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Rangel v. Barrows

September 25, 2008



Before the court are the "Respondents' Motion for Summary Judgment" (de # 13) and the "Petitioner's Response in Opposition to Respondents' Motion for Summary Judgment" (de # 14). Having considered the Motion and the briefing responsive thereto, the court is of the opinion that the Respondents' Motion should be DENIED and, sua sponte, that summary judgment should be GRANTED in favor of the Petitioner.


Juan Rangel, the Petitioner in this matter, appeals a determination by United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) denying his application for naturalization. Rangel is a native and citizen of Mexico, born there on June 1, 1980. (Resp't Mot. for Summ. J. 3.) Rangel was admitted to the United States as a lawful permanent resident on May 24, 1996, and he currently lives in Plano, Texas. (Id.)

On October 16, 2004, Rangel was arrested by the Allen Police Department for driving while intoxicated (DWI). (Id. at Ex. 1.) He pled guilty to that offense and served 3 days of jail time of a suspended 60 day sentence, paid a $750 fine, and completed one-year of community supervision. (Id. at 3.) Rangel successfully completed the community supervision portion of his sentence on January 20, 2006. (Id.)

On May 10, 2006, Rangel submitted his application for naturalization. (Id.) On August 23, 2006, Rangel took and passed the English reading and writing exams and the U.S. history/civics exam. On August 28, 2006, the USCIS denied Rangel's application solely on the basis of his DWI conviction. (Id. at Ex. 3.) The USCIS stated that the conviction prevented Rangel from establishing "good moral character" as required by statute. (Id.) Rangel appealed the decision, and was heard by the USCIS in February of 2007. (Id. at 3.) On February 13, 2007, the USCIS issued a final decision whereby it denied Rangel's application because Rangel had "failed to overcome the grounds" for the original denial. (Id. at Ex. 5.) Rangel appeals that decision to this court. Both parties agree that Rangel has met the requirements of 8 U.S.C. § 1423(a).


The purpose of summary judgment is to isolate and dispose of factually unsupported claims or defenses. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 327 (1986). Summary judgment is proper if "the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." FED. R. CIV. P. 56(c). A dispute about a material fact is genuine "if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). The trial court must resolve all reasonable doubts in favor of the party opposing the motion for summary judgment. Casey Enterprises, Inc. v. American Hardware Mut. Ins. Co., 655 F.2d 598, 602 (5th Cir. 1981)(citations omitted). The substantive law identifies which facts are material. See id. at 248.

The party moving for summary judgment has the burden to show that there is no genuine issue of material fact and that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See 247. If the movant bears the burden of proof on a claim or defense on which it is moving for summary judgment, it must come forward with evidence that establishes "beyond peradventure all of the essential elements of the claim or defense." Fontenot v. Upjohn Co., 780 F.2d 1190, 1194 (5th Cir. 1986). But if the non-movant bears the burden of proof, the movant may discharge its burden by showing that there is an absence of evidence to support the non-movant's case. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323, 325; Byers v. Dallas Morning News, Inc., 209 F.3d 419, 424 (5th Cir. 2000). Once the movant has carried its burden, the non-movant "must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." FED. R. CIV. P. 56(e). The non-movant must adduce affirmative evidence. See Anderson, 477 U.S. at 257.


The court has jurisdiction to consider this matter de novo. 8 U.S.C. § 1421(c) (2006). A person who wishes to attain citizenship through naturalization bears the burden in every respect to establish his eligibility. Berenyi v. District Director, INS, 385 U.S. 630, 637 (1967). All doubts regarding eligibility must be resolved adversely to the applicant. Id.

A lawfully admitted permanent resident may attain citizenship through naturalization if he has resided continuously in the United States for the five years preceding his application, has resided continuously in the United States between the time of his application and oath of citizenship, and is "a person of good moral character, attached to the principles of the Constitution of the United States, and well disposed to the good order and happiness of the United States." 8 U.S.C. § 1427(a) (2006). An applicant's moral character is to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis with regard to certain enumerated provisions and the "standards of the average citizen in the community of residence." 8 C.F.R. § 316.10(a)(2) (1995). The sole issue for the court's determination is whether Rangel is precluded from establishing good moral character on the sole basis of his lone DWI conviction.

There are certain statutory bars to an applicant's capability of demonstrating good moral character. Section 1101 contains a non-exclusive list of circumstances that, standing alone, prevent a demonstration of good moral character. 8 U.S.C. § 1101(f) (2006). A drunk driving conviction is not on the list. Id. A more exhaustive list can be found in the Regulations. 8 C.F.R. 316.10(b) (1995). In addition to a similarly structured list of offenses that bar admission, that Section provides that, absent extenuating circumstances, a finding of good moral character is impermissible if, during the relevant period, the applicant "[c]ommitted unlawful acts that adversely reflect upon the applicant's moral character." 8 C.F.R. 316.10(b)(3)(iii) (1995). It is this catch-all provision that the USCIS claims prevents Rangel from establishing his eligibility for naturalization.

Courts that have been confronted with this issue have uniformly agreed that a single DWI conviction is insufficient to preclude an applicant from establishing good moral character. In Ragoonanan v. USCIS, the court decided in favor of a party whose application for naturalization was denied solely on the basis of a DWI conviction. Ragoonanan v. USCIS, No. 07-3461, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 92922 (D. Minn. Dec. 18, 2007). There, the USCIS rested, as it does here, on the above-quoted catch-all provision in the Regulations. Id. at * 7-8. Among the court's justifications for granting summary judgment to the petitioner in that case was the court's inability to find a single case concluding that a single DWI conviction bars an applicant from establishing good moral character. Id. at *9.

Another court reached a different conclusion where the naturalization applicant had been convicted of DWI, but had also failed to disclose an arrest for making terroristic threats against his child's mother. Nguyen v. Monica, No. 05-3021, U.S. Dist. LEXIS 69118, at *7-8 (E.D. Pa. Sept. 26, 2006). The court stated in dictum that "a single conviction for driving under the ...

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