Abdo Luftu Ali v. U.S. Department of State: U.S. Passport Revocation After Almost 30 Years

The life of a blog has no certainty. In most cases, a blog has a lifespan better than that of a mayfly. A day. But most blogs do not make it longer than winter bees (six months). We have to-date survived through 26 winter bee seasons! So that’s amazing! Whatever is in the horizon, we are thankful to all of you who made these seasons possible. We are on the last few days of our eight-week annual fundraising. We are grateful to over 400 readers who pitched in since we launched a few weeks ago. If you care what we do here, and you are able to help, please see GFM: https://gofund.me/32671a27.  We could use your support.  ❤️❤️❤️ D!

 

 

Excerpt from Abdo Luftu Ali v. U.S. Department of State/Memorandum of Opinion March 17, 2021:

Plaintiff Abdo Ali (“plaintiff’ or “Ali’”) brings this action under the Administrative Procedure Act (“APA”) against the U.S. Department of State (“State Department” or “defendant”), seeking an order setting aside defendant’s revocation of Ali’s U.S. passport.
[…]
Ali currently resides in Oxford, Mississippi, but he was born in Yemen in 1979. At the time, Ali’s father was a U.S. citizen, having naturalized approximately ten and a half years earlier in January 1969. Compl. 4 8. In 1990, Ali was first issued a U.S. passport under Section 301(g) of the INA on the grounds that he was a child of a U.S. citizen, who, prior to Ali’s birth, had been present in the U.S. for at least ten years, including at least five while he was older than fourteen. Jd. 410. Ali entered the United States in 1994 and was issued passport renewals in 1999 and 2009. Id. § 13. Because passports “may be issued only to a U.S. national,” 22 C.F.R. § 51.2(a), the initial issuance of Ali’s passport and the subsequent renewals necessarily constituted findings that Ali was a U.S. national. See Compl. ff 14, 19. On January 8, 2019, however, the State Department revoked Ali’s passport on the ground that he was not a U.S. national. Id. ¥ 15; see also 22 C.F.R. § 51.62(b) (“The Department may revoke a passport when the Department has determined that the bearer of the passport is not a U.S. national.”). In a letter to Ali, the State Department explained its decision by noting that sometime after the 2009 renewal, “[a]n investigation .. . revealed that [Ali’s] father was not physically present in the United States for ten years before [Ali’s] birth,” as was then required by Section 301(g) of the INA. See Ex. A to Pl.’s Opp. to Def.’s Mot. to Dismiss (“PI.’s Opp.’””) [Dkt. #9-1] at 1.! The letter cited documentation supporting its position but lacked any explanation as to why the State Department had initially issued Ali a passport and subsequently renewed it twice. Jd.; Compl. 418.

On May 30, 2020, Ali filed this suit under the APA, 5 U.S.C. § 701 et seq., seeking to set aside the revocation decision. See Compl. at 8. The complaint alleges that, “to the best of his knowledge,” Ali is a citizen and national of the United States, id. { 3, and that the State Department’s decision to revoke his passport was “arbitrary . . . as well as not being in accordance with law.” Id. § 1. In the alternative, the complaint states that “even if [Ali] is not a national of the United States,” the revocation should still be set aside because the State Department “is estopped by laches and equitable estoppel from revoking [] Ali’s passport.” Jd. § 2.
[…]
In an attempt to avoid the preclusive effect of § 1503(a), Ali argues in the alternative that he is permitted to proceed with this suit under the APA regardless of whether he is, in fact, a U.S. national. See Pl.’s Opp. at 3 (invoking this Court’s equitable powers under the doctrines of laches and estoppel). Under this theory, plaintiff would have the Court set aside defendant’s revocation of Ali’s passport even though he fails to allege that he meets the necessary precondition for a U.S. passport—being a U.S. national, 22 C.F.R. § 51.2(a). See Pl.’s Mot. at 4—5 n.2 (stating that Ali does not “claim unequivocally” that he is a U.S. national, but “maintains that .. . even if he is not a U.S. national, the [State] Department should be estopped from denying it”). Unfortunately for plaintiff, this I cannot do.

The power to issue passports rests solely in the Secretary of State or a designee. 22 U.S.C. § 211a (providing that the Secretary possesses the authority to “grant and issue passports .. . and no other person shall grant, issue, or verify such passports”). Passports may only be issued to U.S. nationals, see 22 C.F.R. § 51.2(a), and the State Department may revoke those passports when it determines that the bearer of the passport is not a U.S. national. 22 C.F.R. § 51.62(b); see also 22 U.S.C. § 212 (“No passport shall be granted or issued to or verified for any other persons than those owing allegiance, whether citizens or not, to the United States.”’).

The Court’s power to craft equitable remedies, while broad, does not permit it to interfere with this statutory and regulatory scheme. See INS v. Pangilinan, 486 U.S. 875, 883-84 (1988) (holding courts’ equitable authority does not extend to crafting remedies contrary to Congressional statutes). Especially in the immigration context, the Court may not rely on the doctrine of laches or the doctrine of equitable estoppel to override public policy as established by Congress. See id. at 885 (“Neither by application of the doctrine of estoppel, nor by invocation of equitable powers, nor by any other means does a court have the power to confer citizenship in violation of [statutory limitations].”).

Congress has established that only U.S. nationals may receive a passport. See 22 U.S.C. § 212. It has also provided, through 8 U.S.C. § 1503(a), a mechanism to challenge agency determinations that an individual is not a U.S. national. But where a _ plaintiff refuses to pursue this avenue of relief, courts may not grant through alternative equitable means what is effectively the same result—a determination that the State Department must treat plaintiff as if he is a U.S. national. See Pangilinan, 486 U.S. at 883-84.

Accordingly, no matter how plaintiff frames his complaint, it fails to state a claim under the APA.
[…] the Court GRANTS defendant’s motion to dismiss and DISMISSES the action in its entirety.

In footnote 7, the Court talks about what must be “exceedingly frustrating”:

The Court appreciates that the State Department’s conduct in recognizing Ali as a U.S. national for almost thirty years, only to reverse that determination with minimal explanation, must be exceedingly frustrating. But plaintiffs recourse nonetheless lies under Section 360(a) of the INA, not the APA. See Hassan, 793 F. Supp. 2d at 443 (noting that although multiple inconsistent decisions from the government over a span of many years created an understandable frustration, no action was cognizable under the APA with respect to the revocation of plaintiff’s passport).

###

IRS to Individuals With Significant Tax Debts: Act Now to Avoid Passport Revocations

 

We’ve blogged previously about the potential revocation of passports for those with substantial tax debts to the Internal Revenue Service (see Officially On: Revocation/Denial of Passport For Americans With Seriously Delinquent Tax Debt;   IRS to Start Certifying Unpaid Taxes of $50K+ in Early 2017 For Revocation/Denial of US PassportsNew Law Authorizes Revocation or Denial of U.S. Passports to Certain Tax Delinquents).
Recently, the IRS again reminded individuals with significant tax debts to act promptly to avoid the revocation of their passports. See the sample IRS notice below or click this PDF file. Click here for a guide in understanding the IRS notice.

Click on image to see the “seriously delinquent” IRS notice

Via IRS:

Under the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act, the IRS notifies the State Department (State) of taxpayers certified as owing a seriously delinquent tax debt, which is currently $52,000 or more. The law then requires State to deny their passport application or renewal. If a taxpayer currently has a valid passport, State may revoke the passport or limit a taxpayer’s ability to travel outside the United States.

When the IRS certifies a taxpayer to State as owing a seriously delinquent tax debt, the taxpayer receives a Notice CP508C from the IRS. The notice explains what steps the taxpayer needs to take to resolve the debt. IRS telephone assistors can help taxpayers resolve the debt. For example, they can help taxpayers set up a payment plan or make them aware of other payment options. Taxpayers should not delay because some resolutions take longer than others.

Don’t Delay!

It’s especially important for taxpayers with imminent travel plans who have had their passport applications denied by State to call the IRS promptly. The IRS can help taxpayers resolve their tax issues and expedite reversal of their certification to State. When expedited, the IRS can generally shorten the 30 days processing time by 14 to 21 days. For expedited reversal of their certification, taxpayers will need to inform the IRS that they have travel scheduled within 45 days or that they live abroad.

For expedited treatment, taxpayers must provide the following documents to the IRS:

      • Proof of travel. This can be a flight itinerary, hotel reservation, cruise ticket, international car insurance or other document showing location and approximate date of travel or time-sensitive need for a passport.
      • Copy of letter from State denying their passport application or revoking their passport. State has sole authority to issue, limit, deny or revoke a passport.

The IRS may ask State to exercise its authority to revoke a taxpayer’s passport. For example, the IRS may recommend revocation if the IRS had reversed a taxpayer’s certification because of their promise to pay, and they failed to pay. The IRS may also ask State to revoke a passport if the taxpayer could use offshore activities or interests to resolve their debt but chooses not to.

Before contacting State about revoking a taxpayer’s passport, the IRS will send Letter 6152, Notice of Intent to Request U.S. Department of State Revoke Your Passport, to the taxpayer to let them know  what the IRS intends to do and give them another opportunity to resolve their debts . Taxpayers must call the IRS within 30 days from the date of the letter. Generally, the IRS will not recommend revoking a taxpayer’s passport if the taxpayer is making a good-faith attempt to resolve their tax debts.

Ways to Resolve Tax Issues

There are several ways taxpayers can avoid having the IRS notify State of their seriously delinquent tax debt. They include the following:

      • Paying the tax debt in full,
      • Paying the tax debt timely under an approved installment agreement,
      • Paying the tax debt timely under an accepted offer in compromise,
      • Paying the tax debt timely under the terms of a settlement agreement with the Department of Justice,
      • Having a pending collection due process appeal with a levy, or
      • Having collection suspended because a taxpayer has made an innocent spouse election or requested innocent spouse relief.
The IRS says that taxpayers may ask for a payment plan with the IRS by filing Form 9465. Some taxpayers may also qualify for an offer in compromise, an agreement between a taxpayer and the IRS that settles the tax liability for less than the full amount owed.  The IRS notes that it will not certify a taxpayer as owing a seriously delinquent tax debt or will reverse the certification for a taxpayer under certain circumstances. For instance, taxpayers who are in bankruptcy, those who have been identified by the IRS as a victim of tax-related identity theft, or those who are located within a federally declared disaster area will not be certified for purposes of passport revocation.
There is also an exception for those serving in combat zones: “taxpayers serving in a combat zone who owe a seriously delinquent tax debt, the IRS postpones notifying the State Department of the delinquency and the taxpayer’s passport is not subject to denial during the time of service in a combat zone. Read in full here.

#