A new decision, Matter of Castillo-Perez, 27 I&N Dec. 664 (A.G. 2019), released by the Attorney General has created a rebuttable presumption that a person with multiple DUI convictions during the relevant time period does not have “good moral character.” This means that if a person had old DUI convictions and has rehabilitated themselves, it still will not be enough to establish “good moral character.”
What is “good moral character?”
In certain situations, a non-citizen must prove that he or she has “good moral character.” For example, if a lawful permanent resident wants to become a United States Citizen, he or she will apply for naturalization and must establish that he or she has had good moral character for the past 3 or 5 years, depending on which provision of law they are applying under. Also, a person that entered the U.S. without inspection and who is placed in removal (deportation) proceedings, may be eligible to have their removal cancelled (“cancellation of removal”) if they meet certain requirements. One of those requirements is to prove that he or she has had good moral character for the last 10 years.
Good moral character isn’t defined in the Immigration and Nationality Act, but it has been interpreted by various courts. The USCIS Adjudicator’s Field Manual described it as conduct that would lead to a negative good moral character finding as “any conduct or acts which offend the accepted moral character standards of the community.” There are also certain acts that will require a finding that the person lacks good moral character. Those acts are listed in INA § 101(f), and include, but aren’t limited to, being a habitual drunkard, committing certain criminal offenses, false testimony for a benefit and more.
What does the Matter of Castillo-Perez decision say?
Castillo-Perez is a citizen of Mexico who entered the United States in 1997 without inspection. He got married and had three United States Citizen children. He was arrested multiple times for domestic violence, public drunkenness, negligent driving and DUIs. After his last arrest for DUI in 2012, he stopped drinking and began regularly attending substance abuse classes. He was placed in removal proceedings based on entry into the United States without admission. He applied for Cancellation of Removal because he had been in the United States for more than 10 years and he had qualifying United States citizen immediate relatives. In order to be eligible for Cancellation of Removal, Mr. Castillo Perez had to establish that he was a person of “good moral character” for 10 years. The immigration judge held that he did have good moral character, but on appeal, the Board of Immigration Appeals reversed, finding that because of his multiple DUI convictions, he did not establish good moral character.
The Acting Attorney General referred the case to himself and rendered the decision in Matter of Castillo-Perez. That decision holds that when a person has multiple DUI convictions within the good moral character period, there is a rebuttable presumption that the person did not have good moral character.
What if my DUI convictions are a long time ago and I have rehabilitated myself, but they are still within the good moral character period?
Unfortunately, the decision in Matter of Castillo-Perez concludes that rehabilitation alone does not rebut the presumption that the person does not have good moral character, because the person must have good moral character throughout the relevant time period. Therefore, the decision seems to indicate that you would have to establish that the multiple DUI convictions were an aberration and not a course of conduct. It remains to be seen what evidence would be enough to rebut the presumption, but the decision clearly is attempting to limit findings of good moral character for people with multiple DUI convictions to a very select few.
What does this mean going forward?
For non-citizens with multiple DUI convictions, this decision is bad news. It is a directive to immigration judges to deny cancellation of removal when the person has multiple DUI convictions within the good moral character period. It may also be a directive to USCIS to deny applications for naturalization when a person has two DUI convictions within the good moral character period. If you have multiple DUI convictions and you are not a U.S. citizen, you should seek the advice of an experienced immigration attorney to discuss your particular case.
Jeremy Lasnetski is a partner at the Law Offices of Shorstein, Lasnetski, & Gihon. The firm focuses on criminal defense, immigration and personal injury. Mr. Lasnetski focuses his practice on immigration and criminal defense. Mr. Lasnetski is the former Jacksonville Regional Vice Chair of the American Immigration Lawyer’s Association, Central Florida Chapter and has represented clients in deportation proceedings, USCIS benefit cases, consular processing cases, and more. He routinely gives presentations on immigration law issues to both criminal and immigration lawyers at conferences and seminars throughout the State of Florida.