An interesting phenomenon in appellate decisions is that a court decision, often a higher court, establishes a certain principle of law of general application and then the lower courts are “stuck” applying this principle despite the apparent illogic of absurdity of its application. Because lower courts must adhere to the rulings of the higher court, unless the lower court can cleverly distinguish its situation from the decision of the higher court, the lower court is compelled to issue a decision that to the vast majority that are not sensitive to these things, seems unfair.
One decision that has taken courts down a path of despair is a 1975 Supreme Court decision, Reid v. INS. In Reid, a husband and wife entered the United States by (knowingly) falsely claiming they were United States citizens. Immigration officials found this out and initiated proceedings to deport them. The couple, as a defense, sought a waiver of deportability for those who enter the United States fraudulently. The law allows for a waiver based on family ties to someone who may have entered the United States years earlier by fraud, but now is established here and the harm to himself and his family outweighs the seriousness of the fraud. However, immigration officials did not charge the Reids with deportability for entering by fraud. Rather, they charged the Reids with deportability for entering the United States without inspection. The theory was that when a person comes to a border and says he is a United States citizen, he is not carefully inspected, while a person who comes and says he is not a United States citizen is carefully inspected to make sure his visa or other authorization to enter is in order and he is not subject to inadmissibility for criminal conduct, other unlawful conduct, or immigration violations. The Supreme Court concluded that the Reids could not ask for a fraud waiver because they were not deportable for fraud, but rather for entering without inspection. They thus had no relief from deportation – even though it was precisely the fraud that was the “cause” of having avoided inspection. The Supreme Court, in a decision written by the Justice Rehnquist, was concerned that an alien could transform any immigration violation into a fraud – “I overstayed my visa and am deportable but intended to when I entered, so I entered with fraudulent intent and therefore deserve a waiver.” The decision certainly nipped that theory in the bud. (more…)