Holder v. Gutierrez

PETITIONER:Eric H. Holder, Jr., Attorney General
RESPONDENT:Carlos M. Gutierrez
LOCATION:San Diego Immigration Court

DOCKET NO.: 10-1542
DECIDED BY: Roberts Court (2010-2016)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

CITATION: 566 US (2012)
GRANTED: Sep 27, 2011
ARGUED: Jan 18, 2012
DECIDED: May 21, 2012

Charles A. Rothfeld – for the respondent in No. 10-1543
Leondra R. Kruger – Assistant to the Solicitor General, Department of Justice, for the petitioner
Stephen B. Kinnaird – for the respondent in No. 10-1542

Facts of the case

Carlos Martinez Gutierrez, a native and citizen of Mexico, applied to an immigration judge for cancellation of his removal from the United States. The government appealed and the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) sustained the government’s appeal. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit granted Gutierrez’s petition for review of the BIA’s decision and remanded to the BIA to allow it to reconsider his case based on the Ninth Circuit’s decision in Mercado Zazueta v. Holder, 580 F.3d 1102 (9th Cir. 2009). That case held that “[f]or purposes of satisfying the five years of lawful permanent residence required under 8 U.S.C. 1229b(a)(1), a parent’s status as a lawful permanent resident is imputed to the unemancipated minor children residing with the parent.”


1. Can a parent’s years of lawful permanent resident status be applied to an alien who resided with that parent as an unemancipated minor, for the purpose of satisfying 8 U.S.C. 1229b(a)(1)’s requirement that the alien seeking cancellation of removal have “been an alien lawfully admitted for permanent residence for not less than 5 years”?

2. Can a parent’s years of residence after lawful admission to the United States can be applied to an alien who resided with that parent as an unemancipated minor, for the purpose of satisfying 8 U.S.C. 1229b(a)(2)’s requirement that the alien seeking cancellation of removal have “resided in the United States continuously for 7 years after having been admitted in any status”?

Media for Holder v. Gutierrez

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument – January 18, 2012 in Holder v. Gutierrez

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement – May 21, 2012 in Holder v. Gutierrez

John G. Roberts, Jr.:

We have opinions this morning beginning with Justice Kagan in Number 10-1542, Holder versus Gutierrez and 10-1543, Holder versus Sawyers.

Elena Kagan:

These cases concern the reasonableness of the Board of Immigration Appeals or BIA’s interpretation of a federal immigration statute, which I’ll refer to as Section 1229 (b) (a).

That statute gives the Attorney General discretion to allow otherwise removable aliens, usually aliens who have committed a crime, to stay in the country so long as they satisfy certain criteria, two of which are relevant here.

First, subsection (a) (1) of the statute requires the alien to have held the status of a lawful permanent resident, in immigration lingo that’s called LPR status, for at least five years.

Second, subsection (a) (2) requires the alien to have continuously resided in the United States for at least seven years after being lawfully admitted, whatever his immigration status is.

Now, there’s a question about applying this statute to aliens who have lived in the country as children.

Sometimes a child will enter the country lawfully or obtain LPR status after one of his parents does.

In those situations, a parent might qualify for relief under the statute while his child, considered independently, does not.

So the question arises, should the BIA require each alien to meet 1229 (b) (a)’s requirements on his own or should it impute a parent’s years of LPR status or residence to his child.

The cases before us illustrate how the issue comes up.

There are two of them, but I will give you the facts of just one as an example.

Carlos Martinez Gutierrez entered the country illegally with his family in 1989 when he was five years old.

His father was lawfully admitted as an LPR just two years later.

But Martinez Gutierrez was neither lawfully admitted nor given LPR status until 2003, so when Martinez Gutierrez committed a crime two years later in 2005, and that — and that crime rendered him removable, he couldn’t satisfy either subsection of 1229 (b) (a) without help from his father.

The BIA has held that aliens, like Martinez Gutierrez, are out of luck.

It is required each alien to independently satisfy 1229 (b) (a).

Children don’t get to borrow years of residence or immigration status from their parents, but the Ninth Circuit concluded that this position was unreasonable and held that the Board must impute a parent’s immigration history to his or her child for any years in which the child lived with the parent as an unemancipated minor.

We granted certiorari to decide this question to determine whether the BIA’s no imputation policy is based on a reasonable construction of 1229 (b) (a).

The construction need only be reasonable, it need not be the only construction or even the best one because we give deference to agencies when they interpret the statutes they administer and today, we hold that the BIA’s interpretation of 1229 (b) (a) is reasonable.

The Board’s position is consistent with the statutory language which doesn’t mention much less require imputation.

Instead, the statute simply calls for the alien to meet the prerequisites for relief.

Gutierrez contends that this language doesn’t foreclose imputation, but even if that’s true, that is not enough to require the Board to adopt the policy and that so of a number of Martinez Gutierrez’s arguments.

He has presented a variety of reasons why the Board might read the statutes to permit imputation, but none requiring the Board to do so.

We also reject Gutierrez’s argument that the BIA’s policy should be struck down because it is inconsistent with the Board’s decision to allow imputation between parents and children in other immigration contexts.

We think the BIA has done an adequate job of explaining why imputation might make sense in some areas but not in others.

We, therefore, reverse the judgment of the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

Our opinion is unanimous.