Immigration Agency Can’t Avoid Court by Reopening Visa Decisions (1)

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By Laura D. Francis

A high-skilled immigrant who’s been trying for more than 10 years to get a green card may finally get her day in court.

Ganga Bhavani Mantena has filed a series of lawsuits and appeals since her green card application, filed in 2007, was denied in 2012. But each time it appeared she would get a resolution in court, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services would reopen her case, pulling the matter out of court and sending it back to the agency. The USCIS then would reconsider the decision and again hand her a denial, requiring her to start the court appeal process all over again.

Judge William H. Pauley of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York sought to put an end to the cycle Aug. 7. Under normal circumstances, if an agency says it’s going to reconsider its decision, a court isn’t supposed to intervene, Pauley said. “But the Government continues to play a cat-and-mouse game with Mantena, perpetually leaving her—and this Court—one step behind,” he said.

Pauley alleviated Mantena’s “catch 22" by ruling that her lawsuit over the denials of her green card applications could go forward.

The decision could have implications for other pending legal challenges to USCIS decisions as immigration attorneys, and their corporate clients, become increasingly willing to litigate denials of employment-based visas. If other judges use the same reasoning, the agency won’t be able to avoid court rulings by merely reopening and reconsidering its prior decisions.

As “a matter of policy” the USCIS “can’t comment on issues involving pending litigation,” an agency spokesman told Bloomberg Law Aug. 8.

Already Helping Litigation

Mantena’s case already has paved the way for other potential legal challenges to employment-based visa denials.

in 2015, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ruled that Mantena and her current employer had a right to be notified of the USCIS’s intent to revoke a visa petition filed by her previous employer. The Sixth and Eleventh circuits also have ruled the same way.

The case still isn’t over: Pauley only refused to toss the case based on the USCIS’s reopening of its decision. The next step in the lawsuit is to decide whether Mantena’s visa applications were properly denied.

New York attorney Michael Piston represented Mantena. The Justice Department represented the USCIS.

The case is Mantena v. Hazuda, 2018 BL 282315, S.D.N.Y., No. 1:17-cv-05142, 8/7/18.

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