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In Matter of Pina-Galindo, the Board found that the respondent was ineligible for cancellation of removal for a non-permanent resident under INA 240A(b)(1) because he had been convicted of two or more offenses with an aggregate sentence to confinement of 5 years or more.

The respondent was put in removal proceedings for being present without admission or parole.  He applied for cancellation of removal based on being physically present in the U.S. for 10 or more years and the hardship that removal would cause to a qualifying relative.  The immigration judge found him ineligible for cancellation because he had multiple alcohol-related convictions, including a conviction for driving while intoxicated for which he received a 10-year sentence. Non-permanent resident cancellation requires, among other things, that the applicant not be convicted of an offense listed at INA 212(a)(2).  Section 212(a)(2) lists several crime-based grounds of inadmissibility, including: crimes involving moral turpitude, controlled substance offenses, and multiple criminal offenses with an aggregate sentence to confinement of 5 years or more.  Pina-Galindo was found ineligible for having multiple convictions with an aggregate sentence to 5 or more years.

The respondent argued that the legislative history indicated that Congress only intended to disqualify applicants with convictions that involved moral turpitude or a controlled substance offense, since the Conference Report stated that only aliens inadmissible under INA 212(a)(2)(A) (the subsection covering crimes involving moral turpitude and controlled substance offenses) would be ineligible for cancellation.  The Board brushed aside that argument by supposing that the Conference Report likely referred only to the most common grounds of disqualification.

The respondent also argued that the language of the grounds of ineligibility for cancellation refer to a singular conviction under 212(a)(2), while multiple convictions are required for an offense to be described under the multiple conviction with 5 year aggregate sentence ground of inadmissibility.  The Board responded that the Dictionary Act (1 U.S.C 1) provides that for any Act of Congress the singular shall include the multiple unless the context requires otherwise.


In Ferreira, the Board of Immigration Appeals held that conviction of a state controlled substances offense that, on its face, controls some substances not controlled by the federal Controlled Substances Act (in addition to some that are) establishes deportability unless the respondent establishes a realistic probability that the state would actually prosecute offenses involving the substances not covered by federal law.  This conclusion, however, is now in some doubt following the Supreme Court's later decision in Mellouli v. Lynch.

ICE put Ferreira, a lawful permanent resident, in removal proceedings after his conviction of section 21a-277(a) of the Connecticut General Statutes Annotated in 2010.  It charged he was deportable for a controlled substance offense and aggravated felony because section 21a-277(a) prohibits the sale of various controlled substances.  Ferreira argued ICE could not establish deportability because his conviction record did not specify what substance he sold and at the time section 21a-277(a) covered sale of two opiate derivatives (benzylfentanyl and thenylfentanyl) not listed in the federal Controlled Substances Act, in addition to many substances that do appear in the federal Controlled Substances Act.

The Board labeled the two non-covered substances "obscure" and held the immigration judge should have conducted fact-finding to determine whether the State of Connecticut would actually prosecute a person for sale of those substances.  It reached this conclusion based on its reading of the Supreme Court's decisions in Moncrieffe and Duenas-Alvarez, which held that the categorical approach was not an invitation to exercise "legal imagination." To defeat a charge of deportability, that precedent requires a the respondent to show that there is a realistic probability that a state would prosecute an offense that does not meet the generic definition.  The Board then asserted

Under that test, for the proceedings to be terminated based on this discrepancy between the Connecticut and Federal schedules, Connecticut must actually prosecute violations of section 21a-277(a) in cases involving benzylfentanyl and thenylfentanyl.

Thus, the Board expected Ferreira to cite an example of a prosecution for one of those substances.

The problem with the Board's approach is that it conflates obscurity with likelihood of prosecution.  Ferreira may not be able to provide an example of a Connecticut prosecution for benzylfentanyl or thenylfentanyl because they are not commonly abused drugs and thus are not commonly sold, particularly in a small state like Connecticut.  That does not mean, though, that Connecticut would not prosecute an offense involving one of those substances if given the chance.  Both substances are explicitly covered by the statute.  In other words, the fact that an offense is uncommon does not mean that a court would have to exercise legal imagination to say that it would be prosecuted.

The Supreme Court seemed to implicitly recognize this issue in its later decision in Mellouli.  Mellouli held that a Kansas conviction under an overbroad controlled substances offense does not establish deportability if the record of conviction does not establish the offense related to a substance covered by the federal Controlled Substances Act.  Mellouli did not address whether there was a realistic probability of Kansas prosecuting the substances that made the Kansas offense overbroad (salvia and jimson weed, which do not appear in the federal schedules).  This is a significant silence, since the Board had just a year earlier held in Ferreira that this must be addressed.  Why didn't the Supreme Court address it?  It did not explain.  It just said (at footnote 8) that the case did not require the Court to decide whether Ferreira applied the categorical approach correctly.

I would argue, though, that it takes no legal imagination to suppose that a state would prosecute an offense involving a controlled substance that is explicitly covered by statute or regulation.  The fact that a state has not yet had the opportunity to prosecute an offense involving the substance does not mean it would not.  This is what distinguishes Ferreira's situation from the concern raised by the Solicitor General in Moncrieffe--that the failure to explicitly exclude antique firearms from a state firearms statute would mean that it would not match the federal firearms definition even if the state does not actually prosecute antique firearms offenses.  Moncrieffe did not say that a state firearms statute that explicitly does cover antique firearms would not match the federal firearms definition merely because the state, perhaps a small one like Connecticut, has not had an opportunity to prosecute an antique firearms case yet.


The Board of Immigration Appeals held that the exception to the controlled substance ground of deportability for a "single offense involving possession for one's own use of thirty grams or less of marijuana" is a factual question that may be decided by an immigration judge if the record of conviction is not conclusive. In other words, it is a "circumstance specific" inquiry.  It is not a categorical inquiry, where the only question is whether the legal elements of an offense match a federal definition.


The Board held that an immigrant admitted at a port of entry as a conditional permanent resident is subject to the 212(h) aggravated felony bar.   That bar prohibits an immigrant admitted to the United States as "an alien lawfully admitted for permanent residence" from applying for a 212(h) waiver of criminal inadmissibility if the alien has been convicted of an aggravated felony after admission.  The question here, though, is whether the bar applies if the immigrant was admitted to the U.S. in lawful permanent resident status on a conditional basis, which occurs if the permanent resident status is based on a marriage entered into less than 2 years before the admission.  

The Board held that the aggravated felony bar does apply to immigrants admitted as conditional residents under the plain language of the Act.  It reached that conclusion because the Act refers to those immigrants as having "obtain[ed] the status of lawful admission for permanent residence," albeit on a conditional basis.  The Board, however, failed to address why the conditional status should not matter.  The requirements to remove that conditional status place these immigrants in a much different situation than immigrants truly admitted to permanent residence in the sense of having the right to reside in the U.S. indefinitely.  Perhaps the distinction does not matter, but the Board should have stated why.


The Board of Immigration Appeals held that malicious vandalism in violation of California Penal Code section 594(a) was categorically a crime involving moral turpitude where it is accompanied by a finding that the offense was committed for the benefit of a criminal street gang with the specific intent to promote criminal conduct by gang members, a sentencing enhancement under PC 186.22(d).

First, the Board found that the immigration judge had erred by analyzing the vandalism and the enhancement separately.  Rather, the Board held that they must be considered together as a single offense.  The enhancement requires a specific intent to promote criminal activity by a street gang, so that means an act of malicious vandalism with the enhancement must be done with the specific intent to promote that activity.  What activity?  The Board cited "turf wars and gang violence."  The Board found that gang vandalism promoted that activity.

I would argue, though, that vandalism with a gang enhancement is not a CIMT under the categorical approach if there is a realistic probability that a defendant might be convicted of it for conduct that does not promote turf wars or gang violence.  The Board seems to assume that the only vandalism that comes within the statute is gang graffiti, which obviously stakes out territory and could lead to confrontations.

I would be interested to know if any of my readers could think of a scenario where a person could be convicted of vandalism with a gang enhancement (for the benefit of a gang and to promote criminal activity by the gang) that is not necessarily turpitudinous.  If so, is there a realistic probability of it being prosecuted?  Submit a comment below if you can.


The Board of Immigration Appeals applied the Supreme Court's decisions in Descamps and Moncrieffe to find that the respondent's felony conviction under section 76-10-508.1 of the Utah Code for discharge of a firearm was not an aggravated felony crime of violence, but was a deportable firearms offense.

Section 76-10-508.1(1) has three subsections and it was not clear which the respondent was convicted of.  The first, subsection (a), penalizes one who "discharges a firearm in the direction of any person or persons,  knowing or having reason to believe that any person may be endangered by the discharge of the firearm."  This does not require any particular mental state by the person who discharges the firearm, which means under the Utah Code that it may be done with intent, knowledge, or recklessness.

The Supreme Court held in Leocal that the mental state of recklessness does not satisfy the federal definition of a crime of violence, so the Board held that a violation of section 76-10-508.1(1)(a) is not necessarily an aggravated felony crime of violence.   Further, the Board held it could not find the respondent was convicted of an aggravated felony under the modified categorical approach.  It determined it could not use the modified categorical approach because the mental states for subsection (a) (intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly) are not divisible because they are not elements of the offense that a jury must unanimously agree upon.  In other words, a jury returning a guilty verdict could do so where some members of the jury believe the defendant acted intentionally, while others believe he acted recklessly.  Since the offense does not necessarily constitute a crime of violence and it is not divisible, no conviction for section 76-10-508.1(1)(a) would be an aggravated felony crime of violence.

The Board nonetheless found that Chairez-Castrejon was convicted of a firearms offense because it rejected his argument on the antique firearm exception.  The federal definition of a firearm excludes certain antique firearms, while the respondent argued that Utah law did not.  The Board noted that there was no specific exception for antique firearms under Utah law, but also found that the respondent had not shown Utah actually prosecutes offenses involving antique firearms.  In Moncrieffe, the Supreme Court held that an alien who invokes this “antique firearm” argument in order to defeat an aggravated felony charge “would have to demonstrate
that the State actually prosecutes the relevant offense in cases involving antique firearms.”  The respondent apparently could not show that here (California, on the other hand, does prosecute cases involving antique firearms).  The Board therefore found Chairez-Castrejon deportable, although it remanded for consideration of his cancellation of removal claim because it found his conviction was not an aggravated felony.


The Board of Immigration Appeals held here that a respondent's mental health at the time of committing a crime is not a factor in determining whether a conviction is for a particularly serious crime that bars withholding of removal.

In this case, the respondent was convicted of California Penal Code section 245(a)(1) (2004 version), assault with a deadly weapon, and received a two-year sentence to prison.  He has a history of chronic paranoid schizophrenia, which resulted in a finding that he was mentally incompetent during the removal proceedings.  The fact of the conviction, however, indicates he was not found not guilty by reason of insanity during the criminal proceedings.

The Board held that the respondent's mental health circumstances at the time of an offense may not be considered in determining whether the crime is a particularly serious crime that bars withholding of removal.   It reached this conclusion despite acknowledging the well-established rule that it "evaluate[s] the nature of the conviction, the type of sentence imposed, and the circumstances and underlying facts."  The Board's decision makes clear that the "circumstances and underlying facts" concern only those that indicate whether the respondent is a "danger to the community."  In other words, a crime by a mentally ill person can indicate dangerousness to the community just the same as a crime by a person who is not mentally ill.


In Matter of Iris Introcaso, the Board held that a petitioner has the burden of proving that he is not ineligible to petition for a relative due to a conviction for a specified offense against a minor under the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act of 2006 ("Adam Walsh Act").  It further held "the language and structure of the Adam Walsh Act invite a circumstance-specific inquiry into both the age of the victim and the conduct underlying the offense." In other words, the inquiry purportedly is not limited to the categorical approach.

The Board justified examining facts outside of the elements of conviction to determine the victim's age because the list of disqualifying convictions includes offenses that are not specific to minors (kidnapping, false imprisonment, solicitation to engage in sexual conduct, etc.).  It is hard to argue with that, so I won't.

The rationale for examining non-elements to determine the nature of the conduct underlying the offense, however, is far more dubious.  The Board notes that the list of specified offenses against a minor include "criminal sexual conduct involving a minor..." and "any conduct that by its nature is a sex offense against a minor."  The Board suggests that this focus on the conduct permits an examination of the alleged facts of the offense, rather than the offense of conviction.  In doing so, it disregards the requirement that the petitioner be "convicted of" a specified offense.  How can a petitioner be convicted of conduct that is not an element of the conviction?  This is precisely the issue addressed in the Supreme Court's decision in Descamps, but the Board did not even attempt to distinguish Descamps and instead focuses myopically on the Supreme Court's earlier decision in Nijhawan.

Arguably, though, Board's assertion that an adjudicator can engage in a circumstance-specific inquiry into the conduct underlying the offense is dicta.  It is dicta because the Board did not examine facts or circumstances of the offense in this case to determine whether it was a disqualifying offense.  It did not need to.  The offense was endangering the welfare of children under section 2C:24-4(a) of the New Jersey Statutes Annotated.  The Board held that offense is divisible and that the portion the petitioner was convicted of--engages in sexual conduct which would impair or debauch the morals of the child--is a specified offense under the Adam Walsh Act.  It reached that conclusion based on the statutory language and petitioner's inability to provide an example that would be outside the scope of the Adam Walsh Act.  In other words, it applied the categorical approach--not the circumstance-specific approach.


In  Matter of Tatiana Aceijas-Quiroz, USCIS denied the U.S. citizen petitioner's immigrant petition for his wife.  This the first of three Board of Immigration Appeals decisions issued on May 20, 2014, that concern the immigration consequences of convictions for U.S. citizens.  Under the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act of 2006 ("Adam Walsh Act"), certain convictions will disqualify a citizen from petitioning for an immigrant family member.

USCIS found, and the petitioner did not dispute, that his prior convictions for sexual abuse and for contributing to the sexual delinquency of a minor were "specified offenses against a minor" under the Adam Walsh Act.  He therefore was ineligible to petition for his wife unless he could demonstrate that despite those convictions he posed "no risk" to her.  USCIS denied the petition because it was not satisfied that he posed no risk to her.  In doing so, it required him to show "beyond a reasonable doubt" that he posed no risk.  This standard, which typically does not apply in civil immigration proceedings, does not appear in the statute or regulations.  It was imposed by USCIS memo.

The petitioner appealed to the Board, arguing that the heightened beyond a reasonable doubt standard of proof should not apply.  The Board, however, determined that it did not have jurisdiction to review the question because it found the Adam Walsh Act gave USCIS sole authority to determine whether a petitioner posed no risk to a beneficiary and that includes sole authority to determine the standard of proof for that issue.