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.
Crimes of Moral Turpitude and Aggravated Felonies
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....