Question: I am married to a U.S. Citizen and just entered the U.S. Unfortunately, I have a crime in my past. The Immigration Judge denied my case and stated that because I was an arriving alien that I do not qualify to adjust my status in the U.S. Is this true?
Answer: Actually, in a majority of the U.S. you would not be eligible to adjust status to that of a Lawful Permanent Resident because you are considered to be an arriving alien. This is when a person basically enters the U.S. and is immediately put into deportation or removal proceedings. However, there was issued just recently a decision in the First Circuit Court of appeal a case that deals with this very issue. This case raises issues of first impression in immigration law as to the validity of a regulation promulgated in 1997 by the Attorney General, 8 C.F.R. § 245.1(c) (8). The regulation redefines certain aliens as ineligible to apply for adjustment of status to lawful permanent residents. Under that regulation, the Attorney General will not consider an application for adjustment of status from the entire category of aliens who have been granted parole status (permitted to enter the U.S.) but have been placed in removal proceedings.
Question: What was the reasoning of the court?
Answer: First, 8 U.S.C. Section 1255 specifically states who is eligible to adjust status. Previously, in 1997, the Attorney General carved out an exception to this (through implementing new regulations) that arriving aliens are not eligible to apply. First, the actual code 8 U.S.C. Section 1255 (made by Congress and signed by the President) specifically permits persons whom are paroled into the U.S. (and therefore an arriving alien) to adjust status in the U.S. Therefore, the actual Immigration and Nationality Act is not silent on the issue to which the Attorney General made the regulation.
Next, the Court ruled that Congress has specifically stated where the Attorney General had the authority to issue discretionary decisions as to eligibility for adjustment of status. Here, there was no authority given to the Attorney General (John Ashcroft at the time) to issue such a decision to bar people from adjusting status when the Immigration and Nationality Act specifically permitted those people to adjust. Basically, Congressional intent in making the policies of who can adjust status takes precedence over what the Attorney General thought that he could do.
Question: So, what was the final outcome?
Answer: The First Circuit Court of Appeals sent the case back down to the Immigration Court for Adjustment of Status proceedings after ruling that the regulation promulgated by the Attorney General making arriving aliens (or those paroled into the U.S.) ineligible for adjustment proceedings unconstitutional.
Question: Does this rule apply all over the U.S.?
Answer: Unfortunately, it does not. It only applies if you happen to be living in the 1st Circuit. This would be in the Northeastern part of the U.S. Thus, in all other areas of the U.S. an arriving alien cannot adjust status in removal proceedings. However, this ruling from the First Circuit is very powerful and can be used to convince the Immigration Judge to permit such an adjustment. If he/she does not, you can take it up on appeal to the Board of Immigration Appeals. After, if you lose, you can appeal this up to the Circuit Courts of Appeal in your jurisdiction. Finally, if you lose there, take it all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court.