On February 14, 2018, the US Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, in Margarito Rodriguez Tovar v. Jefferson Sessions reinterpreted a section of the Child Status Protection Act (CSPA) in a way which could help keep many immigrant families intact.
The Court overturned a decision by the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) that the son of a US citizen father who had waited in line for a green card for many years be forced to leave the US for a decade or more simply because his father had become a naturalized US citizen.
Margarito Rodriguez Tovar was born in Mexico in 1983. In 2000, at the age of 17, he entered the US. On April 30, 2001, his father, who was a lawful permanent resident, sponsored him for a green card. In 2005, the USCIS approved the family-based 2A visa petition.
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In 2006, his father became a naturalized US citizen. The child’s 2A priority date (minor, unmarried sons/daughters of lawful permanent residents) became current and, in 2008, he filed for adjustment of status under section 245i.
The USCIS denied his application on the ground that he had aged-out and that since the family-based 1st preference (adult unmarried sons/daughters of US citizens) priority dates were backlogged to 1992, his priority date would not become current for more than a decade.
He was placed under removal proceedings where he renewed his application for adjustment of status. However, both the Immigration Judge and the BIA denied his application and ordered him to leave the US.
Both the Judge and the Board cited the BIA’s published opinion in Matter of Zamora-Molina, 25 I. & N. Dec. 606 (BIA 2011). Zamora-Molina involved a similar fact pattern. The respondent’s LPR mother had originally sponsored her child under the family 2A category, and became naturalized after the child’s 21st birthday. The respondent argued that had the mother not naturalized, he could have utilized CSPA’s “opt-out” provision and used the CSPA age formula to adjust his status under the 2A category. The BIA disagreed and held that since the mother had naturalized, the issue was whether the CSPA age formula applies to “immediate relatives” of US citizens. The section of law in question states that only if the parent naturalizes prior to the child’s turning 21 can the child be considered an immediate relative of a US citizen. The BIA ruled that this referred to the child’s biological age.
9th Circuit Overturns BIA in Rodriguez Tovar
In Rodriguez Tovar, the 3-judge panel disagreed with the holding in Zamora-Molina and unanimously held that it would make no sense for Congress to punish a child simply because his sponsoring parent became a US citizen. They determined that the section of CSPA that refers to immediate relatives should be read to refer to a person’s statutory (CSPA) age rather than to his/her biological age.
Applying the CSPA formula, Rodriguez Tovar’s age would be under 21 (24 years when his priority date became current on June 1, 2007 minus the 4 years that the I-130 was pending before the USCIS), and he would be eligible to adjust his status to permanent resident as an immediate relative of a US citizen parent.
The opinion in Rodriguez Tovar succinctly states the rationale for the decision as follows:
Rodriguez Tovar’s father became a citizen, Rodriguez Tovar
must now wait decades longer for a visa than if his father had
remained an LPR. In the meantime the government seeks to
deport him to Mexico, with any future return subject to
unforeseeable modifications to the current immigration laws.
As we explain in the remainder of this opinion, the correct
interpretation of the statute does not lead to this absurd result,
but rather to his entitlement to an immediately available visa.”
It remains to be seen whether the Supreme Court will review this decision.