Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Matter of GUEVARA ALFARO: Silva-Trevino's mandatory three-step framework supports finding that intentional sexual conduct by an adult with a child is a Crime Involving Moral Turpitude (CIMT).

In Matter of GUEVARA ALFARO, 25 I&N Dec. 417 (BIA 2011), the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) held that:
  1. Any intentional sexual conduct by an adult with a child involves moral turpitude, as long as the perpetrator knew or should have known that the victim was under the age of 16.
  2. Absent otherwise controlling authority, Immigration Judges and the Board of Immigration Appeals are bound to apply all three steps of the procedural framework set forth by the Attorney General in Matter of Silva-Trevino for determining whether a particular offense constitutes a crime involving moral turpitude.
In a decision dated April 27, 2010, an Immigration Judge terminated the removal proceedings against the respondent. The Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”) appealed from that decision. The appeal was ultimately sustained, the proceedings reinstated, and the record remanded for further proceedings.

The respondent in this case was a citizen of El Salvador  who adjusted his status to that of a lawful permanent resident in 1997. He was placed in removal proceedings after being convicted of several offenses, including unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor (statutory rape) in violation of section 261.5(d) of the California Penal Code. That section provides as follows:
Any person 21 years of age or older who engages in an act of unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor who is under 16 years of age is guilty of either a misdemeanor or a felony, and shall be punished by imprisonment in a county jail not exceeding one year, or by imprisonment in the state prison for two, three, or four years.
In Matter of Silva-Trevino the Attorney General established a three-part framework for determining whether a particular offense constitutes a crime involving moral turpitude.

  • First, a categorical approach must be employed under which the criminal statute at issue is examined to ascertain whether moral turpitude is intrinsic to all offenses that have a “realistic probability” of being prosecuted under that statute.
  • Second, if the issue cannot be resolved under the categorical approach, a modified categorical approach should be undertaken, which requires inspection of specific documents comprising the alien’s record of conviction (such as the indictment, the judgment of conviction, jury instructions, a signed guilty plea, or the plea transcript) to discern the nature of the underlying conviction. 
  • Finally, if the record of conviction is inconclusive, probative evidence beyond the record of conviction (such as an admission by the alien or testimony before the Immigration Judge) may be considered when evaluating whether an alien’s offense constitutes a crime involving moral turpitude. 
When applying Matter of Silva-Trevino to this case, the BIA analyzed this case as follows:
  • It first analyzed section 261.5(d) of the California Penal Code under the categorical approach. Since the statute does not require a perpetrator to have engaged in intentional sexual contact with someone he or she knew or should have known to be a child, there is a realistic probability it could be applied to conduct that does not involve moral turpitude. The offense prohibited by section 261.5(d) is therefore not a categorical crime involving moral turpitude under the first step of Silva-Trevino. 
  • Applying the second step, the BIA found that there were no documents in the record of conviction establishing that the respondent knew or should have known that his victim was a child.
  • The only remaining step of Silva-Trevino is the third, which provides for consideration of probative evidence beyond the record of conviction. For this step, the BIA analyzed the respondent's testimony before the Immigration Judge. 
Because the BIA generally lacks the authority to make findings of fact in the course of deciding appeals (8 C.F.R. § 1003.1(d)(3)(iv)), it remanded the case for the Immigration Judge to make specific factual findings regarding whether the respondent knew or should have known that his victim was a minor, taking into consideration the respondent’s prior testimony before the Immigration Court and any other relevant evidence.