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Immigration Law

CA7 on CIMT, Retroactivity: Zaragoza v. Garland

Zaragoza v. Garland

"Dulce Zaragoza, a native and citizen of Mexico and a lawful permanent resident of the United States, pleaded guilty to the Indiana offense of criminal neglect of a dependent after locking her six-year-old son in a closet for six hours. She was sentenced to one year in jail suspended to time served plus 30 days, with the remainder of the sentence to be served on probation. After completing her sentence, she traveled abroad and presented herself for admission when she returned. The Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”) found her inadmissible based on the neglect conviction, which the agency classified as a “crime involving moral turpitude.” 8 U.S.C. § 1182(a)(2)(A)(i)(I). She was placed in removal proceedings. Zaragoza fought removal on several grounds, with her arguments expanding as the proceedings progressed. Before the immigration judge, she argued that the Indiana neglect offense does not qualify as a crime involving moral turpitude. The judge disagreed and entered a removal order, and Zaragoza appealed to the Board of Immigration Appeals (“BIA” or “the Board”). In the meantime, she petitioned the state court to modify her sentence. Her purpose was to bring herself within the so-called “petty offense” exception to inadmissibility, which is available to first-time offenders sentenced to six months or less. Id. § 1182(a)(2)(A)(ii)(II). The state court obliged and reduced her one-year sentence to 179 days. With that order in hand, Zaragoza argued before the BIA that Indiana’s neglect offense is not a crime involving moral turpitude, and regardless, the petty-offense exception applies. The BIA rejected both arguments, agreeing with the immigration judge that the Indiana offense is categorically a crime involving moral turpitude, and further holding that the sentence-modification order was not effective to establish Zaragoza’s eligibility for the petty-offense exception. For the latter conclusion, the Board relied on a recent decision of the Attorney General declaring that state-court sentencemodification orders are effective for immigration purposes only if based on a legal defect in the underlying criminal proceeding. Matter of Thomas & Thompson (“Thomas”), 27 I. & N. Dec. 674, 690 (Att’y Gen. 2019). Zaragoza sought reconsideration, this time adding two more arguments: (1) the phrase “crime involving moral turpitude” is unconstitutionally vague; and (2) the Attorney General’s decision in Thomas is impermissibly retroactive as applied to her. The BIA disagreed on both counts. Zaragoza petitioned for review in this court, reprising the entire array of arguments she presented to the Board. We agree with the BIA’s resolution of all issues but one: applying Thomas in Zaragoza’s case is an impermissibly retroactive application of a new rule. We therefore remand to the BIA for further proceedings consistent with this opinion."