It is well settled and understood that a criminal conviction may form the basis of determining an individual inadmissible to the United States under the Immigration and Nationality Act (“Act”). In particular, INA § 212(a)(2)(A)(i) provides that arriving aliens are inadmissible to the U.S. if they have been convicted of: (I) a crime involving moral turpitude, or an attempt or conspiracy to commit such a crime or (II) a violation of a controlled substance offense of any State, the United States, or a foreign country.
It is surprising, however, that under INA § 212(a)(2)(A)(i), an individual can also be rendered inadmissible for merely admitting to criminal activity even though they may never have been convicted in a court of law for those offenses. Specifically, except as provided in clause (ii), any alien convicted of, or who admits having committed, or who admits committing acts which constitute the essential elements of - (I) a crime involving moral turpitude (other than a purely political offense) or an attempt or conspiracy to commit such a crime, or (II) a violation of (or a conspiracy or attempt to violate) any law or regulation of a State, the United States, or a foreign country relating to a controlled substance (as defined in section 102 of the Controlled Substance Act (21 USC 802)), is inadmissible.
On its face, the statute indicates that a factual admission of criminal activity by an individual is sufficient to support a criminal charge of inadmissibility. However, ascertaining whether or not an individual has “admitted to committing acts that constitute the essential elements” of such crimes (moral turpitude or a controlled substance offense) is far more complicated.
Fortunately, the Board of Immigration Appeals (“BIA”) has issued case law dictating certain requirements that an “admission” must meet to effectively support a charge of inadmissibility under INA § 212(a)(2)(A)(i). The BIA explained that these rules were not based on any specific statutory requirement but have evolved in an effort to insure a fair hearing and to preclude a later claim of unwitting entrapment. Matter of K, 7 I&N Dec 594, 597 (BIA 1957), citing Matter of J-, 2 I&N Dec 285 (BIA 1945), modified by, Matter of E-V-, 5 I&N Dec 194 (BIA 1953). While a majority of these rules have been defined involving crimes involving moral turpitude, they also apply equally to cases involving controlled substance offenses. Pazcoguin v. Radcliff, 292 F.3d 1209 (9th Cir 2002).
In 1957, the BIA issued a landmark precedent decision in which it set forth the following three-part test for determining the legal sufficiency of an “admission” under INA:
The admitted conduct must constitute the essential elements of the crime in the jurisdiction where it occurred;
The applicant must have been provided with a definition and the essential elements of the offense prior to his admission; and
The admission must be voluntary.
Matter of K, 7 I&N Dec. 594. Unless each of these three (3) elements are met, any “admission” made to a U.S. immigration officer cannot form the basis of a charge of inadmissibility. Additionally, the BIA held that in order for an admission to be valid for INA § 212(a)(2)(A)(i) purposes, it must be unequivocal and complete. Matter of L, 2 I&N Dec. 486 (BIA 1946); Matter of E-N-, 7 I&N Dec. 153 (BIA 1956).
In response to the BIA’s precedent decisions, requirements have been developed for immigration officers to adhere to while obtaining admissions. For example, the Department of State in the FAM issued procedural requirements consular officers must follow when eliciting admissions to a previous criminal offense that mirror the requirements established by these decisions. Specifically, 9 FAM 40.21(a) N5.1 requires officers to:
Give the applicant a full explanation of the purpose of questioning;
The crime the applicant has admitted to must appear to constitute moral turpitude based on the statute and the applicant’s statements;
Before commencing questioning, the applicant must be provided an adequate definition of the crime, including all essential elements in terms that the individual understands, making certain the definition conforms to the law of the jurisdiction where the offense is alleged to have been committed;
The applicant must admit to all factual elements constituting the crime; and
The applicant’s admission must be explicit, unequivocal and unqualified.
Individuals deemed inadmissible under INA § 212(a)(2)(A)(i) based on an “admission” will forever require a nonimmigrant waiver to enter the U.S. This is a serious consequence and as such, we encourage foreign nationals who have been charged with inadmissibility based on an “admission” to a U.S. immigration officer, who never appeared before a judge or was convicted in a court of law, to consider having their situation reviewed to determine whether all the requirements of an “admission” were properly met. If you were found inadmissible under INA § 212(a)(2)(A)(i), contact our office to have us evaluate whether anything can be done to vacate your “admission” and/or discuss your eligibility for the waiver you would require to enter the U.S.