The Board of Immigration Appeals held that a conviction under California Penal Code § 311.11(a) for possession of child pornography was an aggravated felony under 8 U.S.C. § 1101(a)(43)(I). It also held that the circumstances surrounding the offense made it a particularly serious crime that barred withholding of removal.
The Board noted that the aggravated felony definition at section 1101(a)(43)(I) covers offenses described in 18 U.S.C. § 2252(a)(4) (punishing knowing possession of visual depictions of minors engaged in sexually explicit conduct) and found that California Penal Code § 311.11(a) was an offense described by the federal statute. The Board did not address, however, the fact that the California law is seemingly broader than the federal offense. The California statute explicitly penalizes simulated sexual conduct, but the federal statute does not. Unless case law has interpreted these statutes to mean essentially the same thing, there is not a categorical match between them.
Absent a categorical match, the Board should have determined whether the modified categorical approach could be used to determine if the record of conviction established a conviction that matched the federal definition. The Board did not do that analysis since it appeared to view the offense as a categorical aggravated felony. This is a potential basis for challenge.
The Board also reviewed the nature of the crime and individual circumstances of the offense and found that it was a particularly serious crime that barred withholding of removal. It agreed that possession of child pornography was a less serious offense than producing or distributing it, but nonetheless found it to be a very serious offense. The Board found that persons who downloaded the material created a demand for its production. It also noted the continuing harm to the child victims that occurs every time someone downloads it. The Board also considered the circumstances of the respondent's offense and placed particular emphasis on the fact that the respondent made multiple downloads of the material.
Read the decision at http://www.justice.gov/eoir/vll/intdec/vol25/3736.pdf.