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Perez-Fuentes v. Lynch

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit

November 22, 2016

Miguel Perez-Fuentes, Petitioner,
LORETTA E. LYNCH, Attorney General of the United States, Respondent.

          Argued September 20, 2016

         Petition for Review of an Order of the Board of Immigration Appeals. No. A200-140-987

          Before BAUER, POSNER, and EASTERBROOK, Circuit Judges.

          BAUER, Circuit Judge.

         Petitioner Miguel Perez-Fuentes, a native and citizen of Mexico, seeks review of the Board of Immigration Appeals' decision affirming the denial of his application for cancellation of removal. See 8 U.S.C. § 1229b(b). The Board affirmed the denial based on the Immigration Judge's alternate determination that Perez-Fuentes did not establish the requisite hardship for cancellation. See 8 U.S.C. § 1229b(b)(1)(D). Perez-Fuentes challenges several aspects of his hearing. He contends that the IJ improperly excluded evidence and failed to develop the record as required by 8 U.S.C. § 1229a(b)(1) and 8 C.F.R. § 1240.32(b). We dismiss Perez-Fuentes' petition for review, in part for lack of jurisdiction, and deny the remainder of the petition.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Perez-Fuentes entered the United States from Mexico without inspection; the date of his entry is not clear. Perez-Fuentes came to the attention of the Department of Homeland Security after several arrests. On July 19, 2011, DHS served Perez-Fuentes with a Notice to Appear, charging that he was removable for being present in the United States without inspection under 8 U.S.C. § 1182(a)(6)(A)(i).

         On September 13, 2011, Perez-Fuentes proceeded pro se, but with the aid of an interpreter, at the first hearing. He testified that he is a parent of a daughter, Esmeralda, who is a United States citizen. Further, he testified that he first entered the United States in 1995 for a period of time, and returned to the United States after a departure sometime in 1998. After he told the IJ about an arrest, he was instructed to provide a list of his arrests and the dispositions, and the court records. The IJ provided Perez-Fuentes with an application for cancellation of removal and informed him of the requirements.

         On November 22, 2011, Perez-Fuentes conceded removability and filed an application for cancellation of removal. See 8 U.S.C. § 1229b(b). Cancellation of removal is a discretionary form of relief available to certain nonpermanent residents. To qualify, an applicant must meet four statutory criteria: he must establish continuous physical presence for ten years immediately preceding the date of his application; have "good moral character" during that period; show he was not convicted of certain offenses; and, prove that his removal would "result in exceptional and extremely unusual hardship" to a qualifying relative. 8 U.S.C. § 1229b(b)(1). The applicant has the burden of establishing each of these criteria. Adame v. Holder, 762 F.3d 667, 669 (7th Cir. 2014). Finally, even if the applicant satisfies these conditions, the IJ retains discretion to grant or deny the application. 8 U.S.C. § 1229b(b)(1); see also Adame, 762 F.3d at 670-71 ("[T]he IJ 'may cancel removal'; it does not say that the judge must do so.").

         After four continuances over an 18-month period, the IJ held the final hearing on the merits of Perez-Fuentes' application on January 28, 2013. Perez-Fuentes testified in support of his application. Among other questions, the IJ asked Perez-Fuentes, "Okay, well, what hardships do you feel your daughter would face if, if you had to leave the United States?" Perez-Fuentes testified that he financially supported his daughter and she would need money for clothes and food. He also testified that his daughter was in good health. The IJ asked Perez-Fuentes about whether his girlfriend, Raquel Ochoa-an undocumented non-citizen and the mother of Perez-Fuentes' daughter-would move to Mexico with him and about her work history. After several other questions regarding his daughter and Ochoa, the IJ inquired further: "Well, do you think your child would face any hardships other than financial hardships if you had to leave?" Perez-Fuentes answered, "Well, yes, because she's still very little, but even being little she's very close to me."

         Additionally, Perez-Fuentes had two witnesses testify and provided various documents, including tax returns and seven untranslated written statements. Perez-Fuentes called Blanca Ruiz to testify as a character witness on his behalf. Ruiz is the wife of Miguel Ruiz, a former employer of Perez-Fuentes.

         He also called Ochoa to testify on his behalf. The IJ asked Ochoa several questions, including questions about the number of children she had with Perez-Fuentes, the age of their daughter, whether their daughter was in good health, and whether she would stay with him if he was required to depart.

         After Ruiz and Ochoa's testimony, the IJ asked Perez-Fuentes whether he had any other witnesses. Perez-Fuentes said that he did, "but not anybody that... kn[ew] [him] as well as [Ruiz and Ochoa]."

         At the conclusion of the hearing, the IJ denied Perez-Fuentes' application, and ordered him removed to Mexico. The IJ found that Perez-Fuentes "failed to meet any of the requirements necessary for cancellation of removal, " and that he did not merit cancellation of removal as a matter of discretion. As to the physical presence requirement, the IJ noted that Perez-Fuentes testified that he arrived in 1997, but that at a previous hearing he stated that he returned to Mexico in 1998. The IJ concluded ...

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