If you are an immigrant in the United States, you have likely heard of an aggravated felony, or are at least aware that committing a crime described as an aggravated felony can have serious immigration consequences. However, depending on your circumstances, you may not have heard of crimes of moral turpitude (CMTs). Until you obtain citizenship, if you so desire, committing a CMT can still have serious consequences for your immigration status.
Definitions and History
The designation of crimes of moral turpitude appeared in U.S. immigration law for the first time in the late 19th century, where it was defined as a crime involving conduct that is inherently dishonest or otherwise wrong; a crime that involves malice (‘malum in se’) rather than being wrong simply because there is a law against it (‘malum prohibitum’). For example, pedestrians crossing the street outside the confines of a crosswalk is not an inherently wrong act, but rather it is unlawful (‘malum prohibitum’). Conversely, deliberately striking a pedestrian with your automobile is inherently wrong and immoral (‘malum in se,’ which would qualify as a crime involving moral turpitude).
For something that has an important place in U.S. immigration law, one might think that a hard and fast definition would exist, but it does not. CMTs are largely defined by previous jurisprudence and by the individual judge or body deciding the question of the immigrant’s deportability. This subjectivity can be, as one might imagine, problematic, as the list of crimes designated CMTs continues to grow. Offenses included are:
What Does it Mean for Me?
Current U.S. immigration law holds that if an immigrant visa or green card holder (lawful permanent residence) commits a crime of moral turpitude within the first five years of their U.S. presence, or if they ever commit two CMTs that are not part of the same scheme, they are deportable (or inadmissible, if they were admitted without inspection).
It is possible, with some crimes, to obtain a waiver of inadmissibility (though not necessarily deportability). A waiver is granted at officials’ discretion, usually to those who can show either a pattern of rehabilitation or an extreme and unusual hardship if they are deported. There is also one other exception to the law, available to those whose offenses are comparatively minor (though still possibly a CMT). Referred to as the “petty offense exception,” it applies to a non-citizen who has committed only one CMT. If he or she can prove that the crime itself carries a sentence of no more than one year, and that he or she personally was not sentenced to serve more than six months, the exception will apply.
Seek Experienced Assistance
Even if a crime is a misdemeanor, it may be a CMT for immigration purposes. If you are not sure, or if you know you need help, consulting an immigration professional may be a lifesaver. The dedicated DuPage County deportation defense attorneys at Mevorah Law Offices LLC will help you understand the law and what you have versus what you lack. We will answer as many questions as possible to help you get to a better situation. Contact us today at 630-932-9100 to schedule an appointment.
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