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Santa Maria v. McAleenan

United States District Court, S.D. Texas, Houston Division

May 15, 2019

REYNA CANALES SANTA MARIA, Plaintiff,
v.
KEVIN K. MCALEENAN, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, et al., [1] Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND OPINION

          Lee H. Rosenthal Chief United States District Judge.

         Reyna Canales Santa Maria has sued Kevin K. McAleenan, the Acting Secretary of the United States Department of Homeland Security; Lee Cissna, the Director of United States Citizenship and Immigration Services; and Wallace L. Carroll, the Citizen and Immigration Services Field Office Director for Houston. (Docket Entry No. 1). Santa Maria alleges that Citizenship and Immigration Services improperly dismissed her status-adjustment application for lack of jurisdiction, in violation of the Administrative Procedure Act. (Id. at 2-4, 10-14). The defendants have moved to dismiss, arguing that this court lacks subject-matter jurisdiction over Santa Maria's action. Santa Maria responded, and the defendants replied. (Docket Entry Nos. 9-11).[2]

         After a careful review of the complaint, motion, response, reply, properly considered documents, and the applicable law, the court dismisses the case, without prejudice, for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction. The reasons are explained in detail below.

         I. Background

         Santa Maria is a native and citizen of Honduras. (Docket Entry No. 1 at 8). An immigration judge permitted Santa Maria to voluntarily depart the United States in August 1998. (Docket Entry No. 1-1 at 2). When she did not leave, the voluntary departure became a removal order. (Id.). Because Santa Maria received temporary protected status as a Honduras national, (Docket Entry No. 1 at 8-9); 83 Fed. Reg. 26074 (June 5, 2018), she could not be removed, 8 U.S.C. § 1254a(a)(1)(A); 8 C.F.R. § 244.10(f)(2)(i).

         Citizenship and Immigration Services authorized Santa Maria to depart the United States on advance parole, meaning that she could return to seek an adjustment of status. Matter of Manohar Rao Arrabally, 25 I. & N. Dec. 771, 777 (BIA 2012) (“Advance parole can be requested from abroad or at a port of entry, but typically it is sought by an alien who is already inside the United States and who wants to leave temporarily but fears that he will either be excluded as an inadmissible alien upon return or be deemed to have abandoned a pending application for an immigration benefit.”). Santa Maria left the United States and returned in April 2016. (Docket Entry No. 1 at 9).

         In September 2017, Santa Maria filed an application with Citizenship and Immigration Services to register permanent residence or to adjust status. (Docket Entry No. 1-1 at 2). In May 2018, Citizenship and Immigration Services administratively closed her application because it lacked jurisdiction. (Id.). The decision stated:

[Citizenship and Immigration Services] reviewed your administrative file . . . and determined that an Immigration Judge granted you voluntary departure on August 21, 1998. Since you did not leave, this became an order of removal. It does not appear that the removal proceedings against you have been terminated. . . . Although you were paroled into the United States on April 7, 2019, pursuant to Form I-512 issued to you based on Temporary Protected Status (TPS), you are considered upon return to be in the status you held at the time of departure, in your case an alien with an outstanding deportation order. . . .
Because [Citizenship and Immigration Services] lacks jurisdiction to adjudicate your Form I-485, it is administratively closed. However, this does not prevent you from seeking adjustment before [the Executive Office for Immigration Review].

(Id. at 2-3).

         Santa Maria sued the heads of the Department of Homeland Security and of Citizenship and Immigration Services, arguing that the decision to close her application for lack of jurisdiction was arbitrary, capricious, or contrary to the law. (Docket Entry No. 1 at 10 (citing 5 U.S.C. § 706(2)(A)). Santa Maria alleges that she was an “arriving alien” and that this status gave Citizenship and Immigration Services jurisdiction over her application. (Id. at 10-14).

         The defendants have moved to dismiss, arguing that the Immigration Nationality Act strips the court of jurisdiction over suits challenging removal orders and that Santa Maria's action does “nothing more than” challenge her removal order. (Docket Entry No. 9 at 5). Santa Maria responded, conceding that the Act prevents “an alien from attacking, or challenging the validity of, his or her final order of removal in a federal district court, ” but arguing that her complaint is not “inextricably linked” to her removal order because she complied with the removal order when she left the United States on advance parole, and because she challenges Citizen and Immigration Service's jurisdictional decision, not the removal order or the application merits. (Docket Entry No. 10 at 2-6).

         The parties' arguments are examined below.

         II. ...


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