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Janjua v. Neufeld

United States District Court, N.D. California

July 6, 2017

KHALIL JANJUA, Plaintiff,
v.
DONALD NEUFELD, et al., Defendants.

          ORDER DENYING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT; AND GRANTING DEFENDANTS' CROSS-MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT DOCKET NOS. 28, 30

          EDWARD M. CHEN, United States District Judge.

         Docket Nos. 28, 30 Plaintiff Khalil Janjua has filed suit against various federal government entities and employees (all individuals have been sued in their official capacities). His basic contention is that the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (“USCIS”) improperly denied his application for adjustment of status, i.e., from refugee to lawful permanent resident (“LPR”). Currently pending before the Court are the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment. The main issue for the Court to decide is whether the federal government is collaterally estopped from denying Mr. Janjua adjustment of status on the ground that he previously engaged in terrorist activities.

         Having considered the parties' briefs and accompanying submissions, as well as the oral argument of counsel, the Court hereby DENIES Mr. Janjua's motion and GRANTS the government's.

         I. FACTUAL & PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         A. Asylum and Adjustment of Status of Refugees

         Before discussing the factual and procedural background specific to this case, the Court briefly provide some general legal background that is relevant to the pending motions.

         Asylum. The statute generally applicable for asylum is 8 U.S.C. § 1158. Under § 1158, “[a]ny alien who is physically present in the United States or who arrives in the United States . . . may apply for asylum.” 8 U.S.C. § 1158(a). “The Secretary of Homeland Security or the Attorney General may grant asylum . . . if [he or she] determines that such alien is a refugee within the meaning of section 101(a)(42)(A) [8 U.S.C. § 1101(a)(42)(A)].” Id. § 1158(b)(1)(A).

         “The term 'refugee' means (A) any person who is outside any country of such person's nationality . . . and who is unable or unwilling to return to, and is unable or unwilling to avail himself or herself of the protection of, that country because of persecution or a well-founded fear or persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.” Id. § 1101(a)(42(A).

         An alien, however, is generally not eligible for asylum if he or she has engaged in terrorist activity as defined by 8 U.S.C. § 1182. See Id. § 1158(b)(2)(A)(v) (referring to an “alien described in subclause (I), (II), (III), (IV), or (VI) of section 212(a)(3)(B)(i) [8 U.S.C. § 1182(a)(3)(B)(i)]”); id. §1182(a)(3)(B)(i) (addressing aliens inadmissible on the basis of terrorist activities). Engaging in terrorist activity includes soliciting funds or other things of value for a terrorist organization and affording material support to a terrorist organization. See Id. § 1182(a)(3)(B)(iv)(IV), (VI).

         Adjustment of status of refugees.

         The statute generally applicable for adjustment of status of refugees is 8 U.S.C. § 1159. Under § 1159, a refugee may have his or her status adjusted to a LPR if he or she “has been physically present in the United States for at least one year after being granted asylum, ” “continues to be a refugee, ” and “is admissible . . . as an immigrant under this Act at the time of examination for adjustment of such alien.” Id. § 1159(b). Based on the last factor, § 1182 - which governs inadmissibility for aliens - comes into play and, as indicated above, an alien is not admissible if he or she has engaged in terrorist activity. See Id. § 1182(a)(3)(B)(i).

         Thus, “both 8 U.S.C. § 1158 (the statute governing petitions for asylum) and 8 U.S.C. § 1159 (the statute governing petitions for permanent resident status), look to 8 U.S.C. § 1182 (the statute governing inadmissible aliens) to determine whether an alien is eligible for relief.” Amrollah v. Napolitano, 710 F.3d 568, 571 (5th Cir. 2013).

         B. Mr. Janjua's Applications for Asylum and Adjustment of Status

         Having addressed the general legal background, the Court now turns to the specific factual and procedural background in the case at hand.

         Mr. Janjua is a native and citizen of Pakistan. See CAR 555 (application for asylum). He applied for asylum in the United States in or about November 1999. See CAR 554 (acknowledgment of receipt of application). In a statement in support of his application, Mr. Janjua explained that he was seeking asylum because his “life was in danger in [his] home country Pakistan, ” more specifically, as a result of his status as a “Muhajir” and his membership and participation in an organization known as the Muhajir Qaumi Movement (“MQM”). See CAR 564 (attachment to asylum application) (indicating that Muhajir status relates to a person's or relative's immigrating to Pakistan from India).

         In January 2000, the agency then-known as the Immigration and Naturalization Service (“INS”) rejected Mr. Janjua's application for asylum, stating that he had “not demonstrated with clear and convincing evidence that [his] application was filed within one year of [his] last arrival.” CAR 547 (rejection notice). INS then initiated removal proceedings against him, asserting that Mr. Janjua was “an alien present in the United States who has not been admitted or paroled.” CAR 544 (notice to appear). In response, Mr. Janjua asked for relief from removal based on, inter alia, asylum. See CAR 440 (application for asylum and/or withholding of removal). In September 2000, an immigration judge denied his request for relief. See AR 421 (IJ order).

         Mr. Janjua subsequently appealed the immigration judge's order to the Board of Immigration Appeals (“BIA”), asserting that “there exists a clear probability of persecution on the basis of [his] ethnicity and political opinion should he be forced to return [to Pakistan].” CAR 218 (Mr. Janjua's appellate brief). In July 2003, the BIA remanded the case to the immigration court “for further consideration of the credibility of [Mr. Janjua's] claim.” CAR 209 (BIA order). In April 2007, an immigration judge granted Mr. Janjua's asylum application. See CAR 53-53 (letter and IJ order).

         In December 2008, Mr. Janjua filed an application to adjust his status to a LPR. See CAR 31, 36 (application to register permanent residence or adjust status). Because USCIS did not render a decision on his application, Mr. Janjua initiated the instant action in November 2015. See Docket No. 1 (complaint). In January 2016, USCIS contacted Mr. Janjua and asked him to submit evidence in support of his application. See CAR 25 (request for evidence). After Mr. Janjua responded, see CAR 27-28 (response to request for evidence), USCIS issued a notice of intent to deny in June 2016. See CAR 21 (notice of intent to deny). Thereafter, in August 2016, USCIS issued a formal decision, denying adjustment of status. See CAR 1 (decision). USCIS stated in relevant part:

[Y]ou are inadmissible under INA section 212(a)(3)(B)(i)(I) for having engaged in terrorist activities as defined by section 212(a)(3)(B)(iv)(VI)(dd) for the voluntary provision of material support to an undesignated terrorist organization when you distributed flyers, organized meetings and rallies, hung posters, provided tent service for the MQM and the MQM(A) and started a new MQM office. You are also inadmissible under INA section 212(a)(3)(B)(i)(I) as defined by section 212(a)(3)(B)(iv)(IV)(cc) for soliciting funds or other things of value when you collected donations for the MQM.

CAR 3. In response to Mr. Janjua's “contention] that USCIS is collaterally estopped from finding [him] inadmissible for terrorist-related activities because the issue was previously litigated when [he was] granted asylum, ” USCIS disagreed, stating as follows:

Your grant of asylum in 2007 and the current adjudication of your Application to Adjust Status are separate decisions. In order to adjust status under INA section 209(b), you must be admissible at the time of examination for adjustment of status. The decision on your Application to Adjust Status is not bound by the decision on a prior benefit adjudication.

CAR 3.

         Mr. Janjua then amended his complaint to challenge the above ruling by USCIS. See Docket No. 17 (first amended complaint (“FAC”)). According to Mr. Janjua, the USCIS decision should be set aside because it “is arbitrary, capricious, wholly unsupported by substantial evidence, and otherwise not in accordance with law.” FAC ¶ 1 (citing the Administrative Procedure Act (“APA”)); see also 5 U.S.C. § 706(2).

         II. DISCUSSION

         A. Legal Standard

Summary judgment is appropriate “if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). Where the district court reviews an administrative action pursuant to the APA, summary judgment is an appropriate mechanism for deciding the purely legal question of whether the agency could ...

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