“Confirmed Judges, Confirmed Fears” is a blog series documenting the harmful impact of President Trump’s judges on Americans’ rights and liberties.
Trump Judge Marvin Quattlebaum of the Fourth Circuit was the author and deciding vote in a 2-1 decision in January 2019 that affirmed the decision of immigration authorities and denied an immigrant from Guatemala the ability to apply to become a permanent resident and then a citizen. The dissent explained that the majority ruling was based on a “faulty reading” of the federal law that applies to people like Felipe Perez who enter the United States as juveniles.
Felipe Perez came to the United States at age 16 in 2014. He was apprehended by immigration authorities and then released to his brother, a legal U.S. resident in North Carolina, who obtained a temporary custody order from a state juvenile court concerning Felipe. Shortly after that, Felipe applied for special immigrant juvenile (“SIJ”) status under federal law, which allows any immigrant juvenile in the U.S. to apply for SIJ status if they are under the custody of someone other than their parents. Someone who obtains SIJ status can then apply to become a lawful permanent resident and then a citizen.
The United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) denied Felipe’s application, primarily because the custody order was temporary. This was despite the fact that the North Carolina juvenile court had found that the order was “as permanent as possible” under state law since Perez would soon become 18. A federal district court dismissed a lawsuit by Perez, and the case was appealed to the Fourth Circuit.
In Perez v. Cissna, Judge Quattlebaum wrote a 2-1 decision affirming the dismissal of Felipe’s claim. The opinion deferred to the agency and district court decision that at least in this case, a temporary custody order did not qualify Perez to apply for SIJ status.
Judge Robert King dissented. The requirement that a custody order be permanent, he explained, finds “no support” in the federal law creating SIJ status. He noted that the USCIS decision to require permanent custody was not based on rulemaking or another process that would entitle it to deference, but instead was in a “policy manual” that the courts have ruled is not given automatic deference. As a result, King explained, the term “custody” should be interpreted according to its “plain meaning,” which does not allow the agency to impose the permanency requirement. Particularly since the state court had explained that the order was as permanent as it could have been, King concluded, the agency should have considered Felipe’s application.