immigration consequences
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A criminal conviction can have severe consequences for non-citizens residing in the United States. Immigration law provides grounds to deport lawful permanent residents and remove or deny admission to non-citizens based on certain criminal offenses. The immigration consequences of a criminal conviction depend on factors like the type and severity of the crime, as well as the non-citizen’s immigration status.

Crimes Involving Moral Turpitude

Crimes involving moral turpitude (CIMTs) are crimes that involve dishonesty, fraud, or immoral behavior. Examples include theft, fraud, perjury, and sexual abuse crimes. A CIMT can render a non-citizen inadmissible to the U.S. or deportable. The consequences vary based on whether the crime was a felony or misdemeanor, the sentence imposed, and the non-citizen’s immigration status.

For instance, a lawful permanent resident convicted of a CIMT within five years of admission will generally be found inadmissible upon re-entry to the U.S. and can be placed in removal proceedings. Meanwhile, an undocumented immigrant convicted of a CIMT may be barred from adjusting status to obtain a green card if the crime was committed within five years of applying for the green card.

Aggravated Felonies

An “aggravated felony” is a specific category under immigration law that covers serious crimes like murder, rape, trafficking, and theft/burglary offenses where a one year sentence was imposed. An aggravated felony conviction leads to the harshest immigration consequences.

Lawful permanent residents convicted of an aggravated felony are almost always deportable and permanently inadmissible. There are no waivers available to avoid removal from the U.S. Other non-citizens convicted of an aggravated felony are similarly barred from admission and unable to obtain immigration visas or benefits.

Multiple Criminal Convictions

Having multiple criminal convictions on your record, even if they are not aggravated felonies or CIMTs, can still carry immigration consequences. For instance, lawful permanent residents convicted of two or more CIMTs anytime after admission are deportable, regardless of the sentence imposed. The offenses can be tried separately, but they cannot arise out of a “single scheme of misconduct.”

Controlled Substance Offenses

Criminal offenses relating to controlled substances like illegal drugs or prescription medications often lead to immigration problems. A conviction or admission to committing acts relating to a controlled substance violation renders a non-citizen inadmissible. Certain substance abuse crimes may qualify as CIMTs or aggravated felonies as well.

However, simple possession of marijuana for personal use in small amounts may not have immigration consequences, except for issues obtaining citizenship. Trafficking controlled substances or multiple drug convictions present bigger immigration risks.

Firearms Offenses

Criminal convictions involving unlawful possession, sale, shipment, ownership or use of firearms often qualify as deportable aggravated felony crimes. Additionally, firearms convictions may qualify as crimes involving moral turpitude. Some exceptions apply for simple possession if the non-citizen had a valid hunting permit or license.

Domestic Violence, Stalking and Protective Order Violations

Convictions for domestic violence, violation of a protective order, stalking, and child abuse may make a non-citizen deportable and inadmissible. These acts likely qualify as crimes involving moral turpitude. If the offense involved non-consensual sexual acts, it likely constitutes an aggravated felony. There are limited waivers available for some domestic violence offenses by lawful permanent residents.

Avoiding Adverse Immigration Consequences

The immigration consequences of criminal convictions can be severe. Non-citizens should consult with an experienced immigration attorney before pleading guilty so they understand the exact risks. In some cases, an alternate plea or disposition may avoid negative consequences. For those already convicted, an attorney can advise on potential waivers or other relief that may be available. Proper legal advice is critical to minimize the immigration fallout from a criminal conviction.


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