Against Torture

A Significant Ruling on CAT Protection and Removal Orders by the Seventh Circuit

In a landmark decision, the Seventh Circuit Court has clarified the timeline for appealing reinstated deportation orders, marking a pivotal moment for individuals seeking protection under the Convention Against Torture (CAT). This ruling, stemming from a case involving a Salvadoran migrant identified as F.J.A.P., establishes that the 30-day deadline to appeal to the circuit courts does not commence upon the reinstatement of a removal order by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Instead, it begins only after the completion of the agency appeals process, particularly when seeking CAT protection.

The majority of the three-judge panel underscored that the request for deportation relief under CAT, which aims to prevent the U.S. from deporting individuals to countries where they are likely to be tortured, essentially delays the finality of reinstated deportation orders. This interpretation ensures that individuals have the opportunity to seek CAT protection before their removal orders become final and appealable, thereby safeguarding their right to judicial review.

The Seventh Circuit's stance aligns with the precedents set by the Fifth, Sixth, Ninth, and Tenth Circuits, which have similarly concluded that reinstated orders of removal attain finality only after the conclusion of CAT proceedings. This contrasts with the Second and Fourth Circuits, which have adopted a different interpretation. Such divergence among the circuits underscores the complexity and evolving nature of immigration law, particularly concerning the interplay between removal orders and international human rights protections.

F.J.A.P.'s journey through the immigration system sheds light on the harrowing circumstances that lead many to seek refuge in the United States. After receiving threats from the notorious MS-13 gang and witnessing the murder of a cousin who had provided him shelter, F.J.A.P. found himself in the crosshairs of the U.S. immigration system upon his return to the U.S. four years after his initial removal. His case, characterized by an initial grant of withholding of removal by an immigration judge and subsequent overturning by the Board of Immigration Appeals, exemplifies the arduous path faced by many in similar situations.

The Seventh Circuit's decision to vacate the board's ruling, citing the "consistent and corroborated testimony" of F.J.A.P. and the evidence overlooked by the board, represents a significant victory for those advocating for the rights of individuals facing persecution in their home countries. This ruling not only reinforces the importance of thorough and fair adjudication in immigration proceedings but also highlights the critical role of appellate courts in ensuring justice and adherence to international obligations under CAT.

Dissenting, U.S. Circuit Judge Michael Brennan raised concerns about the implications of delaying the finality of removal orders due to pending CAT applications, arguing that such delays could undermine the enforcement of immigration laws. His dissent reflects ongoing debates within the legal community and broader society about the balance between enforcing immigration laws and protecting human rights.

The Seventh Circuit's decision is a reminder of the complex legal landscape that migrants navigate in their pursuit of safety and justice. As the debate over immigration policy continues, this ruling underscores the judiciary's pivotal role in interpreting and applying the law, particularly in cases where human rights and immigration enforcement intersect.

Representatives for F.J.A.P. and the federal government have yet to comment on this decision, but the ruling is expected to have significant implications for similar cases across the United States. As the legal community and advocacy groups digest this development, the Seventh Circuit's decision will undoubtedly serve as a critical reference point in ongoing discussions about the rights of migrants and the application of CAT protections.


Alyssa Aquino, "7th Circ. Says Renewed Removal Orders Must Wait On CAT," Law360, February 27, 2024.

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