Obstruction Of Law Not Enough For Deportation: 3rd Circ.
A Third Circuit panel on Aug 10 ruled that a Mexican national’s conviction for obstructing the administration of law in Pennsylvania is not an inherently immoral crime rendering him eligible for removal, while simultaneously denying the Board of Immigration Appeals’ request to remand without a decision.
The opinion – written by Massachusetts District Judge Richard G. Stearns, who sat on the panel with permission – granted and remanded Roman Ildefonso-Candelario’s request to review a petition to cancel his deportation, finding that a misdemeanor of obstructing the administration of law or other governmental function is not a crime involving “moral turpitude” and therefore cannot be used as a reason to remove him from the country.
The panel also refused to allow the BIA to reconsider its position on the Pennsylvania statute under which Ildefonso-Candelario was convicted, asserting that it had not demonstrated adequate understanding of the definition of “moral turpitude.”
“This interpretation is unsupportable,” the decision states. “[T]he intent to impair or obstruct governmental functions, standing alone, is not morally turpitudinous under the BIA’s decisions; the obstruction must occur ‘by deceit, graft, trickery or dishonest means.'”
After arriving in the U.S. without authorization, Ildefonso-Candelario pled guilty in October 2015 to obstructing the administration of law under a Pennsylvania statute called Section 5101. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement took him into custody and charged him with removability, given his immigration status, the following March. He was in mandatory custody for 14 months, having “never spent a day in jail before,” his counsel, Daniel Conklin of the Shagin Law Group, said.
Ildefonso-Candelario acknowledged his removability on that basis, but petitioned an immigration judge to cancel it, given that he had resided in the U.S. for more than a decade and had a wife and two children who were U.S. citizens residing in the country, Conklin said. In response, ICE argued that he was statutorily ineligible for cancelation of removal because he was previously convicted of obstructing the administration of law, which it deemed to be a crime of moral turpitude involving behavior that is “inherently base, vile or depraved, contrary to the accepted rules of morality and the duties owed other persons, either individually or to society in general.”
The immigration judge agreed, rejecting his petitions for reconsideration. Ildefonso-Candelario appealed to the BIA, which affirmed the ruling, and then to the Third Circuit.
The appeals court on Aug 10 ruled that the BIA improperly relied on prior rulings in which it found that using deceit or trickery to obstruct the law is fraudulent and that crimes involving fraud are always morally turpitudinous. The Pennsylvania statute at issue encompasses both fraudulent and nonfraudulent obstruction of the law, meaning that an offense under the law would not categorically involve moral turpitude, the judge argued.