rejected Garcia’s argument that he had a statutory right to seek asylum under 8 U.S.C. 1158(a), reasoning that it lacked authority to declare the controlling regulations in violation of the statute. The BIA noted that “several federal courts have held a person in reinstatement proceedings is not eligible for and cannot seek asylum.” The Seventh Circuit initially dismissed an appeal because asylum is a form of discretionary relief, so Garcia lacks standing to challenge the regulations prohibiting him from applying for it. On rehearing, the government and court agreed that Garcia has standing. On the merits, the Seventh Circuit held that 8 U.S.C. 1231(a)(5) plainly prohibits aliens subject to reinstatement of a removal order from applying for asylum.

This opinion or order relates to an opinion or order originally issued on June 8, 2017.

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In the United States Court of Appeals For the Seventh Circuit ____________________ No. 16 3234 CIRILO G. GARCIA, Petitioner, v. JEFFERSON B. SESSIONS III, Attorney General of the United States, Respondent. ____________________ Petition for Review of an Order of the Board of Immigration Appeals. No. A096 180 280 ____________________ ARGUED APRIL 20, 2017 — DECIDED OCTOBER 11, 2017 ____________________ Before MANION and ROVNER, Circuit Judges, and COLEMAN, District Judge.* MANION, Circuit Judge. Petitioner Cirilo Garcia is a native citizen of Honduras currently subject to a reinstated order of removal. Federal regulations say that aliens in his position *The Honorable Sharon Johnson Coleman, of the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, sitting by designation. 2 No. 16 3234 have no right to apply for asylum. Garcia argues that these regulations are inconsistent with the general asylum statute, 8 U.S.C. § 1158(a)(1). Following circuit precedent, we initially held that Garcia lacked standing to challenge the regulations because of the discretionary nature of asylum. However, we granted Garcia’s petition for rehearing to address the standing question. The government now agrees that Garcia has stand ing. We agree with the parties that Garcia has standing to file this petition, and as we discuss below, anything to the con trary in this court’s precedent will be overruled. However, on the merits we conclude that 8 U.S.C. § 1231(a)(5) plainly pro hibits aliens in Garcia’s position from applying for asylum. Therefore, we deny his petition for review. I. Background Garcia is a Honduran national who first came to the United States in 2003. He was ordered removed in absentia on October 24, 2003, and eventually departed in 2005. However, Garcia claims that he encountered persecution upon his re turn to Honduras because of his unpopular political views— specifically, his opposition to deforestation. Eventually, he was kidnapped and beaten. He chose to return to the United States in 2014 and, after being apprehended by Border Patrol, sought asylum. Garcia expressed a fear of persecution and torture because of his activism if he returned to Honduras. On June 9, 2014, the Chicago Asylum Office issued a positive reasonable fear determination, finding that Garcia was generally credible and had a reasonable fear of torture. The Office referred his case to an Immigration Judge for withholding only proceedings. No. 16 3234 3 See 8 C.F.R. § 208.31(e) (“If an asylum officer determines that an alien described in this section has a reasonable fear of per secution or torture, the officer shall so inform the alien and issue a Form I–863, Notice of Referral to the Immigration Judge, for full consideration of the request for withholding of re moval only.” (emphasis added)). Garcia then filed an asylum application in Immigration Court on September 8, 2014. On October 29, 2014, the Immigration Judge granted Gar cia statutory withholding of removal after finding that he had been persecuted in the past and it was more likely than not that he would be again if he returned to Honduras. The IJ ex plained that she lacked the authority to reconsider the rein statement of Garcia’s removal order. Garcia then appealed to the Board of Immigration Appeals, arguing that he has a stat utory right to seek asylum under 8 U.S.C. § 1158(a). On July 25, 2016, the Board dismissed his appeal. It explained that it lacked authority to declare the controlling regulations in vio lation of the statute, but also noted that “several federal courts have held a person in reinstatement proceedings is not eligi ble for and cannot seek asylum.” This petition followed. II. Discussion The parties have presented a straightforward question: may an alien subject to reinstatement of a removal order ap ply for asylum? The general asylum statute, 8 U.S.C. § 1158(a), says “[a]ny alien who is physically present in the United States or who arrives in the United States … irrespective of such alien’s status, may apply for asylum in accordance with this section or, where applicable, section 1225(b) of this title.” Garcia contends that this language grants him the right to ap ply for asylum. The Attorney General counters with the spe cific language of 8 U.S.C. § 1231(a)(5), providing that aliens 4 No. 16 3234 subject to a reinstated order of removal are “not eligible and may not apply for any relief under this chapter.” Since asylum is a form of relief, the Attorney General argues that Section 1231(a)(5) categorically prohibits Garcia’s application. Initially, the Attorney General also argued that Garcia lacked standing to file this petition in light of our decision in Delgado Arteaga v. Sessions, 856 F.3d 1109, 1115 (7th Cir. 2017). In that case, we held that because “[a]sylum is a form of dis cretionary relief in which ‘there is no liberty interest at stake[,]’” the petitioner had not suffered an Article III injury in fact when he was denied the opportunity to apply. Id. (quoting Delgado v. Holder, 674 F.3d 759, 765 (7th Cir. 2012)). Relying on Delgado Arteaga, the panel initially reached the same conclusion in this case. Garcia v. Sessions, 859 F.3d 406, 408 (7th Cir. 2017). In response to Garcia’s petition for rehearing, the govern ment repudiated its standing argument. Moreover, we recog nize that we are the only circuit to hold that a petitioner lacks standing to assert a statutory right to apply for asylum. See Mejia v. Sessions, 866 F.3d 573, 583–84 (4th Cir. 2017) (collecting cases). In light of these considerations, we granted Garcia’s motion for panel rehearing. Subsequently, a majority of the active judges of this court indicated a desire to overrule the cited portion of Delgado Arteaga in accordance with our pro cedures under Circuit Rule 40(e). We now conclude that Delgado Arteaga’s holding was in consistent with Article III standing doctrine. A litigant has standing to sue if he has suffered an injury in fact, the injury is fairly traceable to the defendant’s conduct, and it is redress able by a favorable judicial decision. Lujan v. Defenders of Wild life, 504 U.S. 555, 560–61 (1992). Garcia has been denied the No. 16 3234 5 right to apply for asylum. While asylum is indeed entirely dis cretionary, an alien must be allowed to apply for asylum be fore he can receive it. In other words, the denial of a statutory right to apply for asylum extinguishes any chance an alien might have had to receive asylum. Therefore, it is a sufficient injury in fact under Article III even though there is no due process right to asylum. That injury is caused by the Attorney General’s interpretation of Section 1231(a)(5) and could be cured by a favorable decision of this court. That is, even though this court could never guarantee that Garcia receive asylum, it could order the Attorney General to allow him to apply. Therefore, Garcia has standing to challenge the denial of his alleged statutory right to apply for asylum. Insofar as Delgado Arteaga held otherwise, it is overruled.1 Because we have decided that Garcia has standing to peti tion, we must reach the merits of his claim. The question he presents—whether an alien subject to a reinstated order of re moval may apply for asylum—has recently confronted sev eral of our sister circuits. All of them have answered in the negative, although there is a significant split in the reasoning of those decisions. The Second, Fourth, Fifth, and Eleventh Circuits each found the text of 8 U.S.C. § 1231(a)(5) disposi tive,2 while the First, Third, and Ninth Circuits deferred to the 1 This opinion has thus been circulated to all judges in active service on this court and no judge voted to rehear this case en banc. 2 Herrera Molina v. Holder, 597 F.3d 128, 139 (2d Cir. 2010) (“According to the relevant statutory and regulatory provisions, relief other than with holding of removal, e.g., asylum or cancellation of removal, is not availa ble to this petitioner.”); Mejia, 866 F.3d at 584 (“[W]e discern no ambiguity in the interplay between § 1231(a)(5) and § 1158(a)(1). We think it clear that, by enacting the reinstatement bar, Congress intended to preclude in dividuals subject to reinstated removal orders from applying for asy 6 No. 16 3234 government’s position under Chevron, U.S.A., Inc. v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc., 467 U.S. 837 (1984).3 We agree with the result in all these cases. Further, we follow the first group of courts and hold that the plain text of 8 U.S.C. §1231(a)(5) prohibits Garcia from applying for asylum. Section 1231(a)(5) prohibits aliens subject to reinstated or ders of removal from applying for “any relief under this chap ter.” “[A]sylum is a form of relief from removal,” Jimenez Mo rales, 821 F.3d at 1310, “because, if granted, it prevents the re moval from going forward[,]” Ramirez Mejia, 794 F.3d at 489. That is why “[c]ourts routinely refer to asylum as a form of lum.”); Ramirez Mejia v. Lynch, 794 F.3d 485, 490 (5th Cir. 2015) (“Section 1231(a)(5), read plainly, broadly denies all forms of redress from removal, including asylum.”); Jimenez Morales v. U.S. Att’y Gen., 821 F.3d 1307, 1310 (11th Cir. 2016) (“As asylum is a form of relief from removal, we join the Second and Fifth Circuits in holding that a person like Mr. Jimenez Mo rales is not eligible for and cannot seek asylum.” (citation omitted)). 3 Garcia v. Sessions, 856 F.3d 27, 41 (1st Cir. 2017) (“[W]e cannot say that the agency acted unreasonably in choosing to ensure that the same aliens who could not seek asylum still would be protected through withholding of removal from suffering persecution or torture in their home country, in accord with § 1231(b)(3)(A)’s clear directive to the Attorney General to af ford that vital and long understood to be mandatory protection.”); Cazun v. Att’y Gen., 856 F.3d 249, 260 (3d Cir. 2017) (“It was reasonable for the agency to conclude that the statutory reinstatement bar foreclosing ‘any relief under this chapter’ means just what it says: no asylum relief is avail able to those subject to reinstated removal orders.”); Perez Guzman v. Lynch, 835 F.3d 1066, 1082 (9th Cir. 2016) (“[W]e hold that 8 C.F.R. § 1208.31(e) is a reasonable interpretation of the interplay between § 1158 and § 1231, and we must therefore defer to it under Chevron. In keeping with that regulation, Perez is not eligible to apply for asylum under § 1158 as long as he is subject to a reinstated removal order.”). But see Cazun, 856 F.3d at 262 (Hardiman, J., concurring in the judgment) (noting that he would find the agency’s interpretation compelled by the statutory text). No. 16 3234 7 relief from removal and frequently employ the phrase ‘asy lum relief.’” Id. Because the word “any” typically “has an ex pansive meaning,” United States v. Gonzales, 520 U.S. 1, 5 (1997), it should be read to encompass all forms of relief, in cluding asylum. Therefore, Congress has unambiguously de clared that aliens in Garcia’s position are ineligible to apply for asylum.4 The general asylum statute, 8 U.S.C. § 1158(a), doesn’t change that result. While it says that “[a]ny alien … irrespec tive of such alien’s status, may apply for asylum,” that general statement is followed by numerous exceptions. Section 1231(a)(5) should be read as another limitation on the right to apply for asylum. “Canons of statutory construction discour age an interpretation that would render a statute meaningless and usually require that a ‘specific’ statute prevail over a ‘gen eral’ one.” In re Baker, 430 F.3d 858, 860 (7th Cir. 2005). Garcia’s proffered interpretation of Section 1158(a) attempts to use that subsection to trump the specific prohibition in Section 1231(a)(5), rendering that prohibition meaningless. Therefore, we join the Second, Fourth, Fifth, and Eleventh Circuits in re jecting it. III. Conclusion We hold, contrary to Delgado Arteaga v. Sessions, that an al ien has standing to contest a denial of the right to apply for asylum in this court. That portion of Delgado Arteaga is there fore overruled. However, we join our sister circuits in holding 4 We don’t address whether withholding of removal might also be a form of “relief” under Section 1231(a)(5) even though Garcia received it. Nei ther party takes issue with the grant of withholding in this case so it is not properly before the court. 8 No. 16 3234 that an alien subject to a reinstated order of removal is not eligible to apply for asylum. Therefore, we deny Garcia’s pe tition for review. DENIED

Primary Holding

An alien subject to reinstatement of a removal order may not apply for asylum.

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