Client Alerts  - Immigration Jul 10, 2024

How the Supreme Court’s Decision Overturning Chevron Will Impact Immigration Benefits Adjudications

Image of an immigration visa and a passport on top of a map.
Written By: Danielle M. Rizzo

Decision to significantly impact regulatory interpretations of requirements and policies

On June 28, 2024, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a longstanding precedent decision, Chevron U.S.A., Inc. v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc., 467 U.S. 837 (1984), which created the Chevron deference doctrine. Under this doctrine, federal administrative agencies were given wide latitude to interpret ambiguous statutes. The Chevron doctrine has played an outsized role in shaping the course of immigration adjudications for the last 40 years, as those cases are decided by administrative agencies, including United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), the Department of State (DOS), the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), and the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA).

In Loper Bright Enterprises v. Raimondo, No. 22-451 (June 28, 2024), the decision overturning the Chevron doctrine, the Supreme Court held that where a statute is ambiguous, courts may no longer defer to a federal agency’s interpretation of that statute. They must instead exercise “independent judgment” in determining whether a federal agency has acted within its authority. Id. at 16.

How Loper Bright Will Impact Immigration Adjudications

The Loper Bright decision will have a significant impact on federal agency adjudications of applications for immigration benefits, as well as on other agency actions, including regulatory interpretations of statutory requirements and/or agency policies that have not been encoded in regulations. For example, USCIS maintains a Policy Manual which contains all of the agency’s policies and which USCIS adjudicators are bound to follow. Many USCIS policies exist only in the USCIS Policy Manual and/or agency memoranda, and many agency interpretations are ultra vires. For example, in Kazarian v. USCIS, 596 F.3d 1115 (9th Cir. 2010), the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals held that USCIS exceeded its authority in adjudicating an immigrant petition for a foreign national under the “extraordinary ability” standard by imposing evidentiary requirements beyond those required by agency regulation. INA § 203(b)(1)(A). In response, USCIS updated its Policy Manual to require that officers exercise a “final merits determination” for extraordinary ability cases that further exceeds the statutory and regulatory requirements for this type of adjudication. Kazarian, 596 F.3d at 1122; see also USCIS Policy Manual, Chapter 2. The removal of Chevron deference renders this type of policy ripe for judicial review.

How to Challenge Agency Interpretations in Federal Court

The Administrative Procedure Act (APA) provides that, “A person suffering legal wrong because of agency action, or adversely affected or aggrieved by agency action within the meaning of a relevant statute, is entitled to judicial review thereof.” 5 U.S.C. § 702. The APA thus provides a legal basis for parties harmed by a federal agency’s decision to file a suit in federal district court.

Claims brought against federal agencies interpreting immigration statutes have long been curtailed by the Chevron doctrine. There are over 1,300 administrative precedent decisions citing the Chevron case as a basis for upholding an agency interpretation of a statutory provision. Many of those cases, as well as thousands of federal court cases rooted in the Chevron doctrine may now be up for review. In addition, new agency denials of immigration benefits will lead to an increase in law suits against federal agencies. Government agencies’ already limited resources will be diverted away from adjudications and toward defending those agencies’ decisions in federal court, which likely will lead to slowdowns in adjudication times. For USCIS, which receives no Congressional appropriations and which is funded exclusively through filing fees, this may lead to further filing fee increases.

The Supreme Court’s Loper Bright decision represents a seismic shift in the balance of power from the executive to the judicial branch of government. This shift will also create pressure on Congress to revise ambiguous statutes so as to prevent constant litigation.

For more information, please contact a member of our Immigration Practice Team or the Phillips Lytle attorney with whom you have a relationship.