Not too long ago, Attorney General Bill Barr issued an important decision regarding good moral character determinations within the context of cancellation of removal. Under Matter of Castillo-Perez, the Attorney General held that two or more drunk driving convictions create a rebuttable presumption that an applicant does not possess good moral character. USCIS has now officially adopted and incorporated this principle into its own Policy Manual, specifically Volume 12 which pertains to Naturalization matters. According to the USCIS Policy Alert, the new policy regarding DUI good moral character determinations will apply to any cases filed or pending on or after October 25, 2019.
Under these new guidelines, those who have a history of drunk driving related incidents will find it increasingly hard to obtain citizenship, especially those who have been convicted of two or more drunk driving charges within the statutory period. Drunk driving charges include all state and federal impaired driving offenses including “driving while intoxicated,” “operating under the influence,” and/or any other offenses that make it unlawful for someone to operate a motor vehicle while impaired. Conviction of two or more offenses will now create a presumption that the applicant lacks good moral character, which is a required to become a naturalized citizen. This presumption is rebuttable-meaning that it may be overcome if the applicant can furnish “substantial relevant and credible contrary evidence” that he or she “had good moral character even during the period within which he committed the DUI offenses” and that “convictions were an aberration.” Just as in the decision that gave birth to this new official policy, a person’s efforts to rehabilitate him/herself after the convictions do not in and of themselves establish good moral character.
In practical terms, this presumption will be extremely hard to overcome. And while this may be the official policy now, this has been the practice for quite some time now. Before getting involved on cases, we have seen applicants previously denied on their own for two DWIs within the statutory period, some even with just one. However, on the other hand, it is important to remember that two or more convictions alone do not automatically guarantee the case will be denied either. At the interview, every applicant should be afforded an opportunity to explain the circumstances behind the incident and furnish any evidence of reformation or rehabilitation. While there is a heavy burden, it is possible with skilled advocacy to get an open-minded officer to understand the context and circumstances of a person’s situation and approve the case.