If a noncitizen of the U.S. is convicted of a crime, it can create serious issues for his or her immigration status – particularly if the immigration authorities decide that it was a “crime of moral turpitude” or CMT. This article addresses the question of whether a conviction for “animal fighting” is a CMT.
(For more on some of the consequences of being convicted of a CMT, see "Crimes That Will Make an Immigrant Deportable" and "Crimes That Make U.S. Visa or Green Card Applicants Inadmissible.")
U.S. immigration law does not contain a straightforward list of crimes of moral turpitude (CMTs). That means that, in many cases, the person’s crime must be evaluated against a standard of whether it was inherently base, vile, or depraved and contrary to accepted rules of morality and the duties owed between persons or to society in general. For example, murder, rape, and kidnapping would be considered CMTs.
The Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) has found that animal fighting is also a CMT. It considered this issue in a case called Matter of Ortega-Lopez, 26 I.&N. Dec. 99 (B.I.A. Mar. 8, 2013). The case concerned a man from Mexico who was unlawfully in the U.S. and convicted of sponsoring or exhibiting an animal in a fight under federal law (7 U.S.C.A. Section 2156(g)(1)). This statute defines animal fighting as any event that is conducted for purposes of “sport, wagering, or entertainment” (and does not include use of animals for hunting).
Although Mr. Ortega-Lopez argued that this definition could just as easily cover crimes that did not involve moral turpitude, the BIA did not buy that argument. It found that the entire purpose of animal fighting is “the intentional infliction of harm or pain on sentient beings that are compelled to fight, often to the death.”
The BIA also noted that when Congress passed the law against animal fighting, it talked about this practice being “dehumanizing, abhorrent, and utterly without redeeming social value,” and that all 50 U.S. states have passed laws against animal fighting (usually dogfighting and cockfighting). In other words, U.S. society finds animal fighting to be morally wrong or “turpitudinous.”
Because the BIA hears immigration appeals from all around the U.S., noncitizens can expect that, no matter where their conviction for animal fighting took place, the immigration authorities will regard it as a crime of moral turpitude and deny immigration benefits or relief accordingly. If you are a noncitizen and are arrested for a crime, be sure to seek help from not only a criminal attorney, but an immigration attorney who is experienced at analyzing the complex overlays between the criminal and immigration law.
See Nolo's section on "Crimes and U.S. Immigration" for more information.