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Mak v. Immigration and Naturalization Service

decided: November 24, 1970.


Moore, Friendly and Adams,*fn* Circuit Judges.

Author: Friendly

FRIENDLY, Circuit Judge:

Petitioner Fook Hong Mak, a fifty year old, married male alien, is a citizen of the Republic of China. In April 1968 he was admitted to the United States without a visa, pursuant to § 101(a) (15) (C) and § 214 of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 and the Regulations thereunder, 8 C.F.R. § 214.2(c) (1), as a nonimmigrant alien "in immediate and continuous transit through the United States." He was on a journey from Hong Kong to South America, in the course of which an eight day lay-over in this country had been authorized. When the INS discovered that he was still here six months later, it began a deportation proceeding. Conceding deportability, Fook Hong Mak sought two forms of discretionary relief -- adjustment of status to that of an alien lawfully admitted for permanent residence under § 245 or, failing that, voluntary departure under § 244(e).

Section 245, so far as here material, reads as follows:

(a) The status of an alien, other than an alien crewman, who was inspected and admitted or paroled into the United States may be adjusted by the Attorney General, in his discretion and under such regulations as he may prescribe, to that of an alien lawfully admitted for permanent residence if (1) the alien makes an application for such adjustment, (2) the alien is eligible to receive an immigrant visa and is admissible to the United States for permanent residence, and (3) an immigrant visa is available to him at the time his application is approved.

(c) the provisions of this section shall not be applicable to any alien who is a native of any country of the Western Hemisphere or of any adjacent island named in Section 101(b) (5).

Acting under the authority specifically delegated to him by the Immigration and Nationality Act, the Attorney General adopted a regulation, 8 C.F.R. § 214.2(c), which in its present form*fn1 provides:

§ 214.2 Special requirements for admission, extension, and maintenance of status.

The general requirements in § 214.1 are modified for the following nonimmigrant classes:

(c) Transits -- (1) Without visas. An applicant for admission under the transit without visa privilege must establish that he is admissible under the immigration laws; that he has confirmed and onward reservations to at least the next country beyond the United States, and that his departure from the United States will be accomplished within ten calendar days after his arrival * * *. The privilege of transit without a visa may be authorized only under the conditions that the carrier, without the prior consent of the Service, will not refund the ticket which was presented to the Service as evidence of the alien's confirmed and onward reservation, that the alien will not apply for extension of temporary stay or for adjustment of status under Section 245 of the Act, and that at all times he is not aboard an aircraft which is in flight through the United States he shall be in the custody directed by the district director.*fn2 (Emphasis supplied.)

Conceding that Fook Hong Mak met the three numbered requirements of § 245(a) and that the presence in the United States of his wife and children, at least one of whom is a citizen, made even temporary departure somewhat of a hardship, the Board of Immigration Appeals, affirming the Special Inquiry Officer, found that the italicized condition of the Regulation precluded consideration of his application for such relief. It granted the alternative request for voluntary departure, which will enable the petitioner to apply from abroad for entry as an immigrant. Fook Hong Mak says that whether or not the Board would have been justified in denying his application for adjustment of status on the merits, the Attorney General's self-imposed restriction on the consideration of it is unlawful.*fn3

We are unable to understand why there should be any general principle forbidding an administrator, vested with discretionary power, to determine by appropriate rulemaking that he will not use it in favor of a particular class on a case-by-case basis, if his determination is founded on considerations rationally related to the statute he is administering. The legislature's grant of discretion to accord a privilege does not imply a mandate that this must inevitably be done by examining each case rather than by identifying groups. The administrator also exercises the discretion accorded him when, after appropriate deliberation, he determines certain conduct to be so inimical to the statutory scheme that all persons who have engaged in it shall be ineligible for favorable consideration, regardless of other factors that otherwise might tend in their favor. He has then decided that one element is of such determinative negative force that no possible combination of others could justify an affirmative result. By the same token he could select one characteristic as entitling a group to favorable treatment despite minor variables. Nothing in this offends the basic concept that like cases should be treated similarly and unlike ones differently. The administrator has simply determined that the one paramount element creates such "likeness" that other elements cannot be so legally significant as to warrant a difference in treatment. This may be an even "juster justice" than to accord different treatment because of trivial differences of fact; at least it is competent for the administrator to think so. The leading student of the problem has recently counseled:

When legislative bodies delegate discretionary power without meaningful standards, administrators should develop standards at the earliest feasible time, and then, as circumstances permit, should further ...

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