The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Obregon de Leon v. Lynch on Tuesday, December 22, 2015.
Cristian Eduardo Obregon de Leon was a native citizen of Guatemala who entered the United States without inspection in September 1997. In 2007, he adjusted his status to that of a lawful permanent resident (LPR). In 2011, he was charged with and pleaded guilty to four offenses in Oklahoma state court: (1) one count of operation of a chop shop, (2) four counts of possession of vehicles with altered identification numbers, (3) four counts of possession of a stolen vehicle, and (4) two counts of receipt of stolen property.
In January 2013, the Department of Homeland Security filed a Notice to Appear, charging that Mr. Obregon was removable for committing a crime involving moral turpitude (CIMT). Mr. Obregon admitted the factual allegations at hearing but denied removability, arguing his crimes did not qualify as CIMTs. The Immigration Judge ultimately found that all four crimes counted as CIMTs and concluded he was not eligible for waiver relief. Mr. Obregon appealed, and a single BIA judge dismissed his appeal, concluding that the stolen property offenses counted as CIMTs because they required a mens rea of knowing the property was stolen.
Mr. Obregon appealed to the Tenth Circuit, arguing none of his convictions counted as CIMTs and that he should be eligible for waiver because he adjusted to LPR status after entering the United States. The Tenth Circuit first evaluated the term “crime involving moral turpitude,” and determined it was quintessentially ambiguous. However, following several other circuits and BIA precedent, the Tenth Circuit found that possession of stolen property satisfies the scienter element to create a CIMT. Mr. Obregon argued there must be intent to permanently deprive the rightful owner of the property, but the Tenth Circuit disagreed, finding Mr. Obregon’s “application of legal imagination” did not suffice to show that the requisite scienter was permanent deprivation. The Tenth Circuit affirmed the BIA’s determination that Mr. Obregon’s possession of stolen property crimes were crimes involving moral turpitude.
However, as to Mr. Obregon’s argument that he was eligible for waiver because he adjusted his status to that of LPR after entering the United States, the Tenth Circuit agreed. Following recent Tenth Circuit and BIA precedent, the Tenth Circuit ruled that the plain language of the waiver statute barred application for waiver only for those who received LPR status before or upon entering the United States.
The Tenth Circuit affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded for further proceedings.