Friday, January 21, 2005

Moran v. Ashcroft (9th Cir. - January 20, 2005)

Talk about harsh. Martin Moran lives in the United States since 1989 and eventually gets busted by the INS for being in the country illegally. Since he's been here for ten years and of good moral character, he's eligible for relief from deportation.

Except for one problem. Martin admits that in 1993, he paid someone to help smuggle his wife and kid into the country, and the statute says that you're generally not of "good moral character" (and hence eligible for relief from deportation) if you help someone else enter the US illegally. That said, the statute simultaneously recognizes that smuggling in your family so that you can be with them is hardly the kind of evil character that should categorically disqualify you from relief. So there's an exception in the statute: you can still try to demonstrate good moral character so long as the only people you helped enter the country are your family; i.e., your parents, spouse, or children.

So Moran's okay, right? Nope. Because when he helped his wife out, he wasn't yet married to her -- rather, they were married three years after she joined him in the U.S. For this reason, Judge Betty Fletcher holds here that Martin is ineligible for relief.

Okay, I agree with Judge Fletcher that that's what the statute indeed says. And I can also see why the statute might be written that way: why we generally want to provide relief only if you smuggle in someone who's your wife at the time, lest we encourage people to getting married merely to avoid deportation.

But he was smuggling in his bride-to-be and their child, for Christ's sake. It's not like he just met this person on the street corner and married her to stick it to the INS. He's been here since 1989, his family is here, and he's apparently never done anything wrong in his life -- except, of course, to help his child and future wife join him in the U.S. rather than go it alone in Mexico. For this act he's categorically not of "good moral character"?!

That just doesn't seem right to me. So I agree with Judge Fletcher, who concurrence to her own opinion ends with: "That the denial of Moran's petition is required by the law does not make this result -- or this law -- just."

Exactly right. And shame on Rymer and Paez, by the way, for not joining this concurrence.