An Empty Victory at the Third Circuit Court of Appeals

By Dan Cadman on July 14, 2016

This is a blog about one of those good news/bad news kinds of cases. The good news: the government won. The bad news: the alien probably still doesn't get deported. There are a number of cautionary lessons in the case, Bassam Saliba v. the United States, which emanates out of the federal third circuit court of appeals. It tells us quite a bit about the loosey-goosey way that benefits are administered—a large-scale sausage making operation at its worst. It also proves the point that there is nothing less temporary than temporary protected status (TPS), as you will see below.

A synopsis of the case is in order — One Bassam Saliba, a native and citizen of Syria was in the United States as a foreign student clear back in 1992 and, being a quick-on-his-feet kind of guy not wanting to miss an opportunity, registered for TPS, which was then available to Lebanese. Of course, this required that he lie about his nationality (but apparently not his name) and present phony documents to substantiate the fraudulent claim, but hey, no problem. He got what he wanted when the application was approved.

Seven years later, 1999, he applies for adjustment to resident alien status (possibly on the basis of marriage, but we don't know that from the third circuit ruling). On the forms, he's once again a Syrian, and withholds information about his long stay under TPS as a “Lebanese”. The government examiner doesn't match up the biographic data to discover the fraud, and grants the adjustment. Presto-changeo! From student to TPS phony to resident alien in the span of seven glorious years.

Shoot forward another seven years to 2006 and Saliba applies for naturalization. This time his lies catch up with him and he's denied. Fraud isn't charged, but is imputed, since the basis of the denial is that you must have been lawfully admitted as a resident alien to naturalize, and he wasn't lawfully admitted since the adjustment was premised on material misrepresentations, making him not only ineligible for adjustment, but also excludable from the United States. He tried one more time, was again denied, and then filed before the courts, leading to the court of appeals decision.

Now here we are in 2016 looking at a series of actions that began 24 years ago, clear back in 1992—even further back, if you calculate when Saliba arrived as a nonimmigrant student. If it has not already, the government will almost certainly initiate removal proceedings, but that is an empty gesture. Remember that Saliba is from Syria and the chances of the government actually doing anything to physically effect the deportation is between slim and none. Instead, he will almost certainly be granted withholding of removal.

So how, really, did the government “win” this case? It's a perfect metaphor for everything wrong with the way our immigration system is administered.