This case is important because it gives those that entered the United States as refugees a broader range of protections from lawyers in removal proceedings.
On September 17, 2021, the United States Board of Immigration Appeals decided that a person who enters the United States as a refugee and later adjusts to a lawful permanent resident status is not prevented from being eligible for a waiver of inadmissibility based on an aggravated felony conviction.
Similar to many others in the United States, the Respondent found himself in removal proceedings after an aggravated felony conviction. Respondent had entered the United States as a refugee from Laos in 1989. The Respondent argued that he was not subject to removal because he entered the United States as a refugee, not a lawful permanent resident. The Department of Homeland Security challenged this argument on appeal.
The Act states that no waiver can be granted in the case of an alien who was previously admitted into the United States as a lawful permanent resident if he or she has been convicted of an aggravated felony conviction since the time they were admitted. The Board looked at the term “admitted” and determined that it was defined as the “lawful entry of the alien into the United States after inspection and authorization by an immigration officer.”
In order to be subject to the aggravated felony bar under this provision, the Board decided that three requirements apply. First, the individual must have entered the United States. Second, they must have entered as a lawful permanent resident. Lastly, the first and second requirements must have been fulfilled prior to their aggravated felony conviction. In this case, since the Respondent had entered the United States as a refugee, and then later adjusted to a lawful permanent resident, the second requirement is not satisfied. At the time of entry, although admitted as a refugee into the United States, that is different than entering as a lawfully admitted permanent resident.
This case is important because it gives those that entered the United States as refugees a broader range of protections from lawyers in removal proceedings. This distinction between their refugee status and their status as lawful permanent residents can give people a chance to apply for a waiver of inadmissibility based on a conviction for an aggravated felony. Each case and each waiver is decided on a case-by-case basis, and it does not guarantee the chance to remain in the United States, but it provides options. It should also be noted, that the outcome would likely be different for a person who entered as a refugee, adjusted status, then traveled outside the U.S. and re-entered as a permanent resident, then was convicted of an aggravated felony.