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Barraza v. Mukasey

March 13, 2008

ARTURO ESCOBAR BARRAZA, PETITIONER,
v.
MICHAEL B. MUKASEY, ATTORNEY GENERAL OF THE UNITED STATES, RESPONDENT.



Petition for Review of an Order of the Board of Immigration Appeals.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Easterbrook, Chief Judge.

ARGUED FEBRUARY 27, 2008

Before EASTERBROOK, Chief Judge, and POSNER and WOOD, Circuit Judges.

Arturo Escobar Barraza, a citizen of Mexico, applied for permission to remain in the United States as a permanent resident under a provision establishing a preference for immediate relatives of citizens. (Both his wife and his mother are citizens of the United States.) Before the agency made a final decision on this application, however, Escobar was convicted in Nebraska of possessing drug paraphernalia-specifically, a pipe for smoking marijuana. Neb. Rev. Stat. §28-441. An immigration judge concluded that this conviction makes Escobar inadmissible, see 8 U.S.C. §1182(a)(2)(A)(i)(II), and an alien who is inadmissible at the time he seeks adjustment of status not only is ineligible for permanent residence, see 8 U.S.C. §1227(a)(1)(A), but also is not entitled to remain in the United States. The IJ ordered him removed to Mexico, and the Board of Immigration Appeals agreed.

Escobar's lead argument is that §1182(a)(2)(A)(i)(II) is inapplicable because no federal law forbids simple possession of drug paraphernalia-though 21 U.S.C. §863 bans the import, export, or sale of drug paraphernalia. Section 1182(a)(2)(A)(i)(II) applies to "a violation of (or a conspiracy or attempt to violate) any law or regulation of a State, the United States, or a foreign country relating to a controlled substance (as defined in section 802 of title 21)". As Escobar understands this language, the phrase "as defined in section 802 of title 21" modifies the entire text of the subsection rather than the immediate antecedent ("controlled substance"). He contends, in other words, that §1182(a)(2)(A)(i)(II) operates similarly to 8 U.S.C. §1101(a)(43)(B), which Lopez v. Gonzales, 127 S.Ct. 625 (2006), read to create a rule that drug offenses under state law may be treated as aggravated felonies for immigration purposes only if the deeds also are felonies under federal law. See also United States v. Pacheco-Diaz, 506 F.3d 545 (7th Cir. 2007), rehearing denied, No. 05-2264 (7th Cir. Jan. 29, 2008).

Section 1101(a)(43)(B) defines an "aggravated felony" to include "illicit trafficking in a controlled substance . . . including a drug trafficking crime (as defined in section 924(c) of title 18)"; the Court read the parenthetical phrase to refer to the immediate antecedent and thus to cover only events that are crimes under federal law. In §1182(a)(2)(A)(i)(II), by contrast, the immediate antecedent is "controlled substance", and the interpretive stance taken by Lopez thus does not assist Escobar, for marijuana is a controlled substance under Schedule I, 21 U.S.C. §812(c)(I)(c)(10), to which 21 U.S.C. §802(6) points.

No court of appeals has applied the hypothetical-federal-felony approach to §1182(a)(2)(A)(i)(II). Escobar's reading is not grammatically sound. "[V]violation of . . . any law or regulation of a State . . . (as defined in section 802 of title 21)" would be incoherent. Section 802 does not "define" states or state laws; it defines many terms used in Title 21, including the Schedules on which controlled substances are listed, but does not say which acts concerning what substances are lawful and which forbidden. The only plausible understanding of §1182(a)(2)(A)(i)(II) is that "as defined in section 802 of title 21" modifies "controlled substance" and nothing else.

Although §1182(a)(2)(A)(i)(II) makes Escobar inadmissible, the Attorney General may permit some inadmissible aliens to enter or remain in the United States. Section 212, 8 U.S.C. §1182(h), is among the grants of discretionary authority. This subsection reads:

The Attorney General may, in his discretion, waive the application of subparagraphs (A)(i)(I), (B), (D), and (E) of subsection (a)(2) of this section and subparagraph (A)(i)(II) of such subsection insofar as it relates to a single offense of simple possession of 30 grams or less of marijuana if- . . .

(1)(B) in the case of an immigrant who is the spouse, parent, son, or daughter of a citizen of the United States or an alien lawfully admitted for permanent residence if it is established to the satisfaction of the Attorney General that the alien's denial of admission would result in extreme hardship to the United States citizen or lawfully resident spouse, parent, son, or daughter of such alien; . . . [and] . ..

(2) the Attorney General, in his discretion, and pursuant to such terms, conditions and procedures as he may by regulations prescribe, has consented to the alien's applying or reap-plying for a visa, for admission to the United States, or adjustment of status.

No waiver shall be provided under this subsection in the case of an alien who has been convicted of (or who has admitted committing acts that constitute) murder or criminal acts involving torture, or an attempt or conspiracy to commit murder or a criminal act involving torture. No waiver shall be granted under this subsection in the case of an alien who has previously been admitted to the United States as an alien lawfully admitted for permanent residence if either since the date of such admission the alien has been convicted of an aggravated felony or the alien has not lawfully resided continuously in the United States for a period of not less than 7 years immediately preceding the date of initiation of proceedings to remove the alien from the United States. No court shall have jurisdiction to review a decision of the Attorney General to grant or deny a waiver under this subsection.

Because Escobar is inadmissible under ยง1182(a)(2)(A)(i)(II), a waiver is possible only if his con- viction "relates to a single offense of simple possession of 30 grams or less of marijuana". The IJ and BIA concluded that this means that the conviction itself must be for simple possession of marijuana; a drug-paraphernalia crime differs from "simple possession . . . of marijuana" and makes waiver impossible. The Board wrapped up: "Despite the fact that [this] reading might result in harsher results for someone convicted of what might be considered a lesser crime, possession of ...


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