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Sanchez v. Sessions

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit

July 5, 2018

Ricardo Sanchez, Petitioner,
Jefferson B. Sessions III, Attorney General of the United States, Respondent.

          Argued December 1, 2017

          Petition for Review of an Order of The Board of Immigration Appeals. No. A205-830-444

          Before Bauer, Flaum, and Rovner, Circuit Judges.


         Ricardo Sanchez seeks review of an order of the Board of Immigration Appeals denying his motion to reopen its prior decision denying him discretionary cancellation of removal. See 8 U.S.C. § 1229b(1). Because Sanchez's petition presents questions of law, we have jurisdiction to review the Board's order and, for the reasons that follow, we grant his petition and remand to the Board for further proceedings.


         Sanchez, aged 44, is a native and citizen of Mexico who has lived in the United States without documentation for more than 25 years. He is married to another Mexican citizen and national (also undocumented) who lives here in the United States with him; together, they have three U.S.-citizen children aged nine, seven, and two and one-half years. Their youngest child has experienced developmental delays in his motor skills and has been prescribed therapy to address those delays.

         Sanchez has been arrested and convicted for driving under the influence on four separate occasions between 1997 and 2013. In December 2013, after receiving a one-year suspended sentence for the last of his convictions, Sanchez was apprehended by immigration officials and served with a notice to appear in a removal proceeding for being in the country illegally. See 8 U.S.C. § 1182(a)(6)(A)(i).

         Sanchez subsequently admitted the facts set forth in the notice to appear and conceded his removability; but he applied for cancellation of removal on the basis of the extraordinary hardship that he believed his removal would cause to his two children (at that time his youngest had not yet been born). An immigration judge conducted a hearing on the merits of his application at which Sanchez was the sole witness. Sanchez was represented by counsel at the hearing.

         In an oral decision, the immigration judge denied Sanchez's application for cancellation of removal and ordered him removed to Mexico. A.R. 368, 369-81. The judge found in the first instance that Sanchez lacked the "good moral character" that is a prerequisite to cancellation of removal, see 8 U.S.C. § 1229b(b)(1)(B), in view of, inter alia, Sanchez's multiple DUI convictions as well as his decision to ignore court orders to appear and respond to two of the DUI charges, which resulted in multi-year delays in resolving those cases. (Sanchez testified that he failed to appear out of fear he would be deported.). A.R. 376-78. The judge also found, in the alternative, that Sanchez had "simply failed to put a case forward" for the notion that his removal from the country would impose an "exceptional and extremely unusual hardship" upon his children. A.R. 379; see § 1229b(b)(1)(D). Sanchez had presented no testimony regarding his sons, including any medical or educational needs they might have, nor was it even clear whether his family would accompany him to Mexico in the event of his removal. A.R. 379-80. Finally, and also in the alternative, the judge concluded that even if Sanchez qualified for cancellation of removal, he did not merit that discretionary relief. The judge identified as positive factors the presence of Sanchez's spouse and children in the United States and the financial support he provided to his family members in Mexico. Sanchez had a history of steady employment and had testified that he paid taxes, but the judge pointed out that there was nothing in the record to show that he had ever filed an income tax return. On balance, the judge found that the factors supporting Sanchez's request for cancellation were insufficient to outweigh his history of disregarding traffic and safety laws, as evidenced by his multiple DUI convictions. A.R. 379-80.

         Sanchez, represented by new counsel, unsuccessfully appealed the adverse decision to the Board. Sanchez argued both that the Immigration Judge erred on the merits of his application for cancellation of removal and that his previous attorney had been ineffective in preparing him to testify and in presenting his application. The Board declined to reach the ineffectiveness claim, noting that Sanchez had not submitted the evidentiary materials that Matter of Lozada, 19 I. & N. Dec. 637 (B.I.A. 1988), overruling vacated by Matter of Compean, 25 I. & N. Dec. 1 (B.I.A. 2009), requires for such a claim. A.R. 186.[1]As to the merits of the claim for cancellation of removal, the Board concluded that Sanchez had not shown that his removal would result in exceptional and extremely unusual hardship to his qualifying family members. A.R. 185-86. In view of that holding, the Board found it unnecessary to consider whether Sanchez had the requisite good moral character to qualify for cancellation of removal. A.R. 186.

         Sanchez filed a motion asking the Board to both reconsider and reopen its decision, but the Board again denied him relief. Sanchez endeavored to correct the Lozada problem with his ineffectiveness claim by attempting to fill in the gaps in his supporting materials. He further argued that it was his prior counsel's ineffectiveness that prevented him from presenting evidence that would establish his good moral character and demonstrate the extraordinary hardship his removal would pose to his children. The Board rejected Sanchez's request to reconsider its finding that his ineffectiveness claim failed in the first instance to satisfy Lozada, noting that at the time of its prior decision, Sanchez in fact had not complied with Lozada. A.R. 3. As for the motion to reopen, the Board acknowledged Sanchez's belated effort to comply with Lozada. A.R. 4. But as to the merits of the ineffectiveness claim, the Board concluded that Sanchez had not shown that he was prejudiced by any ineffectiveness on the part of his prior counsel. The Board noted that its prior order had focused on the lack of proof that Sanchez's removal would impose the requisite degree of hardship on his children, so the Board confined its analysis of prejudice to that one aspect of Sanchez's request for cancellation of removal. A.R. 4. And as to that component, the Board indicated it was not convinced that the evidence Sanchez faulted his attorney for failing to present "would likely have altered the outcome of [Sanchez's] case with regard to the hardship that would accrue to his children" in the event of his removal. A.R. 4.

         Sanchez then filed his petition to review ...

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