Velasco-Giron v. Holder, No. 12-2353 (7th Cir. 2014)

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Justia Opinion Summary

A removable alien who has lived in the U.S. for seven years (including five as a permanent resident) is entitled to seek cancellation of removal unless he has committed an “aggravated felony.” 8 U.S.C. 1229b(a)(3). Velasco, a citizen of Mexico who was admitted for permanent residence, became removable after multiple criminal convictions. An immigration judge concluded that one of these convictions was for “sexual abuse of a minor”, which 8 U.S.C.1101(a)(43)(A) classifies as an aggravated felony, and that Velasco was, therefore. ineligible for cancellation of removal. The BIA affirmed, citing the definition of “sexual abuse” in 18 U.S.C. 3509(a)(8) rather than the one in 18 U.S.C. 2243(a). The conviction at issue was under Cal. Penal Code 261.5(c), which makes it a crime to engage in sexual intercourse with a person under the age of 18, if the defendant is at least three years older. Velasco was 18 at the time; the girl was 15. Deferring to the BIA, the Seventh Circuit affirmed.

The court issued a subsequent related opinion or order on December 12, 2014.

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In the United States Court of Appeals For the Seventh Circuit ____________________   No.  12-­ 2353   ALBERTO  VELASCO-­ GIRON,   Petitioner,   v.   ERIC  H.  HOLDER,  JR.,  Attorney  General  of  the  United  States,   Respondent.   ____________________   Petition  for  Review  of  an  Order  of  the   Board  of  Immigration  Appeals   ____________________   ARGUED  NOVEMBER  29,  2012    DECIDED  SEPTEMBER  26,  2014   ____________________   es.   Before  POSNER,  EASTERBROOK,  and  MANION,  Circuit  Judg-­ EASTERBROOK,   Circuit   Judge.   A   removable   alien   who   has   lived  in  the  United  States  for  seven  years  (including  five  as  a   permanent   resident)   is   entitled   to   seek   cancellation   of   re-­ moval   unless   he   has   committed   an   aggravated   felony.   8   U.S.C.  §1229b(a)(3).  Alberto  Velasco-­ Giron,  a  citizen  of  Mex-­ ico   who   was   admitted   to   the   United   States   for   permanent   residence,  became  removable  after  multiple  criminal  convic-­ 2   No.  12-­ 2353   tions.   An   immigration   judge,   seconded   by   the   Board   of   Im-­ migration   Appeals,   concluded   that   one   of   these   convictions   is   for   sexual   abuse   of   a   minor ,   which   8   U.S.C.   §1101(a)(43)(A)   classifies   as   an   aggravated   felony,   and   that   Velasco-­ Giron   therefore   is   ineligible   even   to   be   considered   for  cancellation  of  removal.  In  reaching  that  conclusion,  the   agency  used  as  a  guide  the  definition  of   sexual  abuse  in  18   U.S.C.   §3509(a)(8)   rather   than   the   one   in   18   U.S.C.   §2243(a).   See  Matter  of  Rodriguez-­ Rodriguez,  22  I&N  Dec.  991  (BIA  1999)   (en  banc);  Matter  of  V-­ F-­ D,  23  I&N  Dec.  859  (BIA  2006).   The   conviction   in   question   is   for   violating   Cal.   Penal   Code   §261.5(c),   which   makes   it   a   crime   to   engage   in   sexual   intercourse  with  a  person  under  the  age  of  18,  if  the  defend-­ ant  is  at  least  three  years  older.  The  Board  has  held  that  this   offense  constitutes   sexual  abuse  of  a  minor .  Velasco-­ Giron   was   18   at   the   time;   the   girl   was   15;   but   the   Board   makes   nothing   of   these   ages,   and   it   asks   (so   we   too   must   ask)   whether  the  crime  is  categorically   sexual  abuse  of  a  minor.   The   Board s   affirmative   answer   stems   from   §3509(a)(8),   which  defines   sexual  abuse  as   the  employment,  use,  per-­ suasion,   inducement,   enticement,   or   coercion   of   a   child   to   engage  in,  or  assist  another  person  to  engage  in,  sexually  ex-­ plicit  conduct  or  the  rape,  molestation,  prostitution,  or  other   form   of   sexual   exploitation   of   children,   or   incest   with   chil-­ dren .  Elsewhere  the  Criminal  Code  defines  a   minor  as  a   person  under  18.  See  18  U.S.C.  §§  2256(1),  2423(a).   The   Board   equates   child   with   minor ;   Velasco-­ Giron   does   not   argue   otherwise.   Instead   he   contends   that   the   Board  should  use  §2243(a),  which  defines   sexual  abuse  of  a   minor  as  engaging  in  a   sexual  act  (a  phrase  that  includes   fondling   as   well   as   intercourse)   with   a   person   between   the   No.  12-­ 2353   3   ages  of  12  and  15,  if  the  offender  is  at  least  four  years  older.   The  offense  under  Cal.  Penal  Code  §261.5(c)  does  not  satisfy   that  definition  categorically and  Velasco-­ Giron s  acts  don t   satisfy  it  specifically  (the  age  gap  of  18  to  15  is  three  years).   If  the  Immigration  and  Nationality  Act  supplied  its  own   definition   of   sexual   abuse   of   a   minor,   ours   would   be   an   easy   case.   But   it   does   not.   That s   why   the   Board   had   to   choose,   and   the   possibilities   include   §3509(a)(8),   §2243(a),   a   few  other  sections  in  the  Criminal  Code,  and  a  definition  of   the   Board s   invention.   Section   1101(a)(43)(A)   specifies   that   the  category   aggravated  felony  includes   murder,  rape,  or   sexual   abuse   of   a   minor .   The   Board   noted   in   Rodriguez-­ Rodriguez   that   Congress   could   have   written   something   like   murder,  rape,  or  sexual  abuse  of  a  minor  (as  defined  in  sec-­ tion   2243   of   title   18)   but   did   not   do   so though   other   sec-­ tions  do  designate  specific  federal  statutes.  See,  e.g.,  8  U.S.C.   §1101(a)(43)(B):   illicit   trafficking   in   a   controlled   substance   (as   defined   in   section   802   of   title   21),   including   a   drug   traf-­ ficking   crime   (as   defined   in   section   924(c)   of   title   18) .   The   Board  stated  that,  because  Congress  chose  to  use  a  standard   rather   than   a   cross-­ reference,   it   would   be   inappropriate   for   the  Board  to  adopt  §2243(a)  as  the  sole  definition;  §3509(a)(8)   is  more  open-­ ended,  which  the  Board  saw  as  a  better  match   given   the   legislative   decision   not   to   limit   the   definition   by   cross-­ reference.   A   case   such   as   Velasco-­ Giron s   shows   one   reason   why.   The  offense  under  Cal.  Penal  Code  §261.5(c)  is  a  member  of  a   set  that  used  to  be  called   statutory  rape ;  it  fits  comfortably   next   to   rape   in   §1101(a)(43)(A);   but   adopting   §2243(a)   as   an  exclusive  definition  would  make  that  impossible.  What s   more,   to   adopt   §2243(a)   as   the   only   definition   would   be   to   4   No.  12-­ 2353   eliminate  the  possibility  that  crimes  against  persons  aged  11   and  under,  or  16  or  17,  could  be   sexual  abuse  of  a  minor.   (Recall  that  §2243(a)  deals  only  with  victims  aged  12  to  15.)   When  resolving  ambiguities  in  the  Immigration  and  Na-­ tionality   Act and   sexual   abuse   of   a   minor   deserves   the   label   ambiguous the   Board   has   the   benefit   of   Chevron   U.S.A.  Inc.  v.  Natural  Resources  Defense  Council,  Inc.,  467  U.S.   837  (1984),  under  which  the  judiciary  must  respect  an  agen-­ cy s   reasonable   resolution.   See,   e.g.,   Scialabba   v.   Cuellar   de   Osorio,   134   S.   Ct.   2191,   2203   (2014);   INS   v.   Aguirre-­ Aguirre,   526  U.S.  415,  424 25  (1999).  We  have  considered  the  Board s   approach  to   sexual  abuse  of  a  minor  five  times,  and  each   time  we  have  held  that  Rodriguez-­ Rodriguez  takes  a  reasona-­ ble  approach  to  the  issue.  See  Lara-­ Ruiz  v.  INS,  241  F.3d  934,   939 42   (7th   Cir.   2001);   Guerrero-­ Perez   v.   INS,   242   F.3d   727,   735  n.3  (7th  Cir.  2001)  (also  accepting  the  Board s  conclusion   that  a  crime  that  a  state  classifies  as  a  misdemeanor  may  be   an   aggravated   felony   for   federal   purposes);   Espinoza-­ Franco  v.  Ashcroft,  394  F.3d  461  (7th  Cir.  2004);  Gattem  v.  Gon-­ zales,   412   F.3d   758,   762 66   (7th   Cir.   2005);   Gaiskov   v.   Holder,   567  F.3d  832,  838  (7th  Cir.  2009).   Velasco-­ Giron   maintains   that   sexual   intercourse   with   a   person  under  18,  by  someone  else  at  least  three  years  older,   is   not   sexual   abuse   of   a   minor.   We   could   reach   that   con-­ clusion,  however,  only  if  the  Board  exceeded  its  authority  in   Rodriguez-­ Rodriguez  by  looking  to  18  U.S.C.  §3509(a)(8)  as  the   starting   point   for   understanding   sexual   abuse   and   to   18   U.S.C.  §§  2256(1),  2423(a)  for  the  definition  of  a   minor  as  a   person   under   18.   Our   five   decisions   holding   that   the   ap-­ proach   of   Rodriguez-­ Rodriguez   is   within   the   Board s   discre-­ No.  12-­ 2353   5   tion   foreclose   Velasco-­ Giron s   arguments,   unless   we   are   prepared  to  overrule  them  all which  he  asks  us  to  do.   He   relies   principally   on   Estrada-­ Espinoza   v.   Mukasey,   546   F.3d  1147  (9th  Cir.  2008)  (en  banc),  which  held  that  the  Board   erred   in   treating   a   violation   of   Cal.   Penal   Code   §261.5(c)   as   sexual  abuse  of  a  minor.  Estrada-­ Espinoza  reached  this  con-­ clusion  because  §261.5(c)  does  not  satisfy  the  definition  in  18   U.S.C.  §2243(a),  which  requires  a  victim  under  the  age  of  16   and  a  four-­ year  age  difference.  To  justify  adopting  the  defi-­ nition  in  §2243(a),  the  Ninth  Circuit  rejected  the  Board s  ap-­ proach  in  Rodriguez-­ Rodriguez,  holding,  546  F.3d  at  1157  n.7,   that  it  flunks  Step  One  of  Chevron that  is  to  say,  an  agency   lacks   discretion   if   Congress   has   made   the   decision   and   left   no  ambiguity  for  the  agency  to  resolve.  That s  circular,  how-­ ever.   If   the   court   has   already   decided   that   the   only   proper   definition   comes   from   §2243(a),   then   of   course   there s   no   discretion   for   the   Board   to   exercise.   But   the   phrase   sexual   abuse  of  a  minor  that  the  Board  must  administer  appears  in   8   U.S.C.   §1101(a)(43)(A),   not   18   U.S.C.   §2243(a),   and   §1101(a)(43)(A)  is  open-­ ended.  Precision  is  vital  in  a  criminal   statute;   it   is   less   important   in   a   civil   statute   such   as   §1101(a)(43)(A),  and  the  Board  was  entitled  to  find  that  Con-­ gress  omitted  a  statutory  reference  from  §1101(a)(43)(A)  pre-­ cisely  in  order  to  leave  discretion  for  the  agency.   The  Ninth  Circuit  also  concluded  that  Chevron  is  inappli-­ cable   to   Rodriguez-­ Rodriguez   because   the   Board   adopted   a   standard  rather  than  a  rule.  We ll  come  back  to  this,  but  for   now   two   points   stand   out.   First,   the   Ninth   Circuit   did   not   identify  any  authority  for  its  view  that  Chevron  is  limited  to   rules.   It   did   cite   Christensen   v.   Harris   County,   529   U.S.   576   (2000),   which   holds   that   an   opinion   letter   from   an   agency   6   No.  12-­ 2353   does   not   come   within   Chevron,   but   that s   a   different   point.   Christensen  is  a  precursor  of  United  States  v.  Mead  Corp.,  533   U.S.   218   (2001),   which   concluded   that   only   regulations   and   administrative   adjudications   come   within   Chevron.   Rodri-­ guez-­ Rodriguez  is  an  administrative  adjudication  with  prece-­ dential   effect;   it   is   part   of   Chevron s   domain.   Second,   the   Ninth  Circuit s  view  that  Rodriguez-­ Rodriguez  did  not  adopt  a   rule   misunderstands   what   the   Board   did.   It   decided   to   take   the   definition   in   §3509(a)(8)   as   its   guide.   The   agency   could  have  issued  a  regulation  pointing  to  §3509(a)(8)  or  re-­ peating  its  language  verbatim,  and  it  is  hard  to  imagine  that   a   court   then   would   have   said   not   precise   enough.   True,   §3509(a)(8)   itself   is   open-­ ended;   the   Board   needs   to   classify   one  state  statute  at  a  time,  and  the  statutory  language  leaves   room  for  debate  about  whether  a  particular  state  crime  is  in   or  out.  Yet  many  statutes  and  regulations  adopt  criteria  that   leave  lots  of  cases  uncertain.  If  §3509(a)(8)  is  good  enough  to   be  part  of  the  United  States  Code,  why  would  an  agency  be   forbidden  to  adopt  its  approach?   At  all  events,  it  would  not  be  possible  for  us  to  follow  Es-­ trada-­ Espinoza  without  overruling  Lara-­ Ruiz  and  its  four  suc-­ cessors,  for  they  hold  that  Rodriguez-­ Rodriguez  is  indeed  enti-­ tled  to  respect  under  Chevron  and  is  a  permissible  exercise  of   the   Board s   discretion.   Nor   are   we   the   only   circuit   to   reach   that   conclusion.   Oouch   v.   Department   of   Homeland   Security,   633  F.3d  119,  122  (2d  Cir.  2011);  Mugalli  v.  Ashcroft,  258  F.3d   52,   60   (2d   Cir.   2001);   and   Restrepo   v.   Attorney   General,   617   F.3d  787,  796  (3d  Cir.  2010),  all  hold  that  Rodriguez-­ Rodriguez   is   entitled   to   Chevron   deference.   Bahar   v.   Ashcroft,   264   F.3d   1309,  1312  (11th  Cir.  2001),  also  accepts  Rodriguez-­ Rodriguez,   though  without  explicit  reliance  on  Chevron.  Meanwhile  the   Fifth  Circuit  has  held  that,  as  a  matter  of  federal  law  under   No.  12-­ 2353   7   the   Sentencing   Guidelines,   a   minor   in   the   phrase   sexual   abuse   of   a   minor   is   a   person   under   the   age   of   18.   United   States   v.   Rodriguez,   711   F.3d   541   (5th   Cir.   2013)   (en   banc).   If   that s  so,  then  it  would  be  hard  to  see  a  problem  in  using  the   same   age   line   to   identify   sexual   abuse   of   a   minor   for   im-­ migration  purposes.   Our   dissenting   colleague   observes   (see   page   16)   that   most  states  treat  persons  16  and  older  as  adults  for  the  pur-­ pose   of   defining   sex   offenses.   Yet   18   U.S.C.   §2256(1)   and   §2423(a)   define   18   as   adulthood.   A   federal   court   may   set   aside   administrative   decisions   that   are   contrary   to   law,   but   nothing  permits  us  to  reject  agency  decisions  that  follow  the   United  States  Code,  no  matter  how  many  states  use  a  differ-­ ent  age  demarcation.  Our  colleague s  view  that   [t]he  ques-­ tion  the  Board  should  be  addressing  is  the  gravity  of  particu-­ lar  sexual  offenses  involving  minors  (page  16)  amounts  to  a   conclusion  that  the  Board s  approach  in  Rodriguez-­ Rodriguez   is  a  substantively  bad  policy.  As  we  have  observed,  howev-­ er,  Chevron  permits  the  Board  to  establish  its  own  doctrines   when  implementing  ambiguous  statutes.   The   dissent   also   maintains   that   the   Board   has   departed   from   its   own   precedent   by   supposing   that   Rodriguez-­ Rodriguez   adopted   §3509(a)(8)   as   an   exclusive   test,   rather   than   (as   the   Board   put   it   in   Rodriguez-­ Rodriguez)   as   a   guide.   Yet   the   Board s   decision   in   this   case   states   that   §3509(a)(8)  is  being  used   as  a  guide  in  identifying  the  types   of  crimes  that  we  would  consider  to  constitute  sexual  abuse   of   a   minor   (emphasis   added).   If   the   Board   in   some   other   case  had  classified  Cal.  Penal  Code  §261.5(c)  (or  another  ma-­ terially   similar   law)   as   not   constituting   sexual   abuse   of   a   minor,   then   there   would   be   a   genuine   concern   about   ad-­ 8   No.  12-­ 2353   ministrative  inconsistency,  but  our  dissenting  colleague  does   not  identify  any  such  divergence.   Nor   does   Velasco-­ Giron,   who   (unlike   the   dissent)   does   not   contend   that   the   Board   has   been   self-­ contradictory   or   that  it  erred  by  choosing  18  as  the  age  of  majority.  Quite  the   contrary,   Velasco-­ Giron   writes   that   the   Board s   disposition   here   flowed   ¦  from  Rodriguez-­ Rodriguez.  He  acknowledg-­ es   that   the   Board   has   followed   its   own   precedent,   which   it   established   years   before   (in   a   decision   enforced   by   Afridi   v.   Gonzales,   442   F.3d   1212   (9th   Cir.   2006)),   that   a   violation   of   Cal.  Penal  Code  §261.5(c)  entails   sexual  abuse  of  a  minor.   That s   why   Velasco-­ Giron   asks   us   to   reject   Rodriguez-­ Rodriguez   and   all   of   its   sequels,   as   the   Ninth   Circuit   did   in   Estrada-­ Espinoza  (which  overruled  Afridi).   We   promised   to   return   to   the   question   whether,   as   the   Ninth  Circuit  believes,  Chevron  is  inapplicable  to  standards.   We  cannot  locate  any  such  doctrine  in  the  Supreme  Court s   decisions.  Just  this  year,  for  example,  the  Court  held  that  the   EPA s   implementation   of   a   statute   requiring   each   state   to   take   account   of   how   its   emissions   affect   other   states   is   cov-­ ered   by   Chevron,   even   though   the   EPA s   approach   calls   for   the  balancing  of  multiple  factors,  including  cost.  EPA  v.  EME   Homer   City   Generation,   L.P.,   134   S.   Ct.   1584   (2014).   Many   similar  examples  could  be  given,  including  the  National  La-­ bor   Relation   Board s   vague   (and   shifting)   specification   of   unfair   labor   practices,   which   the   Board   has   tried   vainly   since  its  creation  in  1935  to  reduce  to  a  rule.  The  Board s  def-­ inition  of  an   unfair  labor  practice  remains  a  standard,  and   ambulatory   even   by   the   standard   of   standards,   but   for   all   that  one  to  which  the  Supreme  Court  consistently  defers.   No.  12-­ 2353   9   If  more  support  were  needed,  Aguirre-­ Aguirre  provides  it.   That  decision  reversed  the  Ninth  Circuit  for  failing  to  accord   Chevron   deference   to   one   of   the   Board s   interpretive   stand-­ ards.  An  alien  who  committed  a   serious  nonpolitical  crime   before   entering   the   United   States   is   ineligible   for   asylum.   8   U.S.C.   §1231(b)(3)(B)(iii)   (formerly   §1253(h)(2)(C)).   The   Board   has   approached   serious   nonpolitical   crime   in   com-­ mon-­ law  fashion,  ruling  one  crime  at  a  time  that  an  offense   does,  or  doesn t,  meet  this  standard.  It  has  not  attempted  to   formulate   a   rule   that   would   dictate   the   classification   of   all   crimes.   The   Ninth   Circuit   was   dissatisfied   with   the   Board s   approach,   but   the   Supreme   Court   held   it   entitled   to   respect   under  Chevron.  If  the  Board  can  define   serious  nonpolitical   crime  one  case  at  a  time,  why  can t  it  define   sexual  abuse   of  a  minor  one  case  at  a  time?  Actually  Rodriguez-­ Rodriguez   does  better  than  that,  by  drawing  a  precise  age  line  at  18  and   using  §3509(a)(8)  as  a  guide.   If   what   the   Board   did   in   Aguirre-­ Aguirre   was   enough,   what   it   did   in   Rodriguez-­ Rodriguez   was   enough.   When   an   agency   chooses   to   address   topics   through   adjudication,   it   may  proceed  incrementally;  it  need  not  resolve  every  variant   (or   even   several   variants)   in   order   to   resolve   one   variant.   See,  e.g.,  SEC  v.  Chenery  Corp.,  332  U.S.  194,  203  (1947);  Heck-­ ler  v.  Ringer,  466  U.S.  602,  617  (1984).  This  is   one  of  the  earli-­ est   principles   developed   in   American   administrative   law .   Almy  v.  Sebelius,  679  F.3d  297,  303  (4th  Cir.  2012).   Many  judges  dislike  administrative  adjudication  because   they   think   standards   generated   in   common-­ law   fashion   are   poorly   theorized   and   too   uncertain   to   give   adequate   notice   to   persons   subject   to   regulation.   Judge   Friendly   once   held,   for  these  reasons  and  others,  that  the  NLRB  must  replace  ad-­ 10   No.  12-­ 2353   judication  with  rulemaking  when  it  wants  to  announce  rules   of   general   application.   Bell   Aerospace   Co.   v.   NLRB,   475   F.2d   485  (2d  Cir.  1973).  But  the  Supreme  Court  was  not  persuad-­ ed   and   unanimously   concluded   that   an   agency   can   choose   freely   between   rules   and   standards,   between   rulemaking   and   adjudication.   NLRB   v.   Bell   Aerospace   Co.,   416   U.S.   267   (1974).   Since   Bell   Aerospace   [t]he   Court   has   not   even   sug-­ gested  that  a  court  can  constrain  an  agency s  choice  between   rulemaking  and  adjudication .  Richard  J.  Pierce,  Jr.,  I  Admin-­ istrative  Law  Treatise  §6.9  at  510  (5th  ed.  2010).   Velasco-­ Giron   proposes   a   more   ambitious   doctrine   than   the  one  Judge  Friendly  favored.  He  wants  the  Board  not  only   to   replace   standards   with   rules   but   also   to   adopt   rules   that   are   complete   and   self-­ contained.   In   Velasco-­ Giron s   view,   until  the  Board  has  solved  every  interpretive  problem  in  the   phrase   sexual  abuse  of  a  minor,  and  shown  how  every  pos-­ sible  state  crime  must  be  classified,  it  cannot  decide  how  any   state  conviction  can  be  classified.  That  requirement  would  be   inconsistent  with  Aguirre-­ Aguirre  and  would  send  the  Board   on  an  impossible  quest.   Immigration   statutes   are   full   of   vague   words,   such   as   persecution,   and   vague   phrases   such   as   crime   of   moral   turpitude.   The   Board   has   not   found   a   way   to   solve   every   interpretive   problem   in   these   phrases   and   has   chosen   the   common-­ law   approach.   Judges   have   failed   to   turn   tort   law   into  a  set  of  rules;  Holmes  declared  in  The  Common  Law  that   they   were   bound   to   do   so   eventually,   but   more   than   130   years   have   passed   without   the   goal   being   nearer.   Perhaps   sexual   abuse   of   a   minor   will   prove   equally   intractable.   Judges  are  not  entitled  to  require  the  impossible,  or  even  the   answer   they   think   best.   Like   the   NLRB,   the   FTC,   the   SEC,   No.  12-­ 2353   11   and  many  another  agency,  the  BIA  is  a  policy-­ making  insti-­ tution   as   well   as   a   judicial   one.   It   may   choose   standards   as   the  best  achievable  policies.  Just  as  judges  do  every  day,  the   Board  is  entitled  to  muddle  through.   The  petition  for  review  is  denied.   12 No. 12-2353 POSNER, Circuit Judge, dissenting. The ground on which the petitioner was denied cancellation of removal (he does not deny that he was removable, because of a conviction for harassment and for violating an order of protection, see 8 U.S.C. §§ 1227(a)(2)(E)(i), (ii)) was that he had been convicted in California in 2005 of engaging in sexual intercourse with a girl who was not yet 18 and was more than three years younger than he. Cal. Penal Code § 261.5(c). She was in fact 15 and he 18, but the Board of Immigration Appeals did not consider the ages of either party to the sexual relationship. It relied entirely on the fact that the girl was under 18 and he more than three years older. She could have been one day short of her eighteenth birthday on the day when the relationship began and that day could have been his twentyfirst birthday. The crime was punished as a misdemeanor under California law and according to his uncontradicted affidavit his only punishment was unsupervised probation. The crime was reported by the girl s father and the defendant pleaded guilty on his nineteenth birthday; the sexual relationship had been brief and consensual; that is another fact the Board ignored. Now 26 years old, the petitioner has lived in the United States since the age of 14 and is a lawful permanent resident. The immigration judge said that there are some extremely strong equities in this case. But the immigration statute precludes cancellation of removal of an alien who has been convicted of an aggravated felony, defined (for this purpose) as including murder, rape, or sexual abuse of a minor, 8 U.S.C. § 1101(a)(43)(A), and the immigration judge ruled that the California misdemeanor was sexual abuse of a mi- No. 12-2353 13 nor and therefore a categorical bar to cancellation of removal. The Board of Immigration Appeals affirmed. So what is sexual abuse of a minor ? We are obliged to give a large measure of deference to the Board s definition of a term appearing in the immigration statutes. INS v. AguirreAguirre, 526 U.S. 415, 424 25 (1999); Arobelidze v. Holder, 653 F.3d 513, 519 (7th Cir. 2011). But the Board has not defined sexual abuse of a minor. True, it said in this case, quoting In re Rodriguez-Rodriguez, 22 I & N. Dec. 991, 995 (1999), that it has defined the term defined it as encompassing any offense that involves the employment, use, persuasion, inducement, enticement, or coercion of a child to engage in sexually explicit conduct or the rape, molestation, prostitution, or other form of sexual exploitation of children, or incest with children. Rejecting a very narrow definition (advocated by Rodriguez-Rodriguez) of sexual abuse of a minor elsewhere in the federal criminal code, see 18 U.S.C. § 2243, the Board in Rodriguez-Rodriguez had taken the definition verbatim from a provision of the federal criminal code that defines the rights of child victims as witnesses. 18 U.S.C. § 3509(a)(8); see also id., § 3509(a)(9), defining sexually explicit conduct very broadly. Read literally, the definition would encompass the petitioner s misdemeanor, because obviously he induced the girl to have sex with him. So if Rodriguez-Rodriguez had adopted the definition in section 3509(a)(8), as the Board in the present case said it had done (while also saying, as we ll see, that it hadn t), as the definition of sexual abuse of a minor in the immigration statute, that would be the end of this case. But Rodriguez-Rodriguez had gone on to say that in defining the term sexual abuse of a minor, we are not 14 No. 12-2353 obliged to adopt a federal or state statutory provision and we are not adopting this statute as a definitive standard or definition but invoke it as a guide in identifying the types of crimes we would consider to be sexual abuse of a minor. 22 I & N Doc. at 994, 996. In other words, the Board found the definition useful given the facts of the Rodriguez-Rodriguez case (which are very different from the facts of the present case), but did not adopt it as the canonical definition of sexual abuse of a minor. The Board repeated these points, qualifying the status of the definition it had used in the earlier case, in the present case, and added that to derive the meaning of the words sexual, minor, and abuse in the aggravated-felony provision of the immigration statute it would look to the ordinary, contemporary, and common meaning of the words (and for this it cited our decision in Espinoza-Franco v. Ashcroft, 395 F.3d 461, 464 65 (7th Cir. 2005), quoting United States v. Martinez-Carillo, 250 F.3d 1101, 1104 (7th Cir. 2001)). So neither in this case nor in Rodriguez-Rodriguez did the Board adopt either the definition in the federal criminal code or an alternative definition. In Rodriguez-Rodriguez the specific offense of which the petitioner had been convicted was indecency with a child by exposure in violation of Texas law, and the Board had pointed to the severity of the penalty that the petitioner had received 10 years imprisonment, the statutory maximum as demonstrat[ing] that Texas considers the crime to be serious. In consideration of these factors, we find that indecent exposure in the presence of a child by one intent on sexual arousal is clearly sexual abuse of a minor within the meaning of the immigration statute. 22 I & N Doc. at 996. No. 12-2353 15 So Rodriguez-Rodriguez did not define sexual abuse of a minor in the immigration statute to encompass every criminal sexual activity involving a minor, as section 3509(a)(8) of the federal criminal code seems to do. Instead it gave reasons pertinent to the case before it, in particular the severity of the punishment meted out by the state court, for concluding that the petitioner s particular criminal offense had been serious enough to merit designation as sexual abuse of a minor for purposes of immigration law. In the present case the Board gave no reason for its similar, but less plausible, conclusion. Given the language it quoted in this case from the earlier decision, it couldn t have thought that RodriguezRodriguez had adopted the text of section 3509(a)(8) as the definition of sexual abuse of a minor in the immigration statute. But if it did think in its opinion in this case that Rodriguez-Rodriguez had done that, it was wrong, and was therefore misapplying Board precedent, and for that reason (among others) its decision could not stand. Huang v. Mukasey, 534 F.3d 618, 620 (7th Cir. 2008); Ssali v. Gonzales, 424 F.3d 556, 564 66 (7th Cir. 2005); Hernandez v. Ashcroft, 345 F.3d 824, 846 47 (9th Cir. 2003). Treating the federal statute as merely a guide obliged the Board in this case to go beyond the definition of sexual abuse in the federal criminal code, and it failed to do that, the critical omission being a failure to consider the gravity of the petitioner s crime and punishment in relation to the crime and punishment in Rodriguez-Rodriguez. Characteristically (see, e.g., Benitez Ramos v. Holder, 589 F.3d 426, 430 (7th Cir. 2009); Miljkovic v. Ashcroft, 376 F.3d 754, 756 57 (7th Cir. 2004)), the Justice Department tries to remedy the deficiencies of the Board s analysis by supplying reasons (including references to social science data) why the 16 No. 12-2353 petitioner s offense should be regarded as grave; in doing so the Department invites us to flout SEC v. Chenery Corp., 318 U.S. 80 (1943). The inadequacy of the Board s analysis would not be fatal if the correctness of the conclusion could not be questioned. (For then the Board s error would be harmless.) It could not be questioned if, for example, the petitioner had been convicted of a violent rape. But voluntary sexual intercourse between a just-turned 21 year old and an about-toturn 18 year old (the premise of the Board s opinion, for it declined to consider the actual facts of the petitioner s misdemeanor) is illegal in only ten states; in the other forty states, the age of consent is either 16 or 17. The petitioner s sentence to unsupervised probation should tell us what California, though one of the ten, thinks of the gravity of his offense. The age of consent is 16 in a majority of the states (31) as well as in the Model Penal Code, § 213.3(1)(a). What century is the Board of Immigration Appeals living in? By age 17, 40 percent of American girls have had sexual intercourse. Guttmacher Institute, Fact Sheet, American Teens Sexual and Reproductive Health: Sexual Activity, May 2014, www. (visited Sept. 3, 2014). One might have expected the Board to go with the majority view of the states. For remember that the Board does not regard the definition of sexual abuse in the federal criminal code as a straitjacket. It is merely a guide and all the other potential sources of guidance point in the opposite direction to the Board s ruling in this case. Besides the sources of guidance just mentioned, see, e.g., United States v. Osborne, 551 F.3d 718, 720 21 (7th Cir. 2009); United States v. LopezSolis, 447 F.3d 1201, 1207, 1209 (9th Cir. 2006). If a 10-year No. 12-2353 17 prison sentence informs the Board s judgment of whether a sexual offense involving a minor should be deemed an aggravated felony, as we learn from Rodriguez-Rodriguez that it does, then a sentence of unsupervised probation should inform the Board s judgment as well, yet is not mentioned in the Board s opinion in this case. Nor is this a case in which the immigration judge provided the analysis and the Board relied on it. The immigration judge provided no analysis but said merely that she was bound by Rodriguez-Rodriguez and that the petitioner s conviction constitutes sexual abuse of a minor and although treated as a misdemeanor, under state law and in [VelascoGiron s] case by its terms constitutes an aggravated felony under the immigration statute. The passage I ve just quoted is garbled, but implies that the Board has laid down a rule that any unlawful sexual activity involving a minor, however trivial, is an aggravated felony. It has never laid down such a rule. The majority opinion misreads Rodriguez-Rodriguez as having adopted a rule that governs this case. The same misreading invalidates the Board s decision in this case.