Second DUI is Presumption of Lack of Good Moral Character09 Dec 2019
William Barr, the U.S. Attorney General, recently certified a decision on a case, Matter of Castillo-Perez, in which he ruled that a foreign national who has two or more convictions for driving under the influence (DUI) is presumed to lack “good moral character” (GMC). A foreign national must be able to demonstrate GMC during a statutory period to qualify for certain immigration benefits, including cancellation of removal and filing for naturalization to become a U.S. citizen.
Background on Matter of Castillo-Perez
Mr. Castillo-Perez, the respondent in the case, is a citizen of Mexico who had been living in the United States as an undocumented immigrant for more than twenty years. He was placed in removal proceedings in 2010, at which point he applied for cancellation of removal.
One of the requirements to qualify for this form of relief is that the applicant must demonstrate GMC for the 10 years preceding the filing of the application for cancellation of removal. Mr. Castillo-Perez had two DUI convictions within the applicable ten-year period, but he had since completed an addiction rehabilitation program and had stopped drinking alcohol. The immigration judge who initially heard the respondent’s case found that his efforts to rehabilitate himself, along with several other mitigating factors, were sufficient to demonstrate his GMC, and he granted the cancellation of removal request.
On appeal, the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) reversed the immigration judge’s ruling. The BIA gave several reasons for its decision, including that the respondent had not demonstrated GMC. Lacking GMC meant that the respondent was not eligible for cancellation of removal. Accordingly, the Board ordered that the respondent be removed (i.e., deported) from the U.S.
Certification of Case to Attorney General’s Office
On December 3, 2018, Acting Attorney General Whitaker “certified” the case to his office for review. That is, he referred the case to the Office of the Attorney General so that he could issue a precedent decision in this case. This historically has been a rarely used power by the Office of the Attorney General, but has now become almost commonplace under the Trump Administration.
On October 25, 2019, Attorney General Barr, who replaced Whitaker in February 2019, issued his decision on the case. He upheld the Board’s decision to remove the respondent. Further, he ruled that “evidence of two or more DUI convictions during the relevant period establishes a rebuttable presumption that the alien lacked good moral character during that time.” Attorney General Barr specifically rejected the notion that rehabilitation efforts following multiple DUI convictions are sufficient to demonstrate GMC.
This ruling of Attorney General Barr is binding on all applicants seeking to prove GMC. The U.S. takes drunk driving convictions seriously, so aside from the criminal consequences and potential devastating injuries that can result from such conduct, foreign nationals should also take into consideration the harsh immigration consequences.
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