A Moral Dilemma for an Immigration Lawyer, and How It Played Out

By David North on September 26, 2016

Were I an immigration lawyer (which I am not) and believed in open or nearly open borders (as I do not) and also felt strongly that every alien should be represented in court, would I argue for an alien who was charged with illegal entry and who had been previously convicted by a federal court for facilitating a cock fight?

On the one hand, if I won, I would save the once-convicted alien from deportation, but there would be the possibility that there would be headline like this:

Cockfighting Immigrant Gets a Break in the 9th Circ.

and such a headline would undermine the cause of mass amnesty, as it would remind voters of the highly unattractive combination of two nasty processes — illegal immigration and Third World cruelty to animals.

This is not a theoretical question. There is such an alien, Augustin Ortega-Lopez, and he did find a lawyer to represent him (N. David Shamloo of Portland, Ore.), and the lawyer persuaded the Ninth Circuit to rule that his violation of the federal law against cockfighting in the 50 states was not an act of moral turpitude, as reported in the September 9 issue of Interpreter Releases (the trade paper of the immigration bar, available only to subscribers.)

And the headline in italics above did appear on the Courthouse News Service website. Had I been the editor it would have said: "Cockfighting Illegal Immigrant Gets a Break in the 9th Circ."

There is no speculation in Interpreter Releases or elsewhere about what I would imagine would have been a moral dilemma, simply the reporting that Mr. Shamloo had convinced the federal appellate court that his client did not commit a "crime of moral turpitude" and that he was thus still eligible for the immigration benefit called "cancellation of removal." The court sent the case back to the Board of Immigration Appeals with instructions to reconsider the BIA's earlier decision in light of a precedent set by the court saying that being convicted of indecent exposure did not constitute a crime of moral turpitude.

So Mr. Ortega-Lopez did not win completely; he still has at least one more round of court hearings. Whatever happens in court, the petitioner has a much better chance of a longer life in the United States than the little roosters involved in those grubby, income-producing conflicts.




Noted above is the fact that cockfighting is illegal in the 50 states; it is, on the other hand, both legal and practiced in America's islands, such as Puerto Rico, Guam, and the rest of the U.S. possessions. Maybe any legal status that might be conferred on the petitioner should stipulate that it only applies to the islands, and not to the Mainland.