Today, the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) issued a decision which eliminates one of the principal benefits of the Child Status Protection Act of 2002 (CSPA). We believe that this decision is fundamentally flawed and should be overturned.
In Matter of Wang, 25 I&N Dec. 28 (BIA 2009), the Board essentially voids the "automatic conversion" clause of CSPA. That clause deals with persons who age out despite the protections of CSPA. It states that they are entitled to the "original priority date" and should be placed in the "appropriate category".
Despite a plethora of agency memos interpreting CSPA, the government has remained strangely silent about the "automatic conversion" clause. However, an unpublished Board decision, Matter of Garcia (2006) interpreted the clause to mean that when a derivative beneficiary of a petition ages out, they are able to keep the priority date of the original petition filed on behalf of their parents, and that once their parents become permanent residents, the original petition is "automatically converted" to the family-based 2B category since they are unmarried adult sons and daughters of permanent residents. In many cases, this allows them to immediately immigrate to the United States.
In Matter of Wang, a U.S. citizen submitted an immigrant visa petition for her brother and his wife and daughter in China in 1992. However, by the time that the parents became permanent residents in 2005, the daughter had "aged-out" because she was 22 years old and no longer qualified as a child. In 2006, her father submitted a 2B visa petition on her behalf. Since the 2B category is backlogged 8 years, the daughter would be forced to remain separated from her parents until 2014, a total wait of 22 years since the original 1992 priority date. If she marries before she immigrates, she will lose her priority date altogether.
However, under the "automatic conversion" clause of CSPA as interpreted by the Board in Matter of Garcia, she would be able to retain the original 1992 priority date under the 2B category, meaning that she could reunite with her parents immediately.
Today, the Board gave short shrift to the reasoning in Matter of Garcia. The Board found that the statute was "ambiguous" and looked to the legislative history of CSPA.
Unfortunately, there is no legislative history of the "automatic conversion" clause and the Board construed the law in a way which we believe directly contradicts the clear language of the statute.
While the original CSPA bill was introduced in the House of Representatives in 2001, the "automatic conversion" clause was added the next year in the Senate. The Board recognizes this, yet all of the language as to the purpose of the bill which is referenced in the Board's decision is taken from the 2001 House Report and from individual members of the House of Representatives. Since the original House bill was much less expansive than the final bill, these selective references to the legislative history are highly misleading.
When the Board's decision talks about the injustice of allowing Ms. Wang to "'jump' to the front of the line by retaining a 1992 priority date", we are puzzled. She waited in line from the age of 10 to her 21st birthday only to be separated from her parents for another 8 years. Wasn't this the reason that CSPA was enacted?
The Board also references various USCIS "automatic conversion" regulations and concludes that when Congress approved CSPA they were aware that such conversions only operate as long as the petitioner remains the same. This is simply untrue. Consider, for example, the savings clause in the 1976 immigration law which allows persons to retain Western Hemisphere Priority Dates even though the original petition may have been employment-based while the latter petition is family-based. Same petitioner?
Essentially, Matter of Wang adopts the USCIS' tenuous argument that the "automatic conversion" clause was added to CSPA simply to codify 8 C.F.R. 204.2(a)(4), a decades-old regulation which allows a child whose parent was petitioned under the 2A preference category to retain the original priority date when the child turns 21 and the LPR parent submits a new visa petition under the 2B category. Does the legislative history support this interpretation? Matter of Wang is silent on this issue.
The reason that Matter of Wang should be overturned is that it contradicts the clear language of CSPA. The "automatic conversion" clause states that it applies to aliens who are "21 years of age or older for purposes of subsections (a)(2)(A) and (d)" of 8 U.S.C. 1153. Subsection (d) refers to spouses and children who are accompanying or following to join spouses or parents under the family-based, employment-based or diversity lottery categories. Any interpretation which attempts to restrict the applicability of the "automatic conversion" clause to a narrow subset of the family-based preference categories, and ignores the other famiy-based categories, the employment-based categories and the diversity category is clearly at odds with the statute.
Currently, there are at least seven lawsuits in Federal Court challenging the government's restrictive interpretation of the "automatic conversion" clause of CSPA. How they will be affected by Matter of Wang remains to be seen.
To read the complete text of Matter of Wang as well as a host of other materials relating to CSPA and the continuing litigation, see http://shusterman.com/cspa.html