329 F.3d 630 (8th Cir. 2003), 02-2324, Jama v. I.N.S.

Docket Nº:02-2324
Citation:329 F.3d 630
Party Name:Keyse G. Jama, Appellee, v. Immigration and Naturalization Service, Appellant.
Case Date:May 27, 2003
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit
 
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Page 630

329 F.3d 630 (8th Cir. 2003)

Keyse G. Jama, Appellee,

v.

Immigration and Naturalization Service, Appellant.

No. 02-2324

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

May 27, 2003

Submitted: February 12, 2003

Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Minnesota.

Page 631

Greg D. Mack, argued, U.S. Dept. of Justice, Civil Division, Washington, DC, for appellant.

Jeffrey J. Keyes, argued, Minneapolis, MN, for appellee.

Before BOWMAN, MORRIS SHEPPARD ARNOLD, and BYE, Circuit Judges.

MORRIS SHEPPARD ARNOLD, Circuit Judge.

More than three years after he entered the United States, Somalian refugee Keyse Jama pleaded guilty to third degree assault in Minnesota state court. As a result of this felony conviction, the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS)1 initiated removal proceedings against Mr. Jama as an alien who had been convicted of "a crime involving moral turpitude." See 8 U.S.C. § 1182(a)(2)(A)(i)(I). Mr. Jama conceded his removability, and the immigration judge rejected his applications for humanitarian relief. The Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) affirmed the immigration judge's decision. After the INS issued a warrant of removal to Mr. Jama, see 8 C.F.R. § 241.32, he filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus to prevent the execution of his removal order, see 28 U.S.C. § 2241. In that petition, Mr. Jama argued that under 8 U.S.C. § 1231(b)(2), the INS could not remove him to Somalia without first establishing that Somalia would accept his return.

The district court granted habeas relief in favor of Mr. Jama, and the INS appeals that decision. We believe that the district court correctly concluded that it had jurisdiction to consider Mr. Jama's habeas petition, Page 632

but we reverse the district court's order granting the writ. I.

The INS seeks review of the district court's conclusion that it had jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 2241 to consider Mr. Jama's habeas petition. Relying on general principles of procedural default and waiver, the INS first argues that Mr. Jama should have challenged the INS's decision to remove him to Somalia by bringing a timely petition for review in this court following the administrative proceedings that resulted in his final order of removal to Somalia. See 8 U.S.C. § 1252(a)(1), (b)(1), (b)(2),(b)(9); 28 U.S.C. §§ 2341-2349. But as both parties recognize, Congress has directed that "no court shall have jurisdiction to review any final order of removal against an alien who is removable by reason of having committed" a crime of moral turpitude. See 8 U.S.C. §§ 1252(a)(2)(C), 1182(a)(2)(A)(i)(I).

Although it is true that we retain "direct review" jurisdiction to determine whether an alien's criminal conviction is indeed the type of offense that subjects him to removal, as well as to consider substantial constitutional challenges to the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), neither of these exceptions applies in Mr. Jama's case. See, e.g., Vasquez-Velezmoro v. INS, 281 F.3d 693, 695-96 (8th Cir. 2002). Mr. Jama has long since conceded that his criminal conviction renders him removable. Mr. Jama does not, as the INS suggests, raise a substantial constitutional challenge to the INA. Mr. Jama's challenge is one of statutory construction, notwithstanding his fleeting (and we think unavailing) references to the procedural and substantive due process implications of removing him to a country that has not agreed to accept him.

The INS also contends that the district court lacked jurisdiction over Mr. Jama's habeas petition because it constitutes a challenge to the execution of a removal order prohibited by 8 U.S.C. § 1252(g). That statute provides in relevant part that "no court shall have jurisdiction to hear any cause or claim by or on behalf of any alien arising from the decision or action by the Attorney General to . . . execute removal orders." 8 U.S.C. § 1252(g). Mr. Jama, however, is not objecting to an unfavorable discretionary decision or action to execute the removal order. Cf. Reno v. American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Comm., 525 U.S. 471, 482-85, 487 (1999). He challenges, rather, the Attorney General's construction of a statute; specifically, the Attorney General's legal conclusion that 8 U.S.C. § 1231(b)(2)(E)(iv) authorizes the INS to remove Mr. Jama to Somalia without first establishing that Somalia will accept his return. Our role here (and the role of the district court below) is not to second-guess the Attorney General's exercise of his discretion; it is to address a purely legal question of statutory construction. Cf. Demore v. Kim, No. 01-1491, 2003 WL 1960607, at *5 (U.S. April 29, 2003). We believe, therefore, that Mr. Jama's question is simply outside the scope of the jurisdiction-stripping provision of § 1252(g).

We note, moreover, that permitting Mr. Jama to proceed with his habeas petition is entirely consistent with the principles set forth in INS v. St. Cyr, 533 U.S. 289, 314 (2001), Calcano-Martinez v. INS, 533 U.S. 348, 351 (2001), and Demore, 2003 WL 1960607, at *5. Although those cases did not address § 1252(g), we believe that they are pertinent to the jurisdictional issue at hand. Absent a "clear, unambiguous, and express statement of congressional intent" to the Page 633

contrary, we have no reason to assume that Congress intended to preclude the district court's habeas review of a pure question of law such as the one presented by Mr. Jama. See St. Cyr, 533 U.S. at 298-99, 314. We note further that construing § 1252(g) to eliminate "review of a pure question of law by any court would give rise to substantial constitutional questions." See id. at 300, 305; U.S. Const. Art. I, § 9, cl. 2. II.

The INS also asserts that the district court misconstrued 8 U.S.C. § 1231(b)(2) when it concluded that that statute requires the INS to establish that Somalia will accept Mr. Jama's return prior to removing him to that country. We agree. Before we turn to the merits of the INS's argument, we review briefly the statute at issue here.

Section 1231(b)(2) sets forth a progressive, three-step process for determining a removable alien's destination country. The statute first permits the alien to select a country of removal, subject to certain limitations if the country designated is one that is contiguous or adjacent to the United States. 8 U.S.C. § 1231(b)(2)(A)-(B). The Attorney General may disregard the alien's designation under four specified circumstances; for example, if the designated country is unwilling to accept the alien. 8 U.S.C. § 1231(b)(2)(C), (b)(2)(C)(iii). In the second step, assuming the alien has failed to select a country or cannot be removed to his designated country under step one, the Attorney General is directed to "remove the alien to a country of which the alien is a subject, national, or citizen" unless the country is unwilling to accept the alien or fails to indicate (upon an inquiry by the Attorney General) that it will accept the alien. 8 U.S.C. § 1231(b)(2)(D).

If the alien is not removed to a country where he is a subject, national, or citizen, then the Attorney General must proceed to the third step of the process. That step entails selecting a destination country from a list of statutory "[a]dditional removal countries", as follows:

(i) The country from which the alien was admitted to the United States.

(ii) The country in which is located the foreign port from which the alien left for the United States or for a foreign territory contiguous to the United States.

(iii) A country in which the alien resided before the alien entered the country from which the alien entered the United States.

(iv) The country in which the alien was born.

(v) The country that had sovereignty over the alien's birthplace when the alien was born.

(vi) The country in which the alien's birthplace is located when the alien is ordered removed.

(vii) If impracticable, inadvisable, or impossible to remove the alien to each country described in a previous clause of this subparagraph, another country whose government will accept the alien into that country.

8 U.S.C. § 1231(b)(2)(E)(i)-(vii). In this case, the parties agree that Mr. Jama's removal destination must be determined at the third step of the process, and it is to this step that we now turn. The INS seeks to remove Mr. Jama to Somalia because it is "[t]he country in which [Mr. Jama] was born." 8 U.S.C. § 1231(b)(2)(E)(iv). The parties disagree, however, on whether the statute requires the INS to establish that Somalia will accept Mr. Jama's return prior to effecting his removal. This disagreement is significant; Page 634

if prior acceptance is required, the INS will be unable to return Mr. Jama to Somalia. This is because Somalia lacks a functioning central government, rendering it impossible for the INS to obtain Somalia's prior acceptance. Mr. Jama cites United States ex rel. Tom Man v. Murff, 264 F.2d 926, 928 (2d Cir. 1959), and its unquestioning progeny for the proposition that the acceptance requirement of clause (vii) applies to clauses (i) through (vi). We are not bound by these decisions; indeed, we are not persuaded by them because they disregard the plain language of the...

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