DUI Convictions May Bar Naturalization and Relief from Deportation

 In Crimmigration

A recent decision by the acting Attorney General should be of great concern to any non-citizen with two or more DUI convictions. On October 25, 2019, Acting AG Whitaker issued his decision in Matter of Castillo-Perez, 27 I&N Dec. 664, a case he had referred to himself in December. The case involves cancellation of removal, which is a statutory form of discretionary relief from removal that provides a path to lawful permanent residency to certain non-citizens placed in removal proceedings. It is meant to benefit undocumented immigrants who have deep roots in the United States where deportation would “result in exceptional and extremely unusual hardship” to a qualifying family member. One seeking cancellation of removal must demonstrate that he or she has been a person of good moral character for the last ten years.

Although Castillo-Perez had been convicted twice of DUI in the 10 years before he applied for cancellation of removal, the immigration judge concluded that he nevertheless established that he is a person of good moral character and granted his application for cancellation of removal. Acting Attorney General Whitaker disagreed. In his Interim Decision # 3965, he writes that, “when assessing…good moral character,… evidence of two or more convictions for driving under the influence during the relevant period establishes a rebuttable presumption that the alien lacked good moral character during that time.”

This case has several important implications:
1. The consequences of a DUI conviction are particularly serious for non-citizens.
2. It will be very difficult for anyone with two or more DUI convictions to obtain cancellation of removal. The immigration judge will presume that the respondent lacks good moral character and the burden will be on the respondent to demonstrate that he or she has been rehabilitated. It remains to be seen what evidence immigration judges will deem to be sufficient to overcome that presumption.
3. Multiple DUI convictions may prevent one from establishing good moral character when applying for naturalization.

It is important, now more than ever, that any non-citizen charged with DUI seek the advice of an attorney who is not only skilled in criminal defense, but is also knowledgeable about the immigration consequences of a DUI conviction.

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