Scialabba v. de Osorio, US Supreme Court (6/9/14)
Qualifying U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents (LPRs) may petition for family members to obtain immigrant visas. A sponsored individual (principal beneficiary) is placed into a “family preference” category based on relationship to the petitioner, 8 U.S.C. 1153(a)(1)–(4). The principal beneficiary’s spouse and minor children qualify as derivative beneficiaries, entitled to the same status and order of consideration as the principal. Beneficiaries become eligible to apply for visas in order of priority date, the date a petition was filed. Because the process often takes years, a child may age out and lose status before she obtains a visa. The Child Status Protection Act (CSPA) provides that if the age of an alien is determined to be 21 years or older, notwithstanding allowances for bureaucratic delay, the petition “shall automatically be converted to the appropriate category and the alien shall retain the original priority date issued upon receipt of the original petition.” In this case, principal beneficiaries who became LPRs, filed petitions for their aged-out children (who did not have a qualifying relationship with the original sponsor), asserting that the newly filed petitions should receive the same priority date as their original petitions. U. S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) disagreed. The district court granted the government summary judgment, deferring to the Board of Immigration Appeals’ (BIA’s) determination under section 1153(h)(3). The Ninth Circuit reversed, holding that the provision entitled all aged-out derivative beneficiaries to automatic conversion and priority date retention. The Supreme Court reversed, reasoning that each immigrant must have a qualified and willing sponsor. If an original sponsor does not have a legally recognized relationship with the aged-out children, another sponsor must be identified for the alien to qualify for a new family preference category. Immigration officials do not know whether a valid sponsor exists unless the aged-out beneficiary files and USCIS approves a new petition. Section 1153(h)(3) does not require a new petition for derivative beneficiaries who had a qualifying relationship with an LPR both before and after they aged out. In contrast, the nieces, nephews, and grandchildren of the initial sponsors cannot qualify for “automatic conversion.” The BIA’s interpretation benefits from administrative simplicity and fits with immigration law’s basic first-come, first-served rule.
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