Supreme Court overturns four deportation orders from US appeals courts

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The Supreme Court resurrected four appeals from illegal immigrants trying to avoid deportation, sending their cases back to federal appeals courts after ruling weeks ago that lower courts don’t have to wait until a litigant’s administrative options are exhausted before issuing rulings.

The Court released unsigned orders (pdf) on May 30 summarily reversing rulings of the U.S. Courts of Appeals for the 5th Circuit, 8th Circuit, 10th Circuit, and 11th Circuit.

The nation’s highest court did not explain why it was issuing the orders.

No justices dissented.

The cases of lead petitioners Sergio Mencia-Medina of Honduras, Alma Aracely Castaneda-Martinez of Honduras plus two other individuals, a person identified as A.B. of Mali, and Pardeep Kumar of India, were remanded to circuit courts for reconsideration in light of the Supreme Court’s unanimous ruling in Santos-Zacaria v. Garland on May 11.

That ruling made it easier for those challenging deportation to make their case.

The May 11 ruling was a defeat for the Biden administration, which was trying to deport Leon Santos-Zacaria, a Guatemalan citizen who was born male but identifies as a woman and uses the first name Estrella in everyday life.

Santos-Zacaria entered the United States illegally at least twice and was deported but came back to the United States in 2018 and, after being detained, applied to have his removal stayed under the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) and for sanctuary under the Convention Against Torture.

Under the INA, an alien unlawfully present in the country may be deported after the U.S. Department of Justice issues a final order of removal, but the alien may not be removed to a country where his or her “life or freedom would be threatened … because of the alien’s race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.”

LGBT individuals are included in the “particular social group” category.

At the stay hearing, Santos-Zacaria told the immigration judge he experienced persecution in Guatemala for being a gay and transgender person.

The 5th Circuit ruled against Santos-Zacaria, finding that he had failed to exhaust all available remedies under the INA.

The exhaustion rule holds that a plaintiff must exhaust all possible administrative remedies before seeking judicial review. Such a remedy could consist of asking a government official to review the case.

In an opinion written by Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, the Supreme Court found that the INA does in fact require individuals to exhaust their administrative remedies but held that the rule was not “jurisdictional.”

This means that persons fighting deportation do not have to exhaust their administrative remedies before appealing a final removal order in a federal court.

On May 30, the Supreme Court simultaneously granted the petitions of Mencia-Medina, Castaneda-Martinez, A.B., and Kumar seeking review while skipping over the oral argument phase when the merits of the case would have been considered.

Some lawyers call this process GVR, which stands for grant, vacate, and remand.

Critics say this process is part of the so-called shadow docket, which they say lacks transparency.

The Epoch Times reached out to counsel in the four cases.

A.B.’s attorney, Charles Roth, director of appellate litigation at the National Immigrant Justice Center in Chicago, said “we have no comment,” by email.

The attorney for Castaneda-Martinez, R. Trent McCotter of Boyden Gray and Associates in Washington, also declined to comment.

Attorneys for Mencia-Medina and Kumar had not replied as of press time.

The Epoch Times also sought comment from the U.S. Department of Justice but had not received a reply as of press time.

This article by Matthew Vadum appeared May 31, 2023, in The Epoch Times.