St. Cyr v. Immigration and Naturalization Serv.

Decision Date01 August 1999
Docket NumberDocket No. 99-2614
Citation229 F.3d 406
Parties(2nd Cir. 2000) Enrico St. Cyr, Petitioner-Appellee, v. Immigration and Naturalization Service, Respondent-Appellant
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Second Circuit

Lucas Guttentag, New York, NY, and Michael G. Moore, Springfield, MA (Lee Gelernt, Christopher J. Meade, American Civil Liberties Union Foundation, New York, NY, of counsel), for Petitioner-Appellee St. Cyr.

David McConnell, Immigration and Naturalization Service, Washington, DC (David W. Ogden, Acting Assistant Attorney General, Civil Division, Stephen C. Robinson, United States Attorney, James K. Filan, Jr., Assistant United States Attorney, New Haven, CT; and Quynh Vu, Office of Immigration Litigation, Immigration and Naturalization Service, Washington, DC, of counsel), for Respondent-Appellant.

Before OAKES, WALKER and KEITH,* Circuit Judges.

Judge Walker filed an opinion in dissent.

OAKES, Senior Circuit Judge:

The case before us presents legal questions of reviewability and retroactivity under the 1996 amendments to the Immigration and Nationality Act ("INA"). Congress amended the INA through the enactment of the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act ("AEDPA"), Pub. L. No. 104-132, 110 Stat. 1214 et seq. (1996) and the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act ("IIRIRA"), Pub. L. No. 104-208, 110 Stat. 3009-546 et seq. (1996). These laws severely narrowed the rights of certain classes of aliens, including those like St. Cyr who were ordered deported because of a prior drug conviction, and have spawned a multitude of judicial decisions.

AEDPA § 440(d) and IIRIRA § 304 significantly limit the cases where discretionary relief from removal can be sought. They effectively preclude an alien, who is removable from the United States because of a conviction of a crime that qualifies as an "aggravated felony" under the law, from applying for discretionary relief from removal. St. Cyr's removal proceedings were commenced after the enactment of the AEDPA and IIRIRA. However, St. Cyr pled guilty to the drug-related offense that rendered him deportable and ineligible under the AEDPA and IIRIRA to apply for discretionary relief a year before the statutes were enacted. He argues that applying the AEDPA § 440(d) and IIRIRA § 304 bar to his removal proceedings would have an impermissible retroactive effect. Thus, in this case, we must determine whether the bar to discretionary relief from removal is properly applied retroactively to pre-enactment guilty pleas.


Enrico St. Cyr, a native of Haiti, was admitted to the United States as a lawful permanent resident on June 17, 1986. St. Cyr's family lives in the United States. His parents and sister are citizens of this country and his brother is a lawful permanent resident.

On March 8, 1996, prior to the enactment date of the AEDPA and IIRIRA, St. Cyr pled guilty to the sale of a controlled hallucinogenic narcotic in violation of Connecticut General Statutes § 21a-277(a). At the time that St. Cyr pled guilty to the charge, the drug conviction rendered him deportable under the immigration laws. See INA § 241(a)(2)(B)(i), codified at 8 U.S.C. § 1251(a)(2)(B)(i) (1994), now renumbered as INA § 237(a)(2)(B)(i), codified at 8 U.S.C. § 1227(a)(2)(B)(i) (1999); see also INA § 241(a)(2)(A)(iii), codified at 8 U.S.C. § 1251(a)(2)(A)(iii) (1994), now renumbered as INA § 237(a)(2)(iii), codified at 8 U.S.C. § 1227(a)(2)(A)(iii) (1999); INA § 101(a)(43), codified at 8 U.S.C. § 1101(43) (1999).1

On April 10, 1997, the Immigration and Naturalization Service ("INS") issued St Cyr a Notice to Appear, charging him as removable under INA § 237(a)(2)(A)(iii) because he had been convicted of an aggravated felony. On January 12, 1998, an immigration judge ("IJ") found that St. Cyr was removable under INA § 237(a)(2)(A)(iii). In the time between St. Cyr's conviction and his receipt of a Notice to Appear, Congress enacted the AEDPA and IIRIRA. These laws significantly limited the cases where discretionary relief from deportation could be sought and rendered an alien who was removable because of an aggravated felony conviction statutorily ineligible to apply for relief from deportation.

At his hearing, St. Cyr sought to prevent his removal by applying for a discretionary waiver of deportation under former INA § 212(c). See 8 U.S.C. § 1182(c) (1996) (repealed by IIRIRA, § 304(b), 110 Stat. at 3009-597, September 30, 1996). The IJ denied St. Cyr's § 212(c) application. St. Cyr appealed his removal order to the Board of Immigration Appeals ("BIA"). Because of the changes made by Congress to the immigration laws, specifically IIRIRA § 304(b)'s repeal of the availability of § 212(c) relief to aliens such as St. Cyr, the BIA dismissed his appeal on November 10, 1998.

On April 27, 1999, St. Cyr filed a habeas corpus petition in the United States District Court for the District of Connecticut. In his petition, he argued that § 440(d) of the AEDPA and IIRIRA § 304 should not be applied retrospectively to bar his eligibility for § 212(c) relief because both his criminal conduct and his conviction occurred prior to the statutes' enactment. The INS argued that the 1996 amendments to the INA divested the district court of jurisdiction to hear St. Cyr's habeas petition. On the merits, the INS argued that § 440(d) of the AEDPA was applicable to St. Cyr's case because removal proceedings had been commenced against him after the effective date of the AEDPA. Specifically, the INS argued that applying § 440(d) to aliens ordered deportable because of a criminal conviction that was entered prior to the AEDPA's effective date was not an unjustified retrospective application of § 440(d).

On August 23, 1999, the district court rejected the INS's arguments and held that it had jurisdiction to hear the habeas petition because the 1996 amendments to the INA did not explicitly divest a district court of its habeas jurisdiction over final removal orders under 28 U.S.C. § 2241. It concluded that the scope of its review pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2241 included St. Cyr's statutory claim that the BIA had misapplied the immigration laws.

In addressing the merits of St. Cyr's habeas petition, the district court held that AEDPA § 440(d) is inapplicable to an alien placed in removal proceedings after the AEDPA's enactment if the relevant convictions, criminal proceedings, or underlying criminal conduct occurred prior to enactment. The court reasoned that Congress did not intend AEDPA § 440(d) to be applied retroactively to such pre-enactment events because it would unfairly attach new legal consequences to pre-AEDPA criminal conduct. Thus, the district court concluded that St. Cyr's removal proceedings should be governed by the laws that were in effect at the time he committed the crime. The INS timely appealed.

I. Jurisdiction.

Because the question whether the district court had subject matter jurisdiction in this case is a question of law, we review it de novo. See Conntech Dev. Co. v. University of Connecticut Educ. Properties, Inc., 102 F.3d 677, 681 (2d Cir. 1996).

The INS's arguments that the district court lacked jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 2241 to decide St. Cyr's claim are foreclosed by our decision in Calcano-Martinez v. Reno, Civ. Nos. 98-4033, 98-4214, 98-4246 (2d Cir. 2000), a case argued on the same day as this one. In that case, we held that the permanent rules of IIRIRA do not divest Article III courts of their habeas jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 2241 to review statutory and constitutional challenges to final removal orders when no other avenue for judicial review is available. Here, no such avenue existed because St. Cyr, convicted of a crime involving a controlled substance, is an alien deportable under INA § 237(a)(2)(A)(iii). A petition in the court of appeals pursuant to INA § 242(a)(1) is, therefore, unavailable to him. See 8 U.S.C. § 1252(a)(2)(C) (1999).

Although a federal court's habeas jurisdiction does not include all challenges that an alien may launch against his or her removal order, St. Cyr's habeas petition raises pure questions of law. He is not challenging the BIA's refusal to exercise its discretion in his favor. Rather, he is challenging the BIA's determination that it cannot legally consider St. Cyr's request to exercise its discretion. Therefore, his habeas challenge to his final order of removal is the type of claim that is cognizable in the district court under 28 U.S.C. § 2241.

Because there is no other avenue for judicial review available and St. Cyr's petition raises a purely legal challenge to his final order of removal, the district court had subject matter jurisdiction to review his habeas petition.

II. Availability of § 212(c) relief.

Having determined that the district court had jurisdiction to decide St. Cyr's claim, we turn to the issue raised by St. Cyr in his habeas petition: whether AEDPA § 440(d) and IIRIRA § 304, which essentially make discretionary relief unavailable to an alien like St. Cyr, apply to his removal proceeding.

A. History of Discretionary Relief.

Under the law in effect prior to the enactment of the AEDPA, certain aliens otherwise determined to be deportable were entitled to apply to the Attorney General or her delegates 2 for a waiver of deportation under INA § 212(c), 8...

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