Friday, January 9, 2009

Matter of Enrique Salas COMPEAN,
Matter of Sylla BANGALY,
Matter of J-E-C-, et al.,

24 I&N Dec. 710 (A.G. 2009) Interim Decision #3632

(1) Aliens in removal proceedings have a statutory privilege to retain private counsel at no expense to the Government.
(2) Aliens in removal proceedings have no right to counsel, including Government-appointed counsel, under the Sixth Amendment of the Constitution because the Sixth Amendment applies only to criminal proceedings and removal proceedings are civil in nature.
(3) Aliens in removal proceedings also have no right to counsel, including Government-appointed counsel, under the Fifth Amendment. Although the Fifth Amendment applies to removal proceedings, its guarantee of due process does not include a general right to counsel, or a specific right to effective assistance of counsel, and is violated only by state action, namely, action that can be legally attributed to the Government. Lawyers privately retained by aliens in removal proceedings are not state actors for due process purposes. Accordingly, there is no Fifth Amendment right to effective assistance of counsel in removal proceedings. To the extent the Board’s decisions in Matter of Lozada, 19 I&N Dec. 637 (BIA 1988), and Matter of Assaad, 23 I&N Dec. 553 (BIA 2003), are inconsistent with this conclusion, those decisions are overruled.
(4) Although the Constitution and the immigration laws do not entitle an alien in removal proceedings to relief for his lawyer’s mistakes, the Department of Justice may, as a matter of administrative grace, reopen removal proceedings where an alien shows that he was prejudiced by the actions of private counsel.
(5) There is a strong public interest in ensuring that a lawyer’s deficiencies do not affirmatively undermine the fairness and accuracy of removal proceedings. At the same time, there is a strong public interest in the expeditiousness and finality of removal proceedings. On balance, these interests justify allowing the Board to reopen removal proceedings in the extraordinary case where a lawyer’s deficient performance likely changed the outcome of an alien’s initial removal proceedings. In addition, they call for a set of standards and requirements that will allow the Board to resolve most claims expeditiously and on the basis of an alien’s motion to reopen and accompanying documents alone. Whether an alien has made a sufficient showing to warrant relief based on counsel’s allegedly deficient performance is, in each case, committed to the discretion of the Board or the immigration judge.
(6) The deficient performance of counsel claim extends only to the conduct of a lawyer, an accredited representative, or a non-lawyer that the alien reasonably but erroneously believed to be a lawyer who was retained to represent the alien in the proceedings.
(7) An alien who seeks to reopen his removal proceedings based on deficient performance of counsel bears the burden of establishing
(i) that his lawyer’s failings were egregious;
(ii) that in cases where the alien moves to reopen beyond the applicable time limit, he exercised due diligence in discovering and seeking to cure his lawyer’s alleged deficient performance; and
(iii) that he suffered prejudice from the lawyer’s errors, namely, that but for the deficient performance, it is more likely than not that the alien would have been entitled to the ultimate relief he was seeking.
(8) An alien who seeks to reopen his removal proceedings based on deficient performance of counsel must submit a detailed affidavit setting forth the facts that form the basis of the deficient performance of counsel claim. He also must attach to his motion five documents or sets of documents:
(i) a copy of his agreement, if any, with the lawyer whose performance he alleges was deficient;
(ii) a copy of a letter to his former lawyer specifying the lawyer’s deficient performance and a copy of the lawyer’s response, if any;
(iii) a completed and signed complaint addressed to, but not necessarily filed with, the appropriate State bar or disciplinary authority;
(iv) a copy of any document or evidence, or an affidavit summarizing any testimony, that the alien alleges the lawyer failed to submit previously; and
(v) a statement by new counsel expressing a belief that the performance of former counsel fell below minimal standards of professional competence.
If any of these documents is unavailable, the alien must explain why. If any of these documents is missing rather than nonexistent, the alien must summarize the document’s contents in his affidavit. Matter of Lozada, superseded.
(9) The Board’s discretion to reopen removal proceedings on the basis of a lawyer’s deficient performance is not limited to conduct that occurred during the agency proceedings. The Board may reopen on the basis of deficient performance that occurred subsequent to the entry of a final order of removal if the standards established for a deficient performance of counsel claim are satisfied.