(CN) - Credit fraud is a crime of moral turpitude that can trigger deportation, even if the fraudster meant to pay back his victim, the 9th Circuit ruled. "To exploit, pervert and destroy the confidence that creates credit is a vicious act," Judge John Noonan wrote.
The judges were asked to decide if Monsuru Olasumbo Tijani, a Nigerian native, was removable based on his convictions for perjury, passing fraudulent checks, providing false information to obtain credit cards and using those credit cards to buy goods.
When faced with deportation, Tijani argued that he faced persecution by Muslim radicals based on his conversion to Christianity. But the immigration judge said his words "deserve no weight" and described him as "the boy who cried wolf."
The Board of Immigration Appeals upheld the judge's decision ordering Tijani removed and denying his bid for religious asylum.
A divided three-judge panel in San Francisco agreed with the immigration judge that credit fraud is a serious crime.
"Credit is today the most widespread means of acquiring wealth in this country," Noonan wrote. "To suppose that it is not fraud to try to tap into this wealth by lies is to ignore the economic elements of the modern world." Noonan called credit-card fraud "the paradigm of fraud" in the modern United States.
But the majority stopped short of sending Tijani back to Nigeria, because the immigration judge had "explicitly refused to find Tijani not credible." Without an explicit finding, the court ruled, the immigration judge can't require corroboration evidence. The case will be sent back to the BIA to determine if Tijani faces religious persecution.
Judges A. Wallace Tashimi and Consuelo Callahan each dissented in part, but for different reasons.
Tashimi took issue with the majority's finding that credit fraud constitutes a removable offense. "The majority simply refuses to accept the elements of the offense as defined by California law," he said, arguing that intent to defraud is not one of them. He added that the court should have granted deference to the BIA's findings.
Tashimi also criticized the majority's "fixation" on credit-card fraud as the "modern form of swindle," noting that the California law under which Tijani was convicted was enacted in 1913, long before credit cards existed.
However, Tashimi ultimately agreed with the decision to remand Tijani's asylum claim.
Judge Callahan argued the opposite, saying Tijani is not only removable, but should also be denied asylum.
In Callahan's view, the immigration judge had explicitly rejected Tijani's credibility, even if the judge didn't point to a specific inconsistency. Callahan said her colleagues "needlessly prolong Tijani's removal proceedings" and, worse, rely on technicalities to overcome reality.
"In other words, if an applicant spins a sufficiently clever yarn for which there is no direct contrary evidence, it must be accepted as true," she wrote.