Deportation proceedings are notoriously lengthy and drawn out, with many cases languishing in immigration court for several years. Recently, one deportation case made it through the pipeline relatively quickly by immigration standards, and was concluded after about two years. This case involved President Obama’s uncle, Mr. Onyango Obama, and culminated in Mr. Onyango Obama receiving his U.S. green card.
Mr. Onyango Obama’s Immigration Background
Mr. Onyango Obama, a 69-year-old native of Kenya, initially entered the United States in 1963 as a teenager in order to pursue his education. Although the facts of his first few years of stay in the U.S. are a bit unclear, it has been accepted that he originally entered the country with a student visa and, when his visa expired in 1970, Mr. Onyango Obama stayed in the U.S. without authorization and applied for permanent residence in 1980.
The U.S. government denied Mr. Onyango Obama’s green card application. On the word of a government official, the application was denied because Mr. Onyango Obama allegedly lied on the application about his unauthorized employment in the United States. Despite this denial, Mr. Onyango Obama remained in the U.S. without authorization for the next three decades.
The Deportation Proceedings
For the next thirty years, Mr. Onyango Obama stayed off the radar of immigration officials while living in Massachusetts and working in a grocery store. However, a drunk driving arrest in 2011 brought Mr. Onyango Obama to court and, soon thereafter, in front of an immigration judge where deportation proceedings were initiated.
Many convictions can adversely impact the immigration status of a legal permanent resident (or a nonimmigrant) or prevent them from obtaining U.S. citizenship. In fact, a number of convictions can even give rise to mandatory deportations, even for green card holders. In the case of Mr. Onyango Obama, his drunk driving charge was ultimately dropped after he successfully finished a one-year probation program. However, his deportation proceedings continued.
In light of the federal immigration law that permits foreign nationals such as Mr. Onyango Obama to obtain U.S. permanent residence as long as they entered the U.S. before 1972, it may seem odd that his deportation proceedings went forward. The reason for the continued proceedings is due to the drunk driving conviction. A drunk driving conviction (like many convictions) detrimentally affects the foreign national’s “good moral character.” A foreign national must have good moral character to qualify for U.S. citizenship and legal permanent residence.
While the immigration regulations and law do not explicitly define good moral character, several cases have discussed convictions that contradict good moral character including violent offenses, drug-related offenses, and aggravated felony offenses.
The Court’s Decision
Notwithstanding the drunk driving conviction, Federal Immigration Judge Leonard Shapiro approved Mr. Onyango Obama for U.S. permanent residence, ruling that he still possessed the good moral character necessary for a green card based upon his longstanding employment, payment of taxes, otherwise clear criminal record, and his non-participation in government assistance programs.
It is important to highlight that criminal convictions typically have adverse consequences on immigration proceedings, permanent residence applications, and citizenship applications. Most foreign nationals are not as lucky as Mr. Onyango Obama. A conviction will often blight an otherwise clean immigration case as many judges abide by a one-strike policy. Hopefully, other federal immigration judges will take a cue from Judge Shapiro, and more foreign nationals will be able to enjoy the benefits of U.S. permanent residence and citizenship.
Additional Blog Posts
Immigration Judges Request Separation from the Department of Justice, ImmigRantings, August 19, 2013
Congress Attempts to Implement Measures to Protect Immigrants from Notarios, ImmigRantings, September 27, 2013