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GRIJALVA v. ILCHERT

March 2, 1993

VICTORIA MEJIA GRIJALVA, Plaintiff,
v.
DAVID ILCHERT, Director of the Immigration and Naturalization Service et. al., Defendant.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: STANLEY A. WEIGEL

 I. Background

 Plaintiff is a twenty-nine year old citizen of El Salvador who entered the United States without inspection or about March 7, 1992. On April 27, 1992, Plaintiff applied to the United States Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) for political asylum and temporary employment authorization.

 In Plaintiff's asylum application, prepared in pro per, she wrote that she left El Salvador because of fears arising out that country's civil war. In describing her reasons for seeking asylum, Plaintiff wrote that she feared returning to El Salvador because she had cousins who were "killed by guerrillas" on account of their service in the Salvadoran government army. She further explained that while she lived in El Salvador, guerrillas "taunt[ed] and threatened" her because she has not "approved or participated with the guerrillas." Complaint for Declaratory Judgment and Injunction, Exh. A question 21.

 On June 8, 1992, the INS deemed Plaintiff's application frivolous. It denied Plaintiff employment authorization on the ground that Plaintiff failed to allege any statutory basis on which she had been or might be persecuted. Because there is no administrative appeal from an INS decision denying employment authorization, Plaintiff filed a complaint in federal district court.

 Plaintiff now moves for a preliminary injunction prohibiting Defendants from withholding employment authorization documents. Defendants oppose Plaintiff's motion and move to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.

 II. Discussion

 A. Preliminary Injunction

 In determining whether a preliminary injunction should issue, the Court must consider four factors: (1) the likelihood of success on the merits; (2) the threat of irreparable injury to Plaintiff if the injunction is not imposed; (3) whether the harm to the moving party in the absence of an injunction outweighs the harms to the non-moving party if the injunction is issued; and (4) the public interest. Alaska v. Native Village of Venetie, 856 F.2d 1384 (9th Cir. 1988).

 The Ninth Circuit has collapsed these factors into a two-prong test. To obtain a preliminary injunction, the moving party must demonstrate either (1) probable success on the merits and the possibility of irreparable injury, or (2) that serious questions are raised and the balance of hardships sharply favors the moving party. National Center for Immigrants' Rights, Inc. v. I.N.S., 743 F.2d 1365, 1369 (9th Cir. 1984) citing Beltran v. Meyers , 677 F.2d 1317, 1320 (9th Cir. 1982). These standards are not separate tests, "but are the ends of a continuum; the greater the relative hardship to the moving party, the less probability of success must be shown." National Center for Immigrants' Right Inc., 743 F.2d at 1369 citing Benda v. Grand Lodge of the Int'l Ass'n of Machinists, 584 F.2d 308, 315 (9th Cir. 1978) cert. dismissed 441 U.S. 937 (1979). Plaintiff has met her burden under this test.

 B. Likelihood of Success on the Merits

 In determining whether Plaintiff is likely to prevail on the merits, the Court need not consider whether her application for asylum in the United States will ultimately be approved. The sole issue before the Court is whether Plaintiff is likely to succeed in proving that Defendants unlawfully prohibited Plaintiff from obtaining employment authorization while her asylum application was pending.

 Under United States immigration law, a person who flees a country may be granted asylum in the United States, if the Attorney General determines that the alien is a "refugee" within the meaning of 8 U.S.C § 1101(a)(42)(A). *fn1" An alien who has filed an application for asylum may request authorization to work in the United States while the asylum application is pending. 8 C.F.R. § 274 (1986). Under the regulations governing the granting of employment authorization, the asylum officer "shall grant employment authorization" to "any alien who has filed a nonfrivolous application for asylum. . . ." 8 C.F.R. § 274a.12(c)(8). If an application for asylum is "nonfrivolous", the INS must grant the applicant employment authorization while the asylum application is pending.

 In determining whether the INS properly concluded that Plaintiff's asylum application was "frivolous" and that, as a result, Plaintiff was not entitled to employment authorization, the scope of the Court's review is limited. As a general matter, the Court "must accord great deference to the interpretation given to an administrative regulation by the officers of the agency charged with its administration." Udall v. Tallman, 380 U.S. 1, 16, 13 L. Ed. 2d 616, 85 S. Ct. 792 (1965). Deference to an agency's interpretation, however, is not absolute. While a reviewing court must set not set aside an agency's interpretation merely because it concludes that another interpretation is better, it must reject an interpretation that is plainly erroneous or inconsistent with the underlying regulation. United States v. Larionoff, 431 U.S. 864, 872, 53 L. Ed. 2d 48, 97 S. Ct. 2150 (1977); see also, Ramos v. Thornburgh, 732 F. Supp. 696, 702 (E.D. Tex. 1989). Moreover, in determining whether an agency properly applied its own interpretation of its regulations in a particular case, a court may set aside the agency decision only if the decision was "arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion or otherwise not in accordance with the law." 5 U.S.C. § 706(2)(A). Thus, the Court can set aside Defendants' finding of "frivolousness" and their denial of Plaintiff 's employment authorization as an abuse of discretion if those decisions "were made without a ...


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