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Wood v. Mukasey

February 14, 2008


Petition for Review of an Order of the Board of Immigration Appeals. No. A95-398-538.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Sykes, Circuit Judge


Before POSNER, ROVNER, and SYKES, Circuit Judges.

Lolita Wood, a native and citizen of Lithuania who overstayed her visitor's visa, married a U.S. citizen during the final stages of her removal proceedings. In a last-ditch effort to stave off removal to her native country, she requested a continuance to apply for adjustment of status as the spouse of a U.S. citizen. An immigration judge ("IJ") denied her request because Wood had already received a 14-month continuance by presenting herself as the "wife" of her asylum-seeking Lithuanian ex-husband at an earlier removal hearing. Wood appealed the IJ's ruling to the Board of Immigration Appeals ("BIA"), which adopted and affirmed the IJ's decision. Based on the same conduct cited by the IJ as grounds for denying the continuance, the BIA also determined that Wood did not merit a discretionary adjustment of status. The BIA ordered Wood to voluntarily depart the United States.

On petition for review to this court, Wood challenges the BIA's denial of a continuance and its determination that she did not warrant a discretionary adjustment of status. We have no jurisdiction to review either determination. See 8 U.S.C. § 1252(a)(2)(B)(ii); Ali v. Gonzales, 502 F.3d 659, 664 (7th Cir. 2007). Wood also argues the BIA exceeded its appellate-review authority by reaching and deciding the ultimate adjustment-of-status question, even though the IJ had not. This is a legal issue over which our review jurisdiction remains intact, 8 U.S.C. § 1252(a)(2)(D); Ali v. Achim, 468 F.3d 462, 465 (7th Cir. 2006), but we reject Wood's argument. The BIA properly exercised its appellate-review authority over discretionary issues when it determined Wood did not merit a status adjustment. The petition for review is denied.

I. Background

Lolita Wood overstayed a visitor's visa that expired in October 2000. Daries Bendikas, Lolita's Lithuanian husband at the time she entered the United States, also overstayed his visa, and in February 2002 he submitted an asylum application naming his wife as a derivative beneficiary. A few months later, however, Wood was no longer married to Bendikas; in May 2002 a Lithuanian court in Vilnius granted her divorce petition. Unaware of the divorce, the Immigration and Naturalization Service (which merged into the Department of Homeland Security as the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services in March 2003) denied Bendikas's asylum application and referred the couple to immigration court for removal proceedings.

In January 2003 the couple appeared pro sebefore an IJ for their initial hearing. The IJ assumed the couple was still married; they appeared as husband and wife, and neither told the IJ about their divorce. Rather, Bendikas told the IJ he wished to challenge the denial of his asylum application, which still listed Wood as a derivative beneficiary by virtue of their marriage. To give the couple time to obtain counsel and prepare their asylum case, the IJ granted Bendikas and Wood a 14-month continuance and scheduled their final asylum and removal hearing for April 2004.

Wood appeared with counsel at the April 2004 hearing, but Bendikas did not appear at all. By this time the IJ had learned of the couple's May 2002 divorce and informed Wood that she was ineligible for asylum because she was no longer married to the primary asylum applicant. The IJ explained that the only type of relief available to Wood was voluntary departure, which he would determine in his discretion. Wood's attorney then told the IJ that Wood planned to marry a U.S. citizen in July 2004, but the IJ was reluctant to prolong the proceedings to accommodate any future marriage-based challenges to removal- namely, an application to adjust status to that of a lawful permanent resident. The IJ noted that Wood's contemplated marriage might make her eligible for admission as a lawful permanent resident in the future, but she would need to apply through the U.S. Embassy in Lithuania, not in the context of her removal proceedings.*fn1

The IJ then granted a continuance until December 2004 so that Wood's attorney, whom she had retained only the night before, could explain to Wood the implications of voluntary departure and investigate any other possible forms of relief. The IJ made it clear there would be no more continuances-even one based on Wood's contemplated marriage and any resulting visa petition by her American husband-and instructed Wood's attorney to "advise your client that she is going to either be willing to depart voluntarily at the next hearing . . . or I am simply going to enter an order that she be deported." On July 23, 2004, Wood married U.S. citizen Timothy Wood, who promptly filed an I-130 immigrant relative visa petition on her behalf.

Before the December 2004 hearing, Wood moved for another continuance to afford her an opportunity to apply for adjustment of status based on her July 2004 marriage to an American citizen and her husband's I-130 petition (as yet unapproved). The IJ denied Wood's request (as he previously warned he would), citing the prior 14-month continuance based solely on Wood having misrepresented her status as a derivative asylum beneficiary (available only for spouses and children, see 8 U.S.C. § 1158(b)(3)(A) (2000)). The IJ explained that Wood essentially bought herself an extra 14 months of unlawful presence by failing to disclose her divorce at the January 2003 hearing. Wood had no remaining defenses to removal. The IJ granted voluntary departure in lieu of removal.

Wood appealed the denial of her continuance to the BIA. While that appeal was pending, another division of DHS approved Timothy Wood's I-130 visa petition on Lolita's behalf. Now armed with prima facie evidence that her marriage was bona fide (a prerequisite to applying for adjustment of status based on a marriage entered into during removal proceedings, 8 C.F.R. § 245.1(c)(8)(v) (2006)), Wood also asked the BIA to remand her case to the IJ to adjudicate her form I-485 (application for adjustment of status). In a one-page order, the BIA dismissed the appeal and denied the motion to remand. The BIA adopted and affirmed the IJ's justification for denying the additional continuance, and also stated a supplemental reason for denying either a continuance or remand-that further proceedings before the IJ were unnecessary because Wood did not merit discretionary adjustment of status. The BIA refused to exercise its discretion in Wood's favor "for the same reasons which the [IJ] set forth for declining to continue proceedings," that is, because she falsely presented herself as still married to her Lithuanian ex-husband for purposes of derivative relief under his asylum application. The BIA then ordered Wood to voluntarily depart the country within 60 days or face removal. That final order gave rise to this petition for review.

II. Discussion

Because the BIA adopted the IJ's decision but articulated a supplemental reason for affirmance, we review both decisions. Gjerazi v. Gonzales, 435 F.3d 800, 807 (7th Cir. 2006); Giday v. Gonzales, 434 F.3d 543, 547 (7th Cir. 2006). Wood's petition for review challenges the BIA's affirmance of the IJ's denial of a continuance and its independent determination that Wood did not merit a discretionary adjustment of status. When this case was orally argued, this circuit had not yet affirmatively decided whether the jurisdiction-stripping provision of § 242(a)(2)(B)(ii) of the Immigration and Nationality Act ("INA"), 8 U.S.C. § 1252(a)(2)(B)(ii), applies to continuance decisions of immigration judges. We have now done so; in Ali v. Gonzales, 502 F.3d at 664, we held that § 1252(a)(2)(B)(ii) precludes judicial review of continuance decisions. Because the BIA, in its discretion, addressed and decided the merits of the status-adjustment question under 8 U.S.C. § 1255, Wood's case does not come within the exception to the jurisdictional bar recognized in Subhan v. Ashcroft, 383 F.3d 591, 595 (7th Cir. 2004). See Ali, 502 F.3d at 664-65. The ...

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