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Media Alerts - Patel v. Napolitano et al. - Fourth Circuit
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March 6, 2013
  Patel v. Napolitano et al. - Fourth Circuit
Headline: Alien Who Swore Permanent Allegiance Not a United States National Under INA

Area of Law: Immigration

Issue Presented: Whether an individual who swears permanent allegiance to the United States is a "United States national" under the Immigration and Nationality Act.

Brief Summary: Kamal Patel is a permanent resident alien and federal inmate who sought to be declared a "United States national" under Section 1101 of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). He had been deemed ineligible for prison rehabilitation programs based on his immigration status. Relying on the Fourth Circuit's decision in United States v. Morin, Patel argued he qualified as a "United States national" under the INA because he had previously sworn permanent allegiance to the United States. The Fourth Circuit, however, found that Morin did not invalidate two rulings by the Board of Immigration Appeals, which found that nationality under the INA can only be conferred by birth or naturalization. The court determined Patel was not a "United States national" under the INA. Judge Davis dissented on procedural grounds.

Significance: A Fourth Circuit panel disagreed with an earlier panel's ruling in United States v. Morin, and affirmed that United States nationality can only be conferred by birth or naturalization.

Extended Summary: The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, in a civil suit seeking clarification of a claimant's immigration status, rejected an earlier decision that allowed aliens to become "United States nationals" by simply applying for citizenship. The claimant, Kamal Patel, is a federal inmate and permanent resident alien who swore an oath of permanent allegiance to the United States, registered for the Selective Service, and applied for citizenship. His application went unresolved when he failed to complete the naturalization process. Because the Federal Bureau of Prisons classified Patel as an alien, he was ineligible for rehabilitation programs like prerelease classes and a drug treatment program. In an attempt to become eligible for such programs, Patel sought to be declared a "United States national" under Section 1503 of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). Section 1503 allows an individual to seek a declaration that he is a "United States national" if he is denied a right or privilege based on his immigration status. The United States District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina, however, mistaking Patel's claim as an action for a hearing and damages, dismissed his case and concluded that inmates do not have a constitutional right to participate in rehabilitation programs.

On appeal, the Fourth Circuit addressed whether Patel successfully alleged he qualified as a "United States national" under Section 1503. To state a claim successfully, Patel needed to allege he took the appropriate steps to become a "United States national" under Section 1101 of the INA. The section defines "United States national," in part, as a person who owes permanent allegiance to the United States. It further provides that nationality is conferred by birth or naturalization.

Notwithstanding that he was neither born in the United States nor a naturalized citizen, Patel maintained that he nonetheless qualified as a "United States national" under Section 1101 because he had applied for citizenship. In support of his argument, Patel pointed to the Fourth Circuit's decision in United States v. Morin. In that case, the Fourth Circuit found that a permanent resident established his permanent allegiance to the United States under Section 1101 by applying for citizenship. Decades earlier, however, the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA), which administers the INA, had issued a conflicting interpretation, stating that nationality under Section 1101 can only be conferred by birth or naturalization. The BIA affirmed this interpretation in a ruling that followed Morin.

The Fourth Circuit rejected Patel's claim in light of the BIA's two opinions. Citing United States v. Fernandez, the Fourth Circuit noted that deference to an agency's interpretation of a statute is appropriate if the statute is unclear and the agency's interpretation is reasonable. Its decision in Morin, the court said, did not address or reject the BIA's interpretation of Section 1101, and Congress left room for the BIA to fill gaps in the law. As a result, the court concluded that Patel failed to state a claim successfully under Section 1503 because he did not claim to have received United States nationality under Section 1101 in a way deemed appropriate by the BIA. The court thus affirmed the lower court's ruling.

In his dissenting opinion, Judge Davis noted that the lower court had mistakenly dismissed the case after interpreting Patel's claim as asserting a right to participate in rehabilitation programs. Because Patel only questioned his eligibility for the programs, Judge Davis explained that he would have sent the case back to give the lower court an opportunity to address Patel's "United States national" claim. Judge Davis further concluded Patel had stated a valid claim under Section 1503 because, in his view, the decision in Morin could only be overturned by the Circuit sitting en banc, and not by the three-judge panel that decided this case.

For the full opinion, please see:
http://www.ca4.uscourts.gov/Op...ublished/116386.P.pdf

Panel: Judges Gregory, Shedd, and Davis

Argument Date: 10/23/12

Date of Issued Opinion: 01/25/13

Docket Number: No. 11-6386

Decided: Affirmed

Case Alert Author: Brandon K. Moore

Counsel: ARGUED: Stephanie D. Taylor, JONES DAY, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, for Appellant. Seth Morgan Wood, OFFICE OF THE UNITED STATES ATTORNEY, Raleigh, North Carolina, for Appellees. ON BRIEF: Lawrence D. Rosenberg, JONES DAY, Washington, D.C., for Appellant. Thomas G. Walker, United States Attorney, R. A. Renfer, Jr., Assistant United States Attorney, OFFICE OF THE UNITED STATES ATTORNEY, Raleigh, North Carolina, for Appellees.

Author of Opinion: Gregory, J. (majority); Davis, J. (dissenting)

Case Alert Circuit Supervisor: Professor Renée Hutchins

    Posted By: Renee Hutchins @ 03/06/2013 12:05 PM     4th Circuit  

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