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In US administrative law, there are two principal ways of obtaining judicial review of the order of an administrative agency: the petition for review and the petition for enforcement.

A petition for review in administrative law is a lot like an appeal in other areas of law. If a person is not satisfied with the ruling of the agency, that person can file a petition for review either with the District Court or the Court of Appeals, depending on the statutes applicable to the particular agency.

Example: The INS

To give an example of how a petition for review works, let's follow a typical immigration case:

(1) An alien overstays his visa or didn't have a visa to begin with. When the INS finds out about this, they will serve the alien with a charging document known as a Notice to Appear ("NTA"). The NTA explains why the INS believes that the alien is removable.

(2) To simplify things, I'm going to assume that there's no dispute as to whether the alien is in fact removable. In this case, the alien can apply for certain discretionary relief, e.g. asylum, or protection under the Convention Against Torture.

(3) There is a hearing before an immigration judge ("IJ"), who (one hopes) hears evidence, including documents and testimony. At the conclusion of this hearing, the IJ will rule on the question of whether the alien has established eligibility for the relief sought.

(4) The IJ's decision may be appealed then to a body within the INS known as the Board of Immigration Appeals ("BIA"), which - in the space of an average of 5 minutes per case - determines whether the immigration judge's decision is correct, i.e. whether the relief should / should not have been granted. Often, the BIA will "streamline" a case, which means that one member of the board will issue a one-sentence statement "affirming without opinion" the decision of the IJ. See 8 CFR ยง 1003.1(a)(4)

(5) If the alien loses, the alien can file a petition for review with the appropriate Court of Appeals. In the petition, the alien must describe how he believes the IJ and the BIA got it wrong. In deciding on the petition, the court is limited by the principles of Chevron deference, and generally must affirm the findings of the INS unless they are not supported by "substantial evidence," i.e. unless no reasonable judge could see things the way the INS did. The flipside of Chevron deference, however, is that the court can only uphold an agency's decision if the reasons the agency states for its decision are correct. The court cannot affirm the agency's decision except for the reasons that the immigration judge or the BIA stated in their opinions. See SEC v. Chenery Corp., 332 U.S. 194, 196 (1947).

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