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Some Pro Athletes Face More Than Discipline From Domestic Violence Allegations

What do Jose Reyes, Yasiel Puig, Aroldis Chapman, and Slava Voynov have in common? Hint: there are three answers, not just one.

Yes, they are all professional athletes. Less obvious, each of them is a foreign national—that is, a resident of the U.S. who is not a citizen. And possibly even more obscure, each of them was accused of domestic violence (DV) in the last year or two.

Much of the commentary surrounding these athletes and the DV allegations against them focused on the discipline that could be expected from Major League Baseball (or, in Voynov’s case, the National Hockey League). Very little—again except in Voynov’s case—considered the immigration implications of their behavior.

A little background: non-citizens who wish to come to the U.S. must satisfy specific eligibility criteria in one of the immigrant categories or a nonimmigrant classification. But even then, admission can still be denied if any grounds for “inadmissibility” apply. And once admitted, non-citizens can be forced to leave the U.S. if any grounds for “removal” apply. Certain criminal conduct is among the grounds for inadmissibility and removal.

Reyes, Puig, Chapman, and Voynov all cleared admissibility hurdles and have been living in the U.S. (and playing pro sports) for some time. But that could change: the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) provides for the removal of non-citizens convicted of “a crime of domestic violence,” broadly defined as a crime of violence against a spouse, former spouse, person who was or is cohabitating “as a spouse,” or similarly situated individuals. See INA § 237(a)(2)(E)(i), 8 U.S.C. § 1227(a)(2)(E)(i). In fact, the INA states that such aliens “shall” be removed, though U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (or “ICE,” a division of the Department of Homeland Security) has discretion on what removal cases to bring before the Immigration Courts (which are run by the Department of Justice).

Voynov’s case is a cautionary tale. In late 2014, he was accused of choking, kicking, and punching his wife and subsequently was arrested on suspicion of DV. He was charged with one felony count of corporal injury to a spouse with great bodily injury. He initially pleaded not guilty; later, he changed direction, pleading no contest to a reduced misdemeanor charge for which he was sentenced to 90 days in jail. One wonders whether Voynov received competent advice on the consequences of his plea: after he was released from jail, ICE immediately took him into custody, commenced removal proceedings against him, and held him without bond. Rather than face an immigration hearing, though, Voynov decided to voluntarily depart the U.S. for his home country of Russia.

Criminal proceedings have not yet been commenced against Reyes, Puig, or Chapman. But if they are, and if they result in conviction, then league discipline may be the least of these athletes’ worries.