Have you ever been arrested or convicted for an offense or crime involving moral turpitude or a violation related to a controlled substance; or have been arrested or convicted for two or more offenses for which the aggregate sentence to confinement was five years or more; or have been a controlled substance trafficker; or are you seeking entry to engage in criminal or immoral activities?
This is a question I have to answer every time I apply to visit the USA. (See here for the questionnaire they ask non-US citizens who are applying under the ESTA visa waiver program.)
When I first read this question I had no idea what moral turpitude was, though I could vaguel remember having come across it in eighteenth or nineteenth century novels. So naturally I went Wikipedia. Here is an extract of Wikipedia’s definition of Moral Turpitude:
Moral turpitude is a legal concept in the United States and some other countries that refers to “conduct that is considered contrary to community standards of justice, honesty or good morals.” This term appears in U.S. immigration law beginning in the the 19th Century.
The concept of “moral turpitude” might escape precise definition, but it has been described as an “act of baseness, vileness, or depravity in the private and social duties which a man owes to his fellowmen, or to society in general, contrary to the accepted and customary rule of right and duty between man and man.”
The classification of a crime or other conduct as constituting moral turpitude has significance in several areas of law. First, prior conviction of a crime of moral turpitude (or in some jurisdictions, “moral turpitude conduct”, even without a conviction) is considered to have a bearing on the honesty of a witness and might be used for purposes of the impeachment of witnesses. Second, offenses not involving moral turpitude may be grounds to deny or revoke state professional licenses such as a teaching credentials, licenses to practice law, or other licensed profession. Third, this concept is of great importance for immigration purposes in the United States, Canada, and some other countries, since offenses which are defined as involving moral turpitude are considered bars to immigration into the U.S.
U.S. Department of State Foreign Affairs Manual Volume 9 lists many things that constitute moral turpitude as it relates to visa issuance. The list includes:
- crimes against property;
- crimes against governmental authority;
- intentional distribution of controlled substances;
- and attempts, aiding and abetting, accessories, and conspiracy in crimes which are deemed to involve moral turpitude.
But the part that will be of most interest to our readers is this:
Crimes committed against the person, family relationship, and sexual morality, which constitute moral turpitude as it relates to visa issuance include:
- Abandonment of a minor child (if willful and resulting in the destitution of the child)
- Adultery (see INA 101(f)(2) repealed by Public Law 97-116)
- Assault (this crime is broken down into several categories, which involve moral turpitude): (a) Assault with intent to kill; (b) Assault with intent to commit rape; (c) Assault with intent to commit robbery; (d) Assault with intent to commit serious bodily harm; and (e) Assault with a dangerous or deadly weapon
- Contributing to the delinquency of a minor
- Gross indecency
- Manslaughter: (a) Voluntary (b) Involuntary
- Possession of child pornography
The Foreign Affairs Manual says the person must have been convicted of the crime(s) or have admitted under oath to the commission of the crime, while being questioned by an officer of the US Dept of Foreign Affairs. But interestingly, the question I have to answer whenever I make my travel application is whether I had ever been arrested or convicted for an offense or crime involving moral turpitude. I wonder how many people admit to having been arrested for such a crime, when they have not been convicted. Not many, I would guess!
But more to the point, what if the USA applied the same standard of strictness to its own citizens as it does to aliens who want to visit the USA? It would have to boot many of its citizens off into the ocean. Can you imagine? All the people guilty of moral turpitude would be removed and what an improvement that would make to American society! (or to any society, for that matter . . . )
And can you imagine a society which contained not one person who was guilty of moral turpitude in the eyes of the omniscient God of the universe? A culture where no such people existed except those who had been set free from the penalty of their sin by the blood of Christ and had been given new hearts and new life so they did not commit moral turpitude any more. Oh, come quickly, Lord Jesus! And repent, sinner, before it’s too late!