Federal immigration law identifies multiple criteria for admissibility to the U.S. on an immigrant or nonimmigrant visa, ranging from health issues to criminal history and national security concerns. An allegation of inadmissibility may result in the denial of a visa petition or the initiation of removal proceedings for someone who is already in the country. “Inadmissibility” is different from “deportability,” at least in a legal sense. In either case, the government may try to remove, or “deport,” the individual. A person alleged to be inadmissible may be able to obtain relief through a waiver or certain other procedures, such as cancellation of removal. The first issue to consider, however, is whether the government has alleged valid grounds for inadmissibility. A recent decision by the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) considered whether criminal copyright infringement constitutes a “crime of moral turpitude” under the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). The court ruled in the government’s favor on this question in Matter of Zaragoza-Vaquero, Int. Dec. No. 3873, 26 I&N Dec. 814 (BIA 2016).
The INA defines an “inadmissible” person as someone who is “ineligible to receive visas and…to be admitted to the United States.” 8 U.S.C. § 1182(a). Perhaps one of the most common grounds for inadmissibility is “presen[ce] without admission or parole,” id. at § 1182(a)(6)(A)(i), meaning that the person entered the U.S. without a visa or other official permission from the federal government. A person who has been lawfully admitted to the U.S. as an immigrant or nonimmigrant could be deemed “deportable” under certain circumstances. The key difference is that an inadmissible person, by legal definition, should never have entered the U.S., while a deportable individual has lost the legal right to remain. Inadmissible people are also deportable under the INA, id. at § 1227(a)(1)(A).
The INA identifies several types of criminal convictions that could render someone inadmissible, including any “crime of moral turpitude.” 8 U.S.C. § 1182(a)(2)(A)(i)(I). The statute does not define the term “moral turpitude,” but the BIA states that caselaw has defined it as an offense that is “inherently base, vile, or depraved, and contrary to accepted rules of morality and the duties owed between persons or to society in general.” Zaragoza-Vaquero, 26 I&N Dec. at 815