A new opinion from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, Arias v. Lynch, disagreed with the Board of Immigration Appeal’s (BIA) finding that using a false Social Security number (SSN) is a crime involving moral turpitude (CIMT) that prevents relief from removal.  In the case, Ms. Arias had provided her employer a false SSN to gain employment. This was held by the immigration judge and the BIA to be a “turpitudinous” crime that prevented Arias from receiving relief.

The Seventh Circuit disagreed, noting that a crime involving moral turpitude has been defined as morally “base, vile, or depraved.”  The court could find nothing in the record to describe Arias’s decision to supply her employer with a false SSN as base, vile, or depraved.  Instead, it noted the inconsistency in the determination that a foreign national using a false SSN so that she could hold a job, pay taxes, and support her family constituted a CIMT –  precluding removal relief – while an individual who works “under the table” and pays no taxes would not be guilty of the same type of offense and remains eligible for relief. In a concurring opinion, Judge Richard Posner questioned the relevance and legitimacy of the idea of a “crime involving moral turpitude,” stating the phrase was grossly outdated and nearly impossible to actually define with specific crimes. The BIA will reconsider the case upon remand and render a final decision.  If it issues a decision it deems “precedential,” the ruling will affect the eligibility of removal relief for potentially thousands of foreign nationals, often undocumented immigrants, working with false Social Security numbers.