Good Moral Character Requirement to Cancel Removal

By Reuben S. Seguritan

April 22, 2015

Aliens who are placed in removal proceedings may apply for a relief known as cancellation of removal. If granted, the alien becomes a lawful permanent resident.

To be eligible, the applicant must establish physical presence in the U.S. for a continuous period of at least ten years and must demonstrate exceptional and extremely unusual hardship to a qualifying U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident relative if deported.

The applicant must also establish good moral character for the ten years immediately preceding the application. A determination of good moral character may either be mandated by statute or purely discretionary. Although the term is not defined by law, the statute identifies certain classes of individuals who are barred from establishing good moral character.

They include those who have engaged in prostitution, drug trafficking, and smuggling; those convicted of crimes of moral turpitude; and those who have given false information for the purpose of obtaining immigration benefits, among others. If the alien is found to have committed any of these offenses, the statute requires a finding of lack of good moral character.

In a case decided by the Court of Appeals for the First Circuit an alien was found to have falsely testified before in immigration proceedings and this statutorily barred him from showing good moral character.

That case involved Beltsy Reynoso, a foreign national who married Lemuel Martinez, a U.S. citizen through whom she obtained her conditional residency in 2002. In November 2003, she sought to remove the conditions on her residency and requested a waiver of joint filing requirement on the basis of a marriage which she claimed to have been entered into in good faith. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) denied her petition because she failed to meet her burden of establishing that her marriage to Martinez was bona fide.

The DHS denied her second and third waiver petitions. She was then placed in removal proceedings where she pursued her waiver petition and applied for cancellation of removal.

The immigration judge noted the numerous discrepancies in the testimony of Reynoso during the proceedings and the information she previously provided to the immigration authorities. She indicated during her 2005 interview before the DHS as well as in her prior written statements that she and Martinez separated in October 2002. However, during her in-court testimony, she indicated that they separated in the summer of 2002.

Reynoso also provided inconsistent information on her prior addresses, the date when she met Martinez, where he lived, how long she lived with him and when each of the spouses left the marital home, among others.

The judge concluded that Reynoso gave false testimony before the immigration court and denied her application for cancellation of removal for lack of good moral character. The judge likewise denied her waiver petition because the documentary evidence she submitted did not support good faith marriage with Martinez. The decision was upheld by the Board of Immigration Appeals.

The Court of Appeals sustained the Board’s decision. It reasoned that Reynoso’s conflicting testimony regarding how long she and Martinez had been together and other related details are relevant to the primary issue which was the validity of the marriage.

The court, however, pointed out that the false information need not be material. Any falsehood, according to the court, even how immaterial, made with the subjective intent of obtaining immigration benefit undermines a person’s good moral character and is covered by the statute.