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Jun 30, 2024

Immigration Consequences of Criminal Offenses: Know Your Rights

Only a small minority of non-citizens present in the United States are in constant danger.

Immigration Consequences of Criminal Offenses: Know Your Rights

Only a small minority of non-citizens present in the United States are in constant danger of deportation, at least in theory. The government has the right to begin deportation proceedings against you at any time if your visa has expired or if you entered the United States as an undocumented immigrant and have not begun the process of applying for legal immigration status. In practice, even people in these categories have some legal remedies available to postpone or prevent deportation. Another group of immigrants who are in danger of deportation is those who have been convicted of a crime while in the United States.  Not every conviction or guilty plea in criminal court results in an automatic deportation. The consequences of a criminal conviction for immigrants depend on their visa category and on the offense of which they were convicted.  If you are a green card holder, international student, or other immigrant and you are facing criminal charges, contact a Tempe immigration lawyer.

Everyone Is Innocent Until Proven Guilty, Regardless of Immigration Status

Adverse actions related to your immigration status, up to and including deportation proceedings, only apply if you get convicted of a crime. A conviction can only happen if you plead guilty to a crime or all 12 jurors find you guilty at trial. Until then, you are innocent until proven guilty.  The same rights apply to all defendants in criminal cases, regardless of immigration status. This includes not only the presumption of innocence but also the right to representation by a criminal defense lawyer and the right to avoid self-incrimination.  If you cannot afford to hire a lawyer, the public defender’s office will assign a lawyer to represent you, whether you are a U.S. citizen, permanent resident, holder of an immigrant or nonimmigrant visa, or undocumented foreign national.

The vast majority of defendants in criminal cases, regardless of their immigration status, plead guilty, because the penalties are usually less if you plead guilty to a crime, as opposed to being convicted of the same offense at trial. You should consult your immigration lawyer and your criminal defense lawyer to see whether the best strategy is to fight your charges or to plead guilty and then focus on avoiding deportation despite your conviction.

Moral Turpitude and Other Ambiguous Legal Terms

Federal immigration law determines which crimes are grounds for deportation by classifying crimes into several categories. These categories are ambiguous and confusing; in fact, they sound like they were written by people who have never read the criminal codes of any of the 50 states.  Petty offenses are not grounds for deportation. The definition of “petty offense,” insofar as it is possible to pin one down, overlaps somewhat, but not entirely, with “misdemeanor.” Petty offenses are crimes like shoplifting or DUI when your driver’s license is valid and you do not cause an accident.

Aggravated felonies are the most serious crimes, and it is difficult to avoid deportation proceedings if you get convicted of one. Examples of aggravated felonies include murder, drug trafficking, rape, and assault with a deadly weapon. They are the kinds of crimes punishable by a decades-long prison sentence.

Crimes of moral turpitude are also grounds for deportation, but they are notoriously hard to define. This category encompasses aggravated felonies, plus almost anything else that involves malice or violence. The list of crimes of moral turpitude keeps growing, so it now includes simple assault and perjury, among many other “it could be worse” crimes. Your lawyer may be able to persuade the court that your alleged crime is not a crime of moral turpitude.

Waivers for Avoiding Deportation After a Conviction

Even if it is clear that your charges are for a crime of moral turpitude and that you are guilty of it, you may be able to get an immigration waiver that enables you to avoid deportation. You may be eligible for a waiver under the Violence Against Women’s Act if you are a survivor of domestic violence. You might also be eligible for a waiver if you are likely to be subject to torture upon return to your country because you are a political dissident or a member of a persecuted minority group.

Your Immigration Status Matters

Another way to get a waiver is to show that your illegal action was an anomaly and that you are ordinarily a law-abiding person. You can convincingly make this argument if you have resided in the United States for more than five years, and this is the only crime you have committed. It is easier to get this type of waiver if you have a green card.

Contact Singular Law Group About Immigration Cases

An immigration attorney can help you avoid deportation if you are facing criminal charges.  Contact Singular Law Group PLLC in Tempe, Arizona to set up a consultation.

Sources

What Crimes Can an Immigrant Get Deported for? | Nolo

How Does a Felony Affect Immigration Status? – FindLaw

A Tempe immigration lawyer can help you avoid removal proceedings if you are being accused of a crime.

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