By: Angelo A. Paparelli and David J. Bier
Seyfarth Synopsis: This is the final installment in a series of recommendations to the Biden Administration on immigration reform previously published by the Cato Institute in “Deregulating Legal Immigration: A Blueprint for Agency Action.” Read the first, second, third, and fourth installments here. In total, five installments have been published.
President Biden Should Require Immigration Agencies to Apply the Rule of Lenity to All Decisions
The President should issue an executive order requiring all federal immigration agencies to interpret ambiguous statutes and regulations with leniency in favor of the applicant or petitioner.
Immigration law is commonly referred to as “second only to the Internal Revenue Code in complexity.”[i] It is a convoluted morass of vague and poorly defined terms, making life‐altering decisions hang on the meaning of unfamiliar and ambiguous terms like “moral turpitude” or subjective analyses about an applicant’s “credibility.”[ii] In the removal context, courts have dealt with this phenomenon by “construing any lingering ambiguities in deportation statutes in favor of the alien.”[iii] The Supreme Court has stated, “since the stakes are considerable for the individual, we will not assume that Congress means to trench on his freedom beyond that which is required by the narrowest of several possible meanings of the words used.”[iv] This interpretative method is referred to as “strict construction” or “the rule of lenity.”[v]
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