7th Circuit Affirms Discretionary Visa Denials

CHICAGO (CN) – The Seventh Circuit upheld the State Department’s decision to deny a visa to a Palestinian man hoping to join his American wife because he threw stones at Israeli soldiers at age 13, which a consular official called an act of terrorism.

Ahmed Abdel Hafiz Ghneim, a Palestinian man, filed an application for a U.S. permanent resident’s visa so he could join his wife Samira Hazama, a U.S. citizen who lives in Illinois.

The Department of Homeland Security approved his wife’s petition, but when Ghneim showed up for his interview at the U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem in 2013, the consular officer denied his application for having personally engaged in terrorist activities, among other reasons.

The “terrorism” Ghneim engaged in was having thrown rocks at armed Israeli soldiers when he was a 13-year-old boy.

In Monday’s opinion, the Seventh Circuit called this act “admittedly minor, when compared with the worst terrorist acts one can imagine.”

Hazama had urged the court to find her husband’s actions so inconsequential that they could not serve as a basis to deny him a visa.

“On one point we agree with her,” U.S. Circuit Judge Diane Wood wrote for a three-judge panel. “This was a discretionary call, and it would not have been outside the consular officer’s discretion to consider this as an act of juvenile rebellion rather than an act of terrorism.”

Other grounds for the visa denial, such as Ghneim’s previous removal from the U.S., could be waived, but the denial on terrorism grounds cannot.

Wood said that the denial must stand because the court’s ability to review consular decisions is limited.

“All we can do is to look at the face of the decision, see if the officer cited a proper ground under the statute, and ensure that no other applicable constitutional limitations are violated. Once that is done, if the undisputed record includes facts that would support that ground, our task is over,” Wood said in a seven-page ruling.

The same panel issued a separate opinion Monday, authored by U.S. Circuit Judge Frank Easterbrook, again finding for the government in a couple’s challenge to the State Department’s decision denying a visa to the husband, a Mexican citizen.

The husband, Adrian Ulloa, was previously indicted in the U.S. for cocaine possession, but that indictment was dismissed and he denies the charges.

Nevertheless, without a favorable adjudication in a trial, the Seventh Circuit ruled that the indictment gives the consular official probable cause to find Ulloa is or was a drug dealer.

“Because the consular officer gave a legitimate reason for denying Ulloa’s application, and the indictment supplies ‘reason to believe’ that he trafficked in cocaine, [Kleindienst v.] Mandel prevents the judiciary from reweighing the facts and equities,” Easterbrook wrote. “Whether Congress acted wisely in making ‘reason to believe’ some fact sufficient to support (indeed, compel) the denial of a visa application is not a question open to review by the judiciary.” (Parenthesis in original.)

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