INS v. Phinpathya - 464 U.S. 183 (1984)
U.S. Supreme Court
INS v. Phinpathya, 464 U.S. 183 (1984)
Immigration and Naturalization Service v. Phinpathya
Argued October 3, 1983
Decided January 10, 1984
464 U.S. 183
Section 244(a)(1) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (Act) authorizes the Attorney General, in his discretion, to suspend deportation of an otherwise deportable alien who "has been physically present in the United States for a continuous period of not less than seven years" and is a person of good moral character whose deportation would result in extreme hardship to the alien or his spouse, parent, or child. Respondent, a citizen of Thailand, first entered the United States as a nonimmigrant student in October, 1969, and was authorized to remain until July, 1971. But when her visa expired, she chose to stay without securing permission from the immigration authorities. In 1977, petitioner Immigration and Naturalization Service commenced deportation proceedings against respondent. Conceding deportability, respondent applied for suspension pursuant to § 244(a)(1). Based on respondent's testimony that she had left the United States for Thailand during January, 1974, and that she had improperly obtained a nonimmigrant visa from the United States consular officer in Thailand to aid her reentry three months later, an Immigration Judge concluded that respondent had failed to meet § 244(a)(1)'s 7-year "continuous physical presence" requirement, and accordingly denied her application for suspension. The Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) affirmed, holding that respondent's absence from the United States was meaningfully interruptive of her continuous physical presence in the country, since she was illegally in the United States at the time she left for Thailand and was able to return only by misrepresenting her status. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that the BIA had placed too much emphasis on respondent's illegal presence prior to her departure and on the increased risk of deportation that her departure had engendered, and that an absence can be "meaningfully interruptive" only when it increases the risk and reduces the hardship of deportation.
Held: Respondent did not meet § 244(a)(1)'s "continuous physical presence" requirement. Pp. 464 U. S. 189-196.
(a) The Court of Appeals' interpretation of this requirement departs from the Act's plain meaning. Section 244(a)(1)'s language requiring certain threshold criteria to be met before the Attorney General, in his
discretion, may suspend deportation plainly narrows the class of aliens who may obtain suspension. The ordinary meaning of such language does not readily admit any exception to the "continuous physical presence" requirement. When Congress has intended that a "continuous physical presence" requirement be flexibly administered, it has provided authority for doing so. Moreover, the evolution of the deportation provision itself shows that Congress knew how to distinguish between actual "continuous physical presence" and some irreducible minimum of "nonintermittent" presence. Pp. 464 U. S. 189-192.
(b) Since this case deals with a threshold requirement added to the statute specifically to limit the discretionary availability of the deportation suspension remedy, a flexible approach to statutory construction, such as the Court of Appeals' approach, is not consistent with the congressional purpose underlying the "continuous physical presence" requirement. Rosenberg v. Fleuti, 374 U. S. 449, distinguished. Pp. 464 U. S. 192-194.
(c) To interpret 244(a)(1) as the Court of Appeals did collapses the section's "continuous physical presence" requirement into its "extreme hardship" requirement and reads the former out of the Act. Section 244(a)(1)'s language and history suggest that the two requirements are separate preconditions for a suspension of deportation. It is also clear that Congress intended strict threshold criteria to be met before the Attorney General could exercise his discretion to suspend deportation. To construe the Act so as to broaden such discretion is fundamentally inconsistent with this intent. Pp. 464 U. S. 195-196.
673 F.2d 1013, reversed.
O'CONNOR, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and WHITE, BLACKMUN, POWELL, and REHNQUIST, JJ., joined. BRENNAN, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, in which MARSHALL and STEVENS, JJ., joined, post, p. 464 U. S. 196.