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Ali v. Barr

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

May 17, 2019

Yonis Ahmed Ali Petitioner
William P. Barr, Attorney General of the United States Respondent

          Submitted: March 13, 2019

          Petition for Review of an Order of the Board of Immigration Appeals

          Before SHEPHERD, ARNOLD, and ERICKSON, Circuit Judges.


         In 2007, the Department of Homeland Security charged Yonis Ahmed Ali with being removable for failing to possess a valid entry document, see 8 U.S.C. § 1182(a)(7)(A)(i)(I), and for obtaining an immigration benefit by fraud or material misrepresentation, see id. § 1182(a)(6)(C)(i). The Immigration Judge sustained both charges, and, to stave off removal, Ali petitioned for asylum, withholding of removal, and protection under the Convention Against Torture. He said he feared returning to his native Somalia because of his tribal affiliation and his adoptive father's political beliefs. After finding him not credible, the IJ denied his petition-a decision the Board of Immigration Appeals and our court upheld. See Ali v. Holder, 686 F.3d 534 (8th Cir. 2012).

         More than five years after we denied Ali's petition for review, he moved the BIA to reopen his removal proceedings on the ground that he feared the Somali terrorist organization, Al-Shabaab. He maintained that Al-Shabaab would likely target him when he returns because he is a moderate, Westernized Muslim with a post-graduate degree who has worked in American local government.

         Generally speaking, an alien may file one motion to reopen removal proceedings within ninety days of the entry of a final administrative order of removal. See 8 U.S.C. § 1229a(c)(7)(A), (C)(i). An alien may nonetheless move to reopen after the ninety-day mark if the motion "is based on changed country conditions arising in the country of nationality or the country to which removal has been ordered." Id. § 1229a(c)(7)(C)(ii); see also 8 C.F.R. § 1003.2(c)(3)(ii).

         The BIA denied Ali's motion to reopen, noting that he had not shown why he did not raise his concerns about Al-Shabaab at his March 2010 hearing, especially since counsel represented him and since Al-Shabaab had existed since 2006 and had been designated a foreign terrorist organization by the State Department in 2008. The BIA emphasized that the State Department's 2009 Country Report on Somalia detailed that Al-Shabaab violence had caused the deaths of civilian, moderate Muslims.

         Ali petitions our court for review of the BIA's denial of his motion to reopen, maintaining that the BIA abused its discretion by failing to give a reasoned decision. He asserts that the BIA failed to consider the ample evidence he submitted showing Al-Shabaab's burgeoning power and its 2014 tactical shift toward targeting civilians like him who were Westernized, moderate Muslims. Ali also contends that requiring him to demonstrate changed circumstances in the country designated for removal, as opposed to changes in his personal circumstances, to reopen his proceedings out of time violates his rights to due process and equal protection.

         As an initial matter, we must determine whether we have subject-matter jurisdiction over this case, an issue that we may consider at any time. See Gray v. City of Valley Park, 567 F.3d 976, 982 (8th Cir. 2009). Directing us to Pereira v. Sessions, 138 S.Ct. 2105 (2018), Ali suggested in a letter written to our court after the parties had filed their briefs that we do not. As the Court explained in Pereira, aliens in removal proceedings who have been continuously present in the United States for at least ten years may be eligible for a discretionary form of relief called cancellation of removal. Id. at 2109. By statute, continuous presence is deemed to end "when the alien is served a notice to appear under [8 U.S.C. §] 1229(a)." 8 U.S.C. § 1229b(d)(1). (This is called the stop-time rule.) Section 1229(a) in turn provides that a notice to appear shall be given to the alien that specifies "[t]he time and place at which the proceedings will be held."

         The notice to appear in Pereira, as here, did not specify the time or place of removal proceedings, and the Court held that since the notice did not comport with section 1229(a) it did not trigger the stop-time rule. Pereira, 138 S.Ct. at 2110. Along the way, the Court stated broadly that omitting "integral information like the time and place of removal proceedings unquestionably would deprive the notice to appear of its essential character." Id. at 2116-17.

         Ali maintains that, under Pereira, a notice to appear that, like his, does not contain the time and place of his removal proceeding is not valid, and "a court utilizing such a notice fails to obtain subject matter jurisdiction at its inception," and so "the entire proceedings and any subsequent [removal] order are invalid." We join the BIA and a unanimous chorus of other circuits that have considered and rejected the argument. See In re Bermudez-Cota, 27 I. & N. Dec. 441, 442-47 (BIA 2018); Banegas Gomez v. Barr, No. 15-3269, 2019 WL 1768914, at *6-8 (2d Cir. Apr. 23, 2019); Soriano-Mendosa v. Barr, No. 18-9535, 2019 WL 1531499, at *4 (10th Cir. Apr. 9, 2019) (unpublished); Santos-Santos v. Barr, 917 F.3d 486, 489-91 (6th Cir. 2019); Karingithi v. Whitaker, 913 F.3d 1158, 1159-62 (9th Cir. 2019). As our sister circuits have explained, § 1229(a) says nothing about how jurisdiction vests in an immigration court. See Karingithi, 913 F.3d at 1160. For that we must turn to the regulations, which explain that "[j]urisdiction vests, and proceedings before an Immigration Judge commence, when a charging document," including a notice to appear, "is filed with the Immigration Court." See 8 C.F.R. §§ 1003.13, 1003.14(a). But under the relevant regulations, a notice to appear need only provide the time, place, and date of the initial removal hearing "where practicable." Id. § 1003.18(b). Ali's argument, if accepted, would require us to erase the "where practicable" language in § 1003.18(b). Furthermore, the Court in Pereira itself would not have had jurisdiction, yet the Court never seemed to question that it did.

         The Pereira Court (and the dissent there, too) also took great pains to emphasize, more than once, that the question before the Court was a narrow one. See 138 S.Ct. at 2110, 2113, 2121. But it also noted that nearly every notice to appear within the previous three years before oral argument in Pereira had not contained the dates and times of the hearing. Id. at 2111. If Ali were correct, then the agency would not have had jurisdiction over any of those aliens it sought to remove during that time, not to mention the unknown number of aliens, like Ali, who received such a notice before then. We simply cannot reconcile the Court's answer to a self-described "narrow" question with the seismic ramifications Ali believes it produced.

         In short, Pereira had nothing to say about when an immigration judge obtains jurisdiction over an alien's removal proceedings. The IJ and BIA therefore had jurisdiction over Ali's removal ...

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