Immigration Status And Criminal Convictions: What You Should Know


If you aren't a U.S. citizen, a criminal conviction could potentially have an unexpected outcome: deportation. However, it may be possible to get the court to vacate your conviction or grant you a waiver so that you're able to remain in the country. Here are some things you should know.

Almost any crime could be cause for deportation.

Specific state and federal laws make certain crimes an automatic cause for deportation. It may not surprise you to learn that things like murder, drug trafficking, and rape will get you deported. However, there's a concept in immigration law called "crimes of moral turpitude" which is often vaguely and broadly defined. That phrase encompasses roughly any crime that the courts consider to be immoral or vile. Almost any crime can be put under that umbrella, given the right set of circumstances (or a judge).

That means that you can end up being deported for things like simple drug possession, involuntary manslaughter after a car accident, tax evasion, or a conviction for domestic violence after a fight with your spouse turns violent.

You may have accepted a plea without understanding the consequences.

If you accepted a plea deal in order to avoid a trial and lessen the charges or your sentence, you may have done so without realizing the effect it might have on your immigration status. Immigration is a complex legal arena, and your criminal defense attorney may not have been aware of the fact that you could end up deported if you took a fairly minor plea. If you weren't advised of the possibility that you could be deported before you took the plea, you may be able to get the court to vacate your conviction.

You may also be able to get the court to vacate your conviction if a language barrier prevented you from fully understanding the consequences of your actions and you weren't provided with an interpreter.

It might be possible to get a waiver for certain crimes.

If your crime was a relatively minor crime that falls under the definition of moral turpitude and occurred more than 15 years ago, you may be able to file for a waiver under section 212(h) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). The waiver will permit you to avoid deportation.

You can also ask for a waiver under this section if you can prove that a close relative who is a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident is dependent upon you in some way and would suffer extreme hardship if you were deported. For example, if you are the primary caretaker of your U.S. born children, who are citizens, you could easily make a case that they would suffer if you are deported.

Keep in mind, however, that only immigrants who have their Permanent Resident Card (also known as "green" cards) are eligible for a waiver under this section of the INA.

The ideal time to talk with an immigration attorney is right after your arrest and well before you are convicted or take a plea. Your criminal defense attorney and immigration attorney can work together to help you understand your legal options and the long-term consequences before you decide whether to fight a charge in court or accept a plea bargain. If it's too late for that, however, contact an immigration attorney right away to see if you have other options and can get the conviction vacated or ask for a waiver. The time you have to do so is often very limited, so you don't want to delay.

To consult with an immigration attorney, contact a law firm such as Tesoroni & Leroy.


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