(CN) – A Mexican immigrant who pleaded guilty to a simple drug possession offense, but whose record was later expunged, should be given the chance to prove that he’s entitled to deportation relief based on his “good moral character,” the 9th Circuit ruled.
The San Francisco-based appeals court overturned the reasoning of the immigration judge and Board of Immigration Appeals, which held that Jesus Romero was not eligible to stay in the United States because he was unable to prove that he’d been a person of “good moral character” during his 10-plus years in the country.
Romero pleaded guilty to simple possession of a controlled substance in 1998, but a judge deferred sentencing for 18 months and eventually dismissed the charge after Romero successfully completed a drug rehab program.
The BIA acknowledged that Romero’s drug offense didn’t meet the legal definition of a “conviction,” but nonetheless held that his guilty plea barred him from establishing the good moral character needed to qualify for cancellation of removal.
Judge Pregerson rejected this rationale, saying expunged convictions are nullified for the purposes of immigration law.
The BIA erred when it allowed Romero’s expunged conviction “to serve as an absolute bar to proving his good moral character,” Pregerson concluded.
The court granted Romero’s petition for review and remanded.