Supreme Court Rules on Notice Rights in Relief from Removal Cases

The U.S. Supreme Court recently issued a 6-3 decision in the case of Niz-Chavez v. Garland, which involved the content of the notices to appear used by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in measuring eligibility for cancellation of removal relief for immigrants. The court opted for a strict reading of the statute, ruling that a notice to appear (NTA) must be a single document that contains all the relevant information about the removal hearing, including the time and place of the hearing, instead of multiple documents. If the notice does not contain all the required information, it does not qualify as an NTA under federal immigration law. In its ruling, the court leaned heavily on its 2018 ruling in Pereira v. Sessions, which dealt with a similar issue.

Significance of the NTA

The timing of the NTA can be crucial in cancellation of removal, which is an essential form of relief for individuals in removal proceedings in immigration court. Congress has placed specific limits on the ability of immigrants to use cancellation of removal as a potential remedy in removal proceedings. More specifically, both available types of cancellation of removal require a certain number of years of continuous residence or physical presence in the U.S. Under the so-called “stop-time rule,” service of the NTA is one type of occurrence that stops the clock running for cancellation of removal eligibility. As a result, receiving an NTA can make an immigrant ineligible for cancellation of removal, depending on its timing.

The Facts in Niz-Chavez

Niz-Chavez received two separate notices about his removal hearing. The first notice contained no information about the time or place of the removal hearing. The second notice, however, contained the relevant information. The federal government argued that service of the two notices constituted an NTA that triggered the stop-time rule for Niz-Chavez. Since Niz-Chavez received these notices before he had continuously been present in the U.S. for ten years, he was therefore ineligible for cancellation of removal. On appeal, both the Board of Immigration Appeals and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit ruled that Niz-Chavez was ineligible to apply for cancellation of removal.

The INA and the Court’s Ruling

The Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) requires ten specific pieces of information for a notice to qualify as an NTA, which includes the time and location of the hearing. In a previous decision, the court held that notices lacking this information were insufficient to trigger the stop-time rule. In Niz-Chavez, a majority of the court ruled that providing the required information in a single notice was the only way to invoke the stop-time rule.

Although the court based its decision primarily on statutory interpretation, structure, and the legislative history of this and similar INA provisions, Justice Gorsuch’s majority opinion also noted that the federal government should have followed the standards from a 2018 ruling that also dealt with the content of NTAs. Furthermore, Gorsuch pointed out that if the government required immigrants to follow strict standards in completing government forms related to their immigration cases, then the government also must adhere to a strict reading of the statutory notice requirements. In other words, if the government gives applicants no flexibility, then the government should not get the benefit of flexibility, either, especially when this flexibility is unnecessary.

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