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SCOTUS Overturns Chevron: Implications for USCIS and Immigration Adjudications


Federal courts gain authority to interpret immigration laws, potentially altering agency-based decisions

Jul 1, 2024


Straight-on view of the U.S. Supreme Court, somewhat lit in the foreground with ominous storm clouds gathering behind.

In a decision last week, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) overturned the longstanding Chevron doctrine, fundamentally altering the landscape of administrative law and potentially reshaping various policy areas, including immigration. The 6-3 ruling in the Loper Bright and Relentless cases marks a shift in how federal courts will interpret agency regulations and decisions moving forward.

The Chevron Doctrine: A Brief Overview

The Chevron doctrine was a rule created by the Supreme Court in 1984. It said that when laws were unclear, federal courts should generally accept how federal agencies understood and applied those laws, as long as the agencies’ interpretations were reasonable.

For nearly four decades, the Chevron deference rule has granted federal agencies, such as USCIS, considerable leeway in interpreting and implementing laws within their respective domains.

The SCOTUS Decision

The Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Chevron means that federal courts will no longer automatically defer to agency interpretations. Instead, judges will have more authority to scrutinize and potentially override agency decisions and regulations. This shift represents a significant rebalancing of power between the judicial and executive branches of government.


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Implications for Immigration Law and Policy

While the Loper Bright and Relentless cases were not directly related to immigration, the repercussions of this decision are expected to be far-reaching, with notable impacts on immigration law and policy.

Statement from the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA)

“The decision has severely handicapped the executive branch’s power to modernize our immigration system through policy updates or regulations. Valuable immigration benefits created by regulations may be threatened if not clearly based on statutory language. With this ruling, SCOTUS is punting the rule making process back to Congress. “

Kelli Stump, President of the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA)

In her statement, Stump outlined several potential consequences of the decision:

  1. Leveling the Playing Field: The decision could provide more opportunities for immigrants, their families, and employers to challenge unfavorable agency interpretations of immigration laws.
  2. Increased Judicial Review: Those seeking review of immigration judges’ or Board of Immigration Appeals decisions may now have expanded opportunities to do so.
  3. Potential Benefits for Visa Applicants: Employers seeking favorable interpretations of statutes related to visa classifications (such as H-1B or L visas) may find new avenues for argument.
  4. Limitations on Executive Power: The ruling significantly constrains the executive branch’s ability to update immigration policies or introduce new regulations without a clear statutory basis.
  5. Threat to Existing Benefits: Immigration benefits created through regulations may be at risk if they are not clearly grounded in statutory language.

What is statutory language?

Statutory language refers to the exact wording used in laws (statutes) passed by Congress. In the context of immigration law:

  • Statutory language is the specific text of immigration laws enacted by Congress.
  • It forms the foundation for how immigration policies should be implemented.
  • Before the Chevron doctrine was overturned, agencies like USCIS had more flexibility in interpreting this language.
  • Now, courts may scrutinize agency decisions more closely to ensure they align precisely with the statutory language.
  • This change could affect immigration benefits that were based on agency interpretations rather than explicit statutory language.

Broader Implications and Future Outlook

The overturning of the Chevron doctrine extends beyond immigration, potentially affecting various areas of federal regulation, including environmental protection, healthcare, and labor laws. This shift places greater responsibility on Congress to craft clear, comprehensive legislation, as agencies will have less flexibility in interpreting and implementing laws.

Stump emphasized the need for Congressional action, stating, “We hope Congress takes the initiative to come together in a bipartisan fashion to legislate sensible solutions that make our immigration system reflective of our modern-day realities.”

As the legal community and policymakers grapple with the implications of this decision, it’s clear that the landscape of administrative law and policy implementation is entering a new era. The full impact of this ruling will likely unfold in the coming years as cases make their way through the court system and Congress responds to this significant shift in the balance of power.