If you are an immigrant in the United States, even if you have legal status, you must be especially careful never to be associated with crime or even the smallest mistake may be enough to render you deportable. As such, if you find yourself in criminal court or charged with an offense, it is critical to find an attorney to represent you who understands both criminal law and immigration. If your attorney is not well versed in how the two interplay, you may find yourself plea-bargained into a sentence that will render you deportable even though that may be exactly what you seek to avoid.
U.S. immigration law distinguishes two types of criminal convictions as being relevant for immigration purposes. Crimes of moral turpitude (CIMTs) are offenses that are perceived to have an element of fraud or dishonesty, such as theft, but violent crimes like murder will also count because they are so far outside the realm of ‘acceptable’ moral conduct. It can be difficult to assess whether your offense is a CIMT, however, because the term is not explicitly defined. It has been clarified through past cases, but there is a healthy amount of debate over whether many crimes do in fact count as CIMTs.
Similar issues surround the other type of crime that can be problematic, known as an aggravated felony (AF) - though, paradoxically, a crime need not be ‘aggravated’ or even a felony under criminal law in order for it to count as an AF under immigration law. The classification was created in 1988 and at the time, only encompassed a few offenses, but with the passage of the Illegal Immigration Reform & Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA), the category was expanded significantly. A violent crime is almost always guaranteed to be an AF, but if a person commits a crime that does not involve any violence, it can be hard to say.
Most attorneys choose to focus on one or two aspects of the law, so as to ensure that they are not spread too thinly and can thus give their clients the best possible representation. However, when one of those disciplines is criminal law, it is critical that an attorney has at least a passing familiarity with the potential immigration consequences for convictions and plea-bargains, lest they wind up getting their clients into serious hot water. Criminal law and immigration law are substantially different, so much so that sometimes what looks like a win on criminal charges can actively ruin a client’s life.
For example, a criminal law attorney may seek to plea-bargain a charge down to court supervision. However, the Supreme Court in Padilla v. Kentucky (2010) states that any guilty plea can be grounds for deportation - even, in theory, pleading to something that is not a CIMT or AF - and for immigration purposes, court supervision is characterized as a conviction. If you are unaware of this issue, you could be placed in removal proceedings when you are unaware that any problem might exist.
When you are choosing an immigration attorney, it is imperative that you make sure you find one who understands the complex interplay between legal jurisdictions in the United States. The dedicated Chicago immigration lawyers at Mevorah Law Offices LLC are experienced in these sorts of cases and have knowledge of criminal law so that possible issues can hopefully be avoided. Contact our offices today for a free consultation by calling 630-932-9100.
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