(CN) — However “depraved and vile” the United States considers cockfighting, the Ninth Circuit voiced skepticism Tuesday that the crime should get people deported.
Agustin Ortega-Lopez faces this very punishment after pleading guilty in 2008 to a misdemeanor count of cockfighting.
Noting that Ortega-Lopez did not even serve jail time for the conviction, today’s Ninth Circuit ruling says “he was hardly the Don Corleone (or even the Fredo) of this enterprise.” (Parentheses in original.)
When the United States began the process of deporting Ortega-Lopez, the father of three applied for cancellation of removal.
Crimes involving moral turpitude, or CIMTs, are counted against immigrants who file such applications, and an immigration judge found that cockfighting amounted to such a CIMT for Ortega-Lopez.
Though the Board of Immigration Appeals affirmed, a three-judge panel with the Ninth Circuit said the case needs another look.
The ruling notes that Ortega-Lopez did not even get jail time for cockfightingfather of three — all U.S. citizens — had a clean record otherwise, and he did not even
Ninth Circuit precedent on nonfraudulent CIMTs says they “almost always involve an intent to harm someone, the actual infliction of harm upon someone, or an action that affects a protected class of victim.”
Harm to chickens, however, is “outside the normal realm of CIMTs,” U.S. Circuit Judge John Owens said Tuesday, writing for a three-person panel in Portland, Ore.
The judges maintained that they are not defending cockfighting.
“Congress has declared cockfighting a scourge that warrants prosecution, and we have no quarrel with that,” Owens wrote. “Yet that is not our inquiry here — rather, we must determine whether the conviction at issue is a CIMT. In answering this question, the government urges us to hold that cockfighting is a vile and depraved practice, which in its view ends the story. It does not.”
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