Immigration Consequences of a Criminal Conviction

Immigration Consequences of a Criminal ConvictionImmigration laws are complicated. The consequences of a criminal conviction on immigrants depend on their immigration status, the timing of the conviction, and the crime.

But in many cases, a conviction for many federal crimes and some state crimes will render you removable from the U.S. After removal, your criminal conviction might prevent your lawful readmission into the U.S. for several years or even the rest of your life. 

Even if your offense does not result in removal, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) can use your conviction to deny your application for permanent residency.

Here are some of the immigration consequences of a criminal conviction and how a criminal defense attorney might help you avoid them.

Removal of Immigrants

DHS can remove immigrants who violate U.S. immigration laws. Removal happens for two reasons:

Deportable Immigrants

DHS can remove immigrants that violate U.S. immigration laws after their admission into the U.S. This includes non-U.S. citizens convicted of certain criminal offenses while in the U.S.

Inadmissible Immigrants

DHS can also remove immigrants that were inadmissible at the time of entry. 

Some grounds for removal for inadmissibility include:

  • Illegal entry into the U.S.
  • Criminal conviction for certain offenses in another country
  • Criminal conviction for certain offenses in the U.S. for which you were previously deported

Some of these grounds will bar your reentry into the U.S. But some will allow you to return after a certain amount of time has passed.

Criminal Charges that Jeopardize Immigrants

The statute that governs deportation and admission lists specific offenses for which the government can deport you. The statute divides offenses into a few different categories, including:

Crimes Involving Moral Turpitude

Crimes involving moral turpitude (CIMT) cover a broad variety of offenses that involve the willful commission of an act with reckless, evil, or malicious intent. To qualify as a CIMT, a crime must involve a sentence of at least one year in jail. DHS can deport you any time a judge sentences you to at least one year, even if the jail releases you early.

To deport you, the conviction for a CIMT must happen within five years after admission if you hold a visa and ten years after admission if you hold a green card. After these periods end, DHS cannot use a conviction for a CIMT to deport you.

Some crimes that may fall into this category include:

Bear in mind that the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (CIS) reviews convictions on a case-by-case basis. It can find that your conviction falls within this category if it decides the California criminal statute that you violated involves the requisite criminal intent and moral reprehensibility.

Multiple Criminal Convictions

If you have two or more convictions for a CIMT arising from different schemes or incidents, DHS can deport you.

Aggravated Felony

DHS can deport you after a conviction for an aggravated felony. Aggravated felonies listed in U.S. immigration statutes include:

  • Murder
  • Human trafficking
  • Drug trafficking
  • Arms trafficking
  • Money laundering over $100,000
  • Firearms offenses
  • Crimes of violence, subject to a sentence of five years or longer
  • Theft offenses, subject to a sentence of five years or longer
  • Kidnapping for ransom
  • Possession, production, or distribution of child pornography
  • Racketeering, subject to a sentence of five years or longer
  • Operating a prostitution business
  • Espionage
  • Crimes involving fraud or deception over $200,000
  • Document fraud, subject to a sentence of five years or longer
  • Failing to appear for a sentence of 15 years or longer

DHS can deport you after a conviction for an aggravated felony at any time during your residence in the U.S. This means you could face deportation decades after receiving your green card if a court convicts you of any of these offenses.

Drug Crimes

DHS can deport you for a conviction of any drug crime except possession of 30 grams or less of marijuana for personal use. DHS can also deport you for having a drug addiction.

Domestic Crimes

DHS can deport you after a conviction for domestic crimes. The offenses that fall into this category include:

  • Domestic violence
  • Stalking a spouse, roommate, domestic partner, or co-parent
  • Child abuse
  • Child neglect
  • Child abandonment

You can also face deportation after a conviction for violating a protective order issued in a domestic violence case.

Immigration Consequences for a Conviction

For many of these offenses, the immigration consequences are swift and certain. For example, an immigration judge will deport you immediately after your release from prison for murder.

Other offenses may fall into a gray area. For example, you could present evidence at an immigration hearing that a conviction for criminal mischief should not fall into a crime of violence or CIMT if you did not intend to damage the property or mistook the property for your own.

A skilled legal professional can help you to understand the likelihood of avoiding deportation in your specific case.

How a Criminal Defense Attorney Can Help to Minimize Immigration Consequences

The nature of your conviction will determine whether you face deportation or not. As you discuss your case with your criminal defense lawyer, make sure you raise the issue of deportation. If the lawyer knows about your immigration status, they can try to help you avoid removal.

To avoid deportation for a crime of violence, your lawyer might try to work out a plea deal in which you plead guilty to a crime that does not involve actual or threatened violence. To avoid deportation for a CIMT, your lawyer can work for a plea bargain in which you get sentenced to less than a year in jail.

Your lawyer can also try to remove the risk of conviction altogether by helping you enter a pretrial diversion program. In a diversion program, the court will suspend your case while you attend treatment. After you complete treatment, the court will dismiss the charges. As a result, you will not have a conviction on your record.

If you’re worried about the risk of deportation after a criminal conviction, it’s important to seek out a qualified legal representative. If you’re an immigrant and have been charged with crimes, contact The Rodriguez Law Group for a free case evaluation. We’ll help you determine your next legal steps.