Press Release
March 20, 2024

Goodwin Prevails on Behalf of Immigration Petitioner at U.S. Supreme Court in Wilkinson v. Garland

On March 19, 2024, Goodwin secured a landmark immigration victory before the U.S. Supreme Court on behalf of Situ Wilkinson, a pro bono client who sought immigration relief to prevent the extraordinary hardship that his removal from the United States would cause for his young child. The case was argued by Jaime Santos, who was recently named the co-chair of Goodwin’s Supreme Court & Appellate Practice. The case will positively impact thousands of immigration petitioners across the country, who will now be able to secure judicial review of many adverse rulings by immigration authorities.

Wilkinson v. Garland involves cancellation of removal, a form of discretionary immigration relief that permits noncitizens who have lived in the United States for at least 10 years, have good moral character, and no relevant criminal convictions to seek relief from deportation if they can show that their removal would cause “exceptional and extremely unusual hardship” to an immediate family member who is a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident. The question before the Supreme Court in Wilkinson was whether federal courts can review hardship determinations made by the immigration officials. The Immigration and Nationality Act generally forecloses judicial review of judgments regarding discretionary immigration relief, but it preserves judicial review of “questions of law.” The Supreme Court’s decision thus turned on whether the immigration agency’s application of the statutory hardship standard to the facts as found by an immigration judge constitutes a “question of law” as the Immigration and Nationality Act uses that term.

Goodwin’s client, Mr. Wilkinson, came to the United States in 2003 after being targeted, beaten, and threatened by police officers in Trinidad and Tobago. He built a life in the United States, started a family, and was known in his community for helping elderly residents with their groceries and acting as a community handyman. When immigration authorities instituted removal proceedings in 2020, Mr. Wilkinson sought cancellation of removal, arguing that his removal would impose exceptional and extremely unusual hardship on his young son, who suffers from serious medical issues. The immigration agency concluded that Mr. Wilkinson had not proved that his removal would cause the required “exceptional and extremely unusual hardship” to his son, and the Third Circuit held that it lacked jurisdiction to review that decision. Mr. Wilkinson retained Goodwin, which filed a cert petition arguing that the circuits had split on the power of federal courts to review hardship determinations.

The Supreme Court granted review, and Goodwin partner Jaime Santos argued the case on November 28, 2023, her first Supreme Court argument. The Justices engaged in a lively and humorous argument, and on March 19, 2024, the Court reversed the Third Circuit, holding that the question whether a given set of facts satisfies the hardship determinations falls squarely within the meaning of the statutory term “questions of law,” and therefore can be reviewed by the federal courts of appeals.

“We’re extremely pleased with the Supreme Court’s opinion,” reports Ms. Santos, who led the Goodwin team. “The Court provided much-needed clarity to lower courts that all mixed questions determined by the immigration agency are reviewable in federal court, whether they derive from statutes or other sources of authority and whether they are primarily factual or primarily legal in nature. This decision will create an avenue to judicial review for thousands of immigration applicants who seek relief under the cancellation statute, not to mention applicants seeking relief under other statutory provisions that require the immigration agency to apply legal standards to the facts as found by immigration judges.” Ms. Santos, who spoke to Mr. Wilkinson immediately after the Supreme Court issued its opinion, said that Mr. Wilkinson is extraordinarily grateful for the Supreme Court’s decision. Mr. Wilkinson had been in immigration detention from 2020 until 2024, when a Goodwin team led by partner Alicia Rubio-Spring and associate Jesse Lempel secured his release under supervision. Mr. Wilkinson is now back at home with his family and enjoying time spent playing basketball with his son.

Goodwin’s Jaime Santos, David Zimmer, Will Evans, Jesse Lempel, Rohini Tashima, and Dina Ljekperic represented Mr. Wilkinson in the Supreme Court, and they look forward to continuing to represent him in the Third Circuit on remand. This victory is Goodwin’s third pro bono immigration victory before the Supreme Court in recent years, following two immigration victories before the Supreme Court in Niz-Chavez v. Garland and Pereira v. Sessions, both of which were argued by David Zimmer, a partner in Goodwin’s Supreme Court and Appellate Practice.

Read the opinion here.