BARRON, Circuit Judge.
We must decide in this case whether petitioner Pierre Thomas satisfied the applicable statutory criteria for obtaining derivative citizenship in consequence of his mother's naturalization. Those criteria were set forth in the derivative citizenship statute that was in effect at the time that Thomas was still a minor. Thomas concedes that he is removable as an alien who has been convicted of an aggravated felony if he did not satisfy those criteria. Because we conclude that he did not satisfy them, we deny his petition.
The following facts are not in dispute. Thomas was born in Haiti and was lawfully admitted to the United States in 1986, at the age of five, as a nonimmigrant visitor. He was authorized to remain in the United States for six months, but he and his parents remained in the country beyond that date. After his father died in 1993, Thomas continued to live in the United States with his mother for the remainder of his childhood.
At some point while Thomas was a child, his mother obtained lawful permanent resident status. On July 31, 1995, when Thomas was fourteen years old, Thomas's mother filed an I-817 Application for Voluntary Departure on Thomas's behalf under the Family Unity Program.
On May 18, 1999, Thomas's mother became a naturalized United States citizen. Three days later, Thomas turned eighteen years old. Thomas did not apply to become a lawful permanent resident during that three-day period that followed his mother's naturalization or at any other point. Instead, he continued living in the United States without a lawful admission for permanent residence.
In 2003, Thomas was convicted in Massachusetts state court for armed robbery. Then, in 2012, the United States initiated removal proceedings against Thomas pursuant to section 237(a)(2)(A)(iii) of the INA (8 U.S.C. § 1227(a)(2)(A)(iii)), which provides that "[a]ny alien who is convicted of an aggravated felony at any time after admission is deportable." Thomas contested removal on the ground that he became a United States citizen in 1999, by operation of the derivative citizenship statute then in effect. The Immigration Judge ("IJ") assigned to Thomas's case rejected that contention and, on October 17, 2012, ordered him removed. The Board of Immigration Appeals ("BIA") affirmed that decision on February 25, 2013, and Thomas was removed to Haiti in April of that year.
Thomas's current petition is for review of the denial by the BIA of his motion to reopen the proceedings against him. Thomas made that motion after he was arrested on a charge of illegal reentry upon his return to the United States in April 2015.
Because the motion was filed more than 90 days after the BIA's 2013 removal order, the BIA denied his motion to reopen on timeliness grounds.
Thomas's petition hinges on the proper construction of the derivative citizenship law that was in effect before Thomas turned eighteen years old. That law, former section 321(a) of the INA, provided that:
8 U.S.C. § 1432(a) (1999),
Thomas and the government agree that Thomas's mother, as his lone surviving parent, was naturalized while Thomas was under eighteen. The parties further agree that Thomas was not "residing in the United States pursuant to a lawful admission for permanent residence at the time of [his mother's] naturalization." The only question we must address, therefore, is whether Thomas, upon his mother's naturalization, "thereafter beg[an] to reside permanently in the United States while under the age of eighteen years."
Under the BIA's interpretation of former section 321(a), the answer is that Thomas clearly did not. The BIA has concluded that "the phrase `begins to reside permanently in the United States while under the age of eighteen years,' is most reasonably interpreted to mean that an alien must obtain the status of lawful permanent resident while under the age of 18 years."
Thomas argues that we should reject the BIA's interpretation of that section. He contends that we should join the Second Circuit in concluding that the BIA's interpretation, under which the second clause of former paragraph 321(a)(5) is merely a shorthand reference to the first clause, is contrary to the plain language of the statute because the phrase "reside permanently" in the second clause unambiguously means something broader than "resid[e]... pursuant to a lawful admission for permanent residence" in the first clause.
Thomas further contends that he satisfied the requirements of that broader, second clause because he satisfied the criteria for "residing permanently" that the Second Circuit set forth in
In the end, as we will explain, Thomas cannot satisfy the statutory criteria even under his preferred, broader reading of
If one knew nothing else, it would not be altogether surprising if the phrase "reside permanently" was, as the BIA contends, just a shorthand for "resid[e] ... pursuant to a lawful admission for permanent residence." Those two words appear right after the longer phrase, in the same section, and one certainly might use those words colloquially as a shorthand description of what came before.
But there are some contrary indications that point towards Thomas's preferred reading. The phrase "reside permanently" is not defined in the INA, but the phrase "lawfully admitted for permanent residence" is. And the definition of that longer phrase includes "residing permanently" as a component part, thus suggesting they are not synonyms.
Similarly, the terms "permanent" and "residence" are separately defined in the INA, each without reference to lawful admission. "Permanent" is defined in the INA as "a relationship of continuing or lasting nature, as distinguished from temporary, but a relationship may be permanent even though it is one that may be dissolved eventually at the instance either of the United States or of the individual, in accordance with law." 8 U.S.C. § 1101(a)(31). "Residence" is defined in the INA as "the place of general abode; the place of general abode of a person means his principal, actual dwelling place in fact, without regard to intent."
Moreover, if one looks elsewhere in the United States Code, Congress has sometimes distinguished between "an alien lawfully admitted for permanent residence" and one who is "otherwise permanently residing in the United States under color of law."
On the other hand, if "reside permanently" is read as something broader than a shorthand reference to "resid[e] ... pursuant to a lawful admission for permanent residence," the requirements for becoming a citizen at the time of the relevant naturalization would be stricter than the requirements for becoming a citizen after that naturalization. But it is not at all clear why Congress would have intended that result. Indeed, under the parallel section of the predecessor statute, the 1940 Nationality Act ("1940 Act"), the requirements for acquiring derivative citizenship at the time of the relevant naturalization apparently were
Similarly, a consideration of the adjacent section of the INA, former section 320, also points against the broader reading of "reside permanently" because of the strange disjuncture that would otherwise arise. Former section 320 addressed how aliens who were born abroad to one alien parent and one citizen parent — as opposed to aliens born abroad to two alien parents, which former section 321 addressed — could acquire derivative citizenship.
Under the plain language of former section 320, aliens born abroad to one alien parent and one citizen parent could not acquire derivative citizenship without obtaining a lawful admission for permanent residence.
Because Thomas concedes that he was not residing in the United States pursuant to a lawful admission for permanent residence at the time of his mother's naturalization, he can only prevail if he "thereafter beg[an] to reside permanently in the United States while under the age of eighteen years." 8 U.S.C. § 1432(a)(5) (1999). But Thomas cannot show that he did so.
The record reveals that Thomas took no official action with respect to his citizenship status in the three-day window between his mother's naturalization and his eighteenth birthday. Thomas never applied for lawful permanent resident status,
Thus, even if we assume that Thomas "reside[d] permanently" in the United States during the time period to which the statute directs our attention, he "beg[an]" to do so before his mother was naturalized and then never experienced any relevant change in status or took any relevant action between the time of her naturalization and his eighteenth birthday. Accordingly, it is hard to see how, following his mother's naturalization, he can be said to have "
Nor can we simply read "thereafter begins to reside permanently" to mean "thereafter ... reside[s] permanently." Doing so would require us not only to ignore the word "begins" but also to drop the word "to" and change "reside" to "resides," and we are not in the business of rewriting statutes.
In addition to this obvious textual problem, such a reading runs counter to even the Second Circuit's description of the function of the second clause. The
Relatedly, reading "begins" out of the statute seems to render the first clause of the paragraph superfluous if "reside permanently" is not a shorthand, as it is hard to see how one who is "residing ... pursuant to a lawful admission for permanent residence" is not also necessarily one who is "resid[ing] permanently."
Thomas makes no attempt to address the problems that the words "thereafter begins" pose for his attempt to fit the facts of his case into the statute. It is true that giving force to those words could advantage aliens who start residing permanently in the United States later over those who do so earlier. But that arguably anomalous consequence arises only on a broad construction of "reside permanently." If that phrase is instead construed as a shorthand for "resid[e] ... pursuant to a lawful admission for permanent residence," then the statute provided no incentive for aliens to delay the onset of their permanent residence.
In light of the problems with reading "begins" out of former section 321(a)(5), and because the only argument we have identified against giving force to "thereafter begins" seems to support the proposition that "reside permanently" was a shorthand, we conclude that Thomas did not satisfy the terms of the statute. Accordingly, his claim to derivative citizenship fails.
For the reasons set forth above, we
8 U.S.C. § 1431(a).
8 U.S.C. § 1431 (1994).