Understanding How Criminal Defense and Immigration Law Intersect
When a citizen of the United States is convicted of a crime, they can face jailtime, fines, probation, and other penalties. When a noncitizen is found guilty of an offense, their status and future in the country are immediately put into jeopardy in addition to any criminal penalties. This intersection between criminal law and immigration law is called “crimmigration,” a legal concept that has grown more prominent in recent years.
In many situations, a noncitizen facing a criminal charge can lead to removal proceedings and deportation. Even if removal is avoided, having a criminal record can endanger current and future immigration efforts, including applying for lawful permanent residency and citizenship. Below, we cover some of the basics of crimmigration and what impacted noncitizens can do to avoid or reduce its negative consequences.
Why Criminal Charges Can Imperil Immigration Status
In the past, minor, nonviolent criminal charges rarely had an impact on immigration proceedings or statuses. Beginning in the 1980s, this began to change, with United States government agencies leveraging these offenses to reduce overall immigration as a result of federal priorities. As of 2018, United States Immigration Customs and Enforcement (ICE) has made it a matter of public policy, explaining they will pursue removal proceedings for any immigrant convicted of a criminal offense or has been charged with an offense that has yet to be resolved.
It is important to understand how pivotal a criminal record is to United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) deliberations involving an immigration candidate. One of the conditions of lawful permanent residency is that the candidate does not pose a security risk to the public or the country’s interests. An applicant must also be of “good moral character.”
Both of these requirements are somewhat vague and allow for significant discretion in their interpretation. Crimmigration posits that any immigrant who engages in a crime – no matter how big or small – violates either the public security tenet or the good moral character rule. This means that, in many situations, they become subject to removal proceedings and deportation.
Criminal Offenses That Can Lead to Deportation
Being convicted of a serious crime of moral turpitude has been characteristically grounds for removal, as they automatically and explicitly violate the “good moral character” requirement. Still, the category of “moral turpitude” is somewhat vague, and it is up to the court to decide if an offense qualifies.
Historically, the following offenses are considered crimes of moral turpitude:
- Spousal abuse
- Child abuse
- Robbery or theft
- Aggravated assault
It is fair to say that being convicted of any violent crime will likely result in an immigrant’s being targeted for removal. Aggravated felonies, serious drug crimes, and firearm crimes can also result in the offender being placed in removal proceedings.
In these instances, U.S. immigration authorities will determine whether to pursue deportation. Note that immigrants with lawful permanent residency – that is, individuals holding green cards – can still be removed from the country despite their status as a result of convictions for these types of serious crimes.
As a result of enhanced crimmigration policies and priorities, more minor crimes can now also result in immigrants being targeted for removal proceedings. This includes crimes outside of the categories of moral turpitude and aggravated felonies.
Smaller criminal offenses that can lead to removal proceedings under crimmigration policies include:
- Petty theft
- Public intoxication
- Drug possession
- Academic fraud
- Domestic violence offenses
This means that one relatively insignificant mistake could place an immigrant’s entire life in the United States in active jeopardy. If they are targeted for deportation, they could be separated from their family, lose their job, and become inadmissible to reenter the country in the future.
Why Immigrants Accused of Crimes Need a Skilled Crimmigration Attorney
It is no longer enough for a noncitizen to simply have a qualified criminal defense lawyer. This type of legal representation may be able to reduce the negative consequences of criminal charges, but if they are not also familiar with immigration law, they could unintentionally place their client in a vulnerable position. For example, taking a plea deal that admits any level of culpability could become sufficient grounds for removal, even for a minor crime.
To protect their future in the United States, noncitizens will need the legal services of an attorney well-versed in both criminal defense and immigration law. Lawyers with this breadth of knowledge will be able to anticipate potential immigration consequences of decisions made when handling the criminal defense element of the case. Should it become necessary, they will be able to swiftly assist you in defending against removal.
Our lawyer at Weldon Law Group, PLLC has over 12 years of experience assisting clients with both immigration and criminal defense. Attorney Ian Weldon is a bilingual trial attorney who is familiar with how immigration law and criminal matters intersect. Our team is prepared to assist noncitizens who have been charged with any type of criminal offense. No matter the severity or complexity of the situation, we can work to both vigorously defend you while protecting you from removal proceedings. Should you become targeted, we are familiar with how to pursue effective relief against deportation efforts and will do everything possible to keep you in the United States.
Get the legal assistance you need with crimmigration matters by calling (904) 712-2556 or contacting us online. We offer free initial case evaluations.