Being brought up on criminal charges is always frightening and disconcerting. For non-citizen defendants, there is an added dimension to fear. Depending on the nature of the crime committed, it can sometimes be used as a tool for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to deport you. If you have committed a crime, it is imperative that you understand the nature of the charges against you and be aware as to whether it could result in immigration consequences.
Crimes of Moral Turpitude
Many foreign nationals living in the U.S. have had run-ins with law enforcement, though the end results can be anything from a warning to a murder conviction. A significant portion of the crimes that have been alleged against them fall under a category USCIS refers to as crimes of moral turpitude (CIMTs). If you commit a crime of moral turpitude within two years of your admission to the U.S., or more than one in a ‘single scheme’ within five years of admission, it is grounds for deportation.
The difficulty is that when one is being charged with a crime, the phrase ‘crime of moral turpitude’ will never appear in a criminal court document. It is simply a category designation used by USCIS and can be difficult to determine when or if you are being charged with a CIMT. There has been a great deal of legal wrangling around the question of whether intent should be relevant— that is, whether it should matter if the person on trial did not intend to commit a CIMT. However, since an opinion issued by then-Attorney General Michael Mukasey in 2015, the only thing that matters is the language of the relevant statute detailing the crime committed.
By comparison with CIMTs, a group of crimes that immigration officials call aggravated felonies are much more straightforward and much more difficult to plead out of in criminal court. While it may seem counterintuitive, a crime which is aggravated felony under immigration law does not need to be a felony or be aggravated under criminal law. Like with CIMTs, this can lead to severe confusion and even mistakes being made on the parts of criminal lawyers—for example, accepting a plea-bargain for their client thinking they are doing the right thing, when in reality it can lead to their client being deported because they have pled to an aggravated felony.
If you or a loved one have been charged with a crime, it is imperative that you are able to find out exactly what you are being charged with, so you can be well aware of what you might face in terms of both immigration and criminal law. Upon the category’s creation in 1988, “aggravated felony” only referred to murder, sexual assault and a handful of other crimes. But ever since then, Congress has added offenses to the list each year, and as of this writing has never removed a single one. The potential for serious error exists unless you are careful.
Seek Experienced Legal Help
The best way to avoid any immigration consequences related to criminal convictions is to avoid committing crimes. However, if you need help in immigration court, the passionate Chicago deportation defense attorneys at Mevorah Law Offices LLC are happy to sit down with you and try to work out the best possible strategy going forward. Call us today to set up a free consultation.
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