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Thoung v. United States

United States Court of Appeals, Tenth Circuit

January 22, 2019

LINA THOUNG, Petitioner - Appellant,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Respondent - Appellee.

          APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF KANSAS (D.C. NO. 5:17-CV-03032-EFM)

          Matthew L. Hoppock, The Hoppock Law Firm, LLC, Overland Park, Kansas, for Petitioner-Appellant.

          Jared S. Maag, Assistant United States Attorney (Stephen R. McAllister, United States Attorney, District of Kansas, and James A. Brown, Assistant United States Attorney, Chief, Appellant Division, with him on the briefs), Office of the United States Attorney, Topeka, Kansas, for Respondent-Appellee.

          Before TYMKOVICH, Chief Judge, HOLMES, and PHILLIPS, Circuit Judges.

          TYMKOVICH, CHIEF JUDGE.

         Lina Thoung illegally entered the United States in 2002. After the government learned of her illegal status, she jointly stipulated to a removal order after pleading guilty in district court to document fraud. But deportation proceedings never occurred. Five years later, she filed a writ of habeas corpus with the district court alleging the court had lacked subject-matter jurisdiction to enter its order of removal. The district court reaffirmed its jurisdiction to order removal and rejected Thoung's habeas petition.

         We hold that, because of the REAL ID Act's limitations on judicial review, the district court lacked jurisdiction to entertain Thoung's habeas petition challenging the prior removal order.

         I. Background

         Thoung emigrated from Cambodia to the United States in 2002 using a fraudulently obtained visa in the name and birthdate of another person. In 2007, she obtained U.S. citizenship and affirmed she had never provided false information to any government official while applying for any immigration benefit.

         Her fraud was discovered in 2012. She subsequently pleaded guilty to misusing a visa, permit, and other documents to obtain citizenship, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1546(a). As part of her plea agreement, she jointly stipulated to denaturalization under 8 U.S.C. § 1451(e) and removal from the United States. Relying on 8 U.S.C. § 1228(c)(5), the district court entered an order of removal. Immigration authorities, unable to deport Thoung back to Cambodia, eventually released her subject to an Order of Supervision. Under this order, Thoung could be arrested and deported at any time.

         In 2017, Thoung filed a writ of habeas corpus-apparently under 28 U.S.C. § 2241-alleging the district court had lacked subject-matter jurisdiction to enter the judicial removal order requested under the plea agreement. Neither the government nor the district court considered the potential applicability of the REAL ID Act, 8 U.S.C. § 1252, and the substantial limitations it imposes on judicial review. On the merits, the district court reaffirmed its jurisdiction to enter Thoung's removal order. Thoung appealed the district court's assertion of subject-matter jurisdiction to enter the 2013 removal order.

         II. Analysis

         We first consider whether the district court had subject-matter jurisdiction to hear Thoung's habeas petition, a question of statutory interpretation. Gonzales-Alarcon v. Macias, 884 F.3d 1266, 1273 (10th Cir. 2018). We conclude the REAL ID Act prevents the district court from exercising habeas jurisdiction to hear Thoung's petition.

         A. The REAL ID Act's Limitations on Judicial Review

         Generally, "[w]rits of habeas corpus may be granted by . . . the district courts and any circuit judge within their respective jurisdictions." 28 U.S.C. § 2241(a). A person must be "in custody" to seek the habeas writ, id. § 2241(c)(1), and a person subject to removal is "in custody" for habeas purposes. See Aguilera v. Kirkpatrick, 241 F.3d 1286, 1291 (10th Cir. 2001).

         Nevertheless, the REAL ID Act imposes substantial limitations on judicial review, including habeas review, of final orders of removal. Removal orders may be challenged only by way of a petition for review filed in the court of appeals. According to § 1252(a)(5), "petitions for review" filed with the courts of appeal are the "sole and exclusive means for judicial review from an order of removal." And the statute specifically excludes "habeas corpus review pursuant to sections 1241 . . . or any other habeas corpus provision." Id.[1] That "sole and exclusive means for judicial review from an order of removal" is outlined in § 1252(b), which requires that a petition for review must be filed within thirty days of a final order of removal. Id. § 1252(b)(1). "That deadline is mandatory and jurisdictional; it is not subject to equitable tolling." Gonzales-Alarcon, 884 F.3d at 1271. Thus, although the REAL ID Act permits "review of constitutional claims or questions of law raised upon a petition for review," 8 U.S.C. § 1252(a)(2)(D), an individual petitioning for review cannot challenge a removal order once judicial review is time-barred, see Gonzales-Alarcon, 884 F.3d at 1271. By the time Thoung filed her habeas petition with the district court, the deadline for properly filing a petition for review in accordance with the REAL ID Act had long expired.

         In Gonzales-Alarcon, we emphasized that "Congress clearly intended to funnel all challenges to removal through the petition for review process." Id. at 1278. We held that "[u]nder the plain language of [§ 1252(a)(5)], a habeas challenge to an order of removal is barred regardless of whether the petitioner is an alien or claims citizenship." Id. at 1274.

         Our circuit is consistent with others in recognizing the REAL ID Act's limitations on habeas review. See Andrade v. Gonzales, 459 F.3d 538, 542 (5th Cir. 2006) ("The REAL ID Act divests the district courts of jurisdiction over the habeas petitions of aliens; instead, REAL ID Act § 106 states that 'a petition for review shall be the sole and exclusive means for judicial review of an order of removal entered or issued under any provision of [the Immigration and Nationality Act].'"); Marquez-Almanzar v. INS, 418 F.3d 210, 215 (2d Cir. 2005) (REAL ID Act "unequivocally eliminates habeas corpus review of orders of removal.").

         Because Thoung's habeas petition ultimately seeks to invalidate the district court's removal order, we conclude she is seeking "judicial review of an order of removal" in a manner prohibited by § 1252(a)(5).

         B. The REAL ID Act Eliminates Jurisdiction to Entertain Thoung's Habeas Petition

         Nevertheless, Thoung raises three arguments to support her claim that the district court had proper jurisdiction to entertain her habeas petition.

         All three ultimately fail.

         1. Orders Arising from Criminal Proceedings

         First, Thoung contends Congress did not intend to bar habeas review of judicial removal orders because she claims the Act omits orders arising from criminal proceedings that result in removability. The criminal offenses which are grounds for removability are set forth in 8 U.S.C. § 1227(a)(2). She relies on INS v. St. Cyr, 533 U.S. 289 (2001), which held that AEDPA's limitations on habeas review did "not bar jurisdiction over removal orders not subject to judicial review under § 1252(a)(1)-including orders against aliens who are removable by reason of having committed one or more criminal offenses." Id. at 313.

         But Thoung's interpretation misreads the REAL ID Act, which was adopted in 2005 to render the removal-challenge process consistent with St. Cyr. See 2 Randy Hertz & James S. Liebman, Federal Habeas Corpus Practice and Procedure ยง 41.1, at 2208-15 (6th ed. 2011). The REAL ID Act expressly divests district courts of jurisdiction over habeas challenges to removal orders, including those arising from criminal offenses, and funnels all such challenges to the "appropriate court of appeals" as the "sole and exclusive means for judicial review of an order of ...


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