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Mata v. Lynch

Justia Summary

After Mata, an unlawful alien, was convicted of assault in a Texas court, an Immigration Judge ordered him removed to Mexico. Mata’s attorney filed notice of appeal with the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA), but never filed a brief; the appeal was dismissed. Acting through different counsel, Mata moved to reopen his removal proceedings, 8 U.S.C. 229a(c)(7)(A). Acknowledging that he had missed the 90-day deadline for such motions, Mata argued that his previous counsel’s ineffective assistance was an exceptional circumstance entitling him to equitable tolling. The BIA dismissed the motion as untimely and declined to reopen Mata’s removal proceedings sua sponte based on its separate regulatory authority. The Fifth Circuit construed Mata’s equitable tolling claim as a request that the BIA exercise its regulatory authority to reopen the proceedings sua sponte, and, because its precedent forbids review of BIA decisions not to exercise that authority, dismissed for lack of jurisdiction. The Supreme Court reversed. A court of appeals has jurisdiction to review the BIA’s rejection of an alien’s motion to reopen. Nothing about that jurisdiction changes where the BIA rejects a motion as untimely, or when it rejects a motion requesting equitable tolling of the time limit, or when the denial also contains a separate decision not to exercise its sua sponte authority. If Mata is not entitled to relief on the merits, the correct disposition is to take jurisdiction and affirm the BIA’s denial of his motion. A federal court has a “virtually unflagging obligation” to assert jurisdiction where it has that authority; recharacterizing pleadings cannot be used to sidestep the judicial obligation to assert jurisdiction.

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