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Arguijo v. United States Citizenship and Immigration Services

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division

January 15, 2020




         Plaintiff Jennifer Arguijo is a Honduran national and citizen who entered the United States in 1998 to live with her mother. Upon her mother's marriage a year later, Arguijo became a stepchild to a United States citizen referred to here as F.M. While Arguijo lived with her mother and F.M., she was abused by F.M. Ultimately, Arguijo's mother divorced F.M. Several years later, Arguijo sought to file a self-petition for legal status pursuant to the immigrant provisions of the Violence Against Women Act (“VAWA”), 8 U.S.C. § 1154. Defendant United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (“CIS”) denied her petition because she could not demonstrate the existence of a qualifying relationship. Specifically, CIS found that Arguijo could not be considered F.M.'s stepchild because F.M. and her mother were no longer married. Arguijo subsequently brought this action challenging the denial of her self-petition and naming as Defendants CIS; Chad Wolf, Acting Secretary of the United States Department of Homeland Security; L. Francis Cissna, Director of CIS; Barbara Velarde, Chief of the Administrative Appeals Office of CIS; and Michael Paul, Acting Director of the Vermont Service Center of CIS (hereinafter, “CIS” will refer to these Defendants collectively).[1] Arguijo now moves for summary judgment (Dkt. No. 94), contending that CIS's interpretation of who constitutes a stepchild is arbitrary and capricious and therefore its denial of her self-petition must be set aside under the Administrative Procedure Act (“APA”), 5 U.S.C. § 701 et seq. In addition, she contends that CIS's interpretation violates the equal protection component of the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution. CIS has also moved for summary judgment (Dkt. No. 99), arguing that its denial of Arguijo's self-petition was lawful under both the APA and the Fifth Amendment. As explained below, Arguijo's motion is denied and CIS's motion is granted.


         I. Arguijo and Her Abusive Stepfather

         Arguijo was born in Honduras on October 23, 1987, and she is a national and citizen of that country. (Defs.' Resp. to Pl.'s Statement of Material Facts (“DRPSF”) ¶ 1, Dkt. No. 99-2.) On June 24, 1998, Arguijo entered the United States on a B1/B2 nonimmigrant visitor visa to live with her mother. (Id. ¶ 9.) One year later, Arguijo's mother married F.M., a United States citizen. (Id. ¶ 10.) Because of her mother's marriage, Arguijo became F.M.'s stepchild. (Id.)

         For about four years, Arguijo lived with her mother and F.M. (Id. ¶ 12.) During that time, Arguijo's stepfather abused her physically, sexually, and psychologically. (Id. ¶ 13.) In particular, F.M. hit Arguijo in the face and left physical marks on her body. (Id. ¶ 14.) He also beat Arguijo's mother at least twice a week and if Arguijo or her siblings tried to intervene, F.M. would hit them too. (Id. ¶ 15.) F.M. told Arguijo and her siblings that they “didn't have the right to eat in the house with him or share his food.” (Id. ¶ 16.) And if they tried to take food, F.M. would hit them. (Id.) At times, F.M. would expose himself to Arguijo by emerging naked from the bathroom. (Id. ¶ 18.) Arguijo and her siblings were so fearful that F.M. would rape them that they slept with knives under their pillows. (Id. ¶ 17.) F.M. also threatened to report Arguijo and her siblings to immigration. (Id. ¶ 19.)

         No longer able to endure F.M.'s abuse, Arguijo ran away from home in 2003 when she was fifteen. (Id. ¶ 20.) On April 19, 2004, Arguijo's mother obtained a judgment of divorce, terminating her marriage to F.M. (Id. ¶ 21.) Shortly thereafter, Arguijo's mother passed away. (Id. ¶ 22.) The last time Arguijo saw her stepfather was at her mother's funeral. (Id. ¶ 23.)

         II. The Self-Petitioning Provisions of the Violence Against Women Act

         Under the immigrant provisions of the VAWA, 8 U.S.C. § 1154, aliens who are victims of domestic violence are given the opportunity to self-petition for legal status. (DRPSF ¶ 25.) By self-petitioning, an alien may seek legal status without having to depend on her abuser to petition on her behalf. (Id.); 8 U.S.C. § 1154. The goal of the VAWA's immigrant provisions is “to remove immigration laws as a barrier that [keeps] battered immigrant women and children locked in abusive relationships.” (DRPSF ¶ 26.) In order to self-petition, the alien must demonstrate the existence of a qualifying relationship. (Id. ¶ 27.) One such qualifying relationship is being

the child of a citizen of the United States . . . who is a person of good moral character, who is eligible to be classified as an immediate relative under [8 U.S.C. §] 1151(b)(2)(A)(i) . . . and who resides, or has resided in the past, with the citizen parent . . . if the alien demonstrates . . . that the alien has been battered by or has been the subject of extreme cruelty perpetrated by the alien citizen's parent.

8 U.S.C. § 1154(a)(1)(A)(iv); see also 8 U.S.C. § 1151(b)(2)(A)(i) (“The term ‘immediate relatives' means the children, spouses, and parents of a citizen of the United States . . . .”). For purposes of the VAWA's self-petitioning provisions, a child is defined to include “an unmarried person under twenty-one years of age who is . . . a stepchild, whether or not born out of wedlock, provided the child had not reached the age of eighteen years at the time the marriage creating the status of stepchild occurred.” (DRPSF ¶ 29); 8 U.S.C. § 1101(b)(1)(B).

         III. CIS Rejects Arguijo's Self-Petition

         On October 17, 2008, Arguijo filed an I-360 self-petition as an abused child of a U.S. citizen. (Id. ¶ 37.) Arguijo's petition set forth the alleged abuse she suffered at the hands of F.M. and stated that she met the definition of a child under 8 U.S.C. § 1101(b)(1)(B) due to the stepchild-stepparent relationship between her and F.M., a United States citizen, that came into existence prior to her 18th birthday. (Id. ¶ 39.) In a written decision, CIS denied Arguijo's petition solely based on its finding that a qualifying relationship did not exist. (Id. ¶ 41.) To qualify as a stepchild eligible to self-petition, Arguijo had to prove that the marriage between her mother and F.M. terminated after the date she filed her self-petition. (Id. ¶ 43.) Because the divorce preceded the self-petition, however, CIS took the position that Arguijo had to prove there was a continuing relationship between herself and her stepfather, citing the Board of Immigration Appeals's decision in Matter of Mowrer,17 I&N Dec. 613 (BIA 1981). (DRPSF ¶ 44.) Arguijo appealed CIS's decision but that appeal was denied by CIS's Administrative Appeals Office. (Id. ΒΆΒΆ 48-52.) Its decision stated that ...

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