From Bristol, to Hollywood, to a Land Far, Far Away: Considering the Immigration Consequences of Statutory Rape

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Rutgers Journal of Law & Public Policy


A presidential race shines a spotlight on a teenage pregnancy. A teen idol takes a hiatus from her hit television program as she becomes a teen mother. Tabloids fill with confirmed and unconfirmed romances of young celebrities and their (sometimes only slightly) older paramours. At the height of steroid allegations against major league baseball players, an all-star pitcher faces public allegations over a long-running affair with his country music star girlfriend, possibly dating back to when the singer was a child. The Homeland Security webpage and newspapers nationwide fill with details of enforcement efforts against "fugitive" sexual violators. Troubling news articles about sex offender recidivism cause commentators to call for even tougher laws and enforcement. Meanwhile the Miami newspaper fills with stories of registered sex offenders forced to sleep under a bridge, since zoning ordinances ban them from residing at nearly every other location in town. In addition to the criminal charges and social stigma, noncitizens with convictions for sexual offenses can be deported in several ways. The most onerous classification is as an "aggravated felon," a class that is satisfied by having a conviction that constitutes "sexual abuse of a minor." Any such conviction after 1996 mandates deportation, and forecloses any application for relief from deportation. Thus, an immigration judge cannot consider any positive equities of the immigrant or sympathetic factors relating to the conviction prior to ordering removal. On its face, this is a very reasonable scheme, one that protects our nation's children and enumerates clear consequences for sexual offenses. However, a number of factors could lead to the conclusion that by mandating deportation the present system is in fact not accomplishing its stated goals. This paper will address the immigration consequences for violating domestic criminal statutes turning on the age of consent for sexual activity. It will subsequently look at trends in enforcement of these statutes. Next, I will address federal decisions construing the immigration consequences attaching to the state court convictions, arising at the Board of Immigration Appeals and the United States Courts of Appeals. Finally, I hope to address whether there could be an alternate model for adjudicating immigration cases that involve statutory rape; one that could adequately account for cultural cues from the non-citizens' own experiences and possibly identify a point for marking a distinction between predatory child abusers and permissive teenagers and young adults where the only "abuse" in the sexual relationship is implied by the inability to consent.

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Publication Date

Spring 2010