Continuing to follow in the footsteps of his predecessor, Attorney General William Barr has certified two more Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) decisions that will make it much harder for some immigrants to fight deportation. Former Attorney General Jeff Sessions used the same tactic to issue decisions in cases that serve as binding authority to the BIA and immigration court judges. Due to the unique nature of the immigration court system, since it falls under the Department of Justice, which belongs to the executive branch, the U.S. Attorney General has the right to certify BIA decisions or primarily serve as the top immigration court judge.
In the first case, entitled Matter of Castillo-Perez, Barr ruled that if immigrants have two or more DUI convictions, they may not qualify for the “good moral character” that is required for the immigrants seeking relief in immigration court in some scenarios. For instance, immigrants in deportation proceedings who are trying to cancel their deportation orders must prove that they have had “good moral character” for a specific number of years to be eligible for this form of relief. Good moral character also is a necessary standard for immigrants to meet when applying for citizenship. Furthermore, the ruling makes no distinction between misdemeanor and felony DUI convictions, nor does it distinguish between DUI convictions 20 years ago and those that occurred much more recently. Since DUI is one of the most crimes for which immigrants face arrest by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), this ruling has the potential to impact thousands of immigrants. Barr also notes in his decision that rehabilitation efforts are commendable but do not counteract the DUI convictions in determining good moral character.
The second decision, which concerned cases entitled Matter of Thomas and Matter of Thompson, restricts the ability of state courts to shorten or adjust old low-level criminal sentences to assist individuals during their deportation proceedings. Generally, a criminal conviction can trigger deportation if it carries the potential for a sentence of one year or longer. Some states have enacted laws to avoid triggering deportation proceedings for low-level criminal offenses. Other states have procedures by which individuals can retroactively shorten the sentences for old convictions.
Historically, immigration judges routinely took these sentence modifications into account and accepted them in considering deportation cases. Barr’s recent ruling, however, states that these modifications do not count for immigration court proceedings unless the change occurred due to an error. If a sentence is modified or adjusted solely to avoid deportation, then the immigration judges may not accept the sentence as modified. Instead, immigration judges must consider the original conviction or sentence that the immigrant received.
Our goal is to assist you with your immigration concerns, whether family or business-based. We can evaluate your situation and develop a strategy that is most likely to be efficient and effective in your case. Regardless of the immigration matter that you are facing, the attorneys of Peek & Toland have the experience, knowledge, and reputation that you want and need to advocate on your behalf. When results matter most, contact us at (512) 399-2311.