Friday, December 3, 2010

Connection Between Immigration and Criminal Law

Immigration and criminal law are two completely separate areas of law that are occasionally intertwined.  Unfortunately for many immigrants, the potential immigration implications of a criminal conviction are often overlooked.  A seemingly minor criminal offense can have devastating immigration implications.  As a result, it is extremely important to be aware of any immigration implications when pleading to a criminal matter, or facing potential criminal penalties.  This article will discuss the immigration implications that stem from common criminal issues.

Domestic Violence
Domestic violence crimes can be grounds for being removed from the United States if they are classified as crimes of violence.  Under some states’ criminal law, for a domestic violence crime to be considered a crime of violence the defendant must intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly cause bodily injury to another in the form of physical pain, illness, or any impairment of physical condition. 
Domestic violence offenses are often committed against a spouse, an individual with whom the person shares a child, an individual who is living with or has lived with the person as a spouse, or a person who is similar to a spouse.  Domestic violence crimes can also qualify as crimes involving moral turpitude where the crime involves bodily injury to one’s spouse or family member. 

Drug Offense
Almost any drug related conviction will render an alien inadmissible to the United States.  The only exception is a single offense of simple possession of 30 grams or less of marijuana for one’s own personal use.  Even if the controlled substance violation is a low-level misdemeanor, an alien can still be exposed to severe immigration implications.  Federal courts have held that two convictions of simple possession of marijuana will qualify as an aggravated felony subjecting an alien to deportation. 

Unless classified as a crime of violence, simple assault and battery usually does not qualify as a crime involving moral turpitude or an aggravated felony.  However, aggravated assault and battery can be classified as a crime involving moral turpitude or an aggravated felony.  To be an aggravated assault or battery case, typically the defendant would have to cause serious bodily injury on the victim or use or exhibit a deadly weapon during the commission of the crime.  A conviction for an aggravated assault or battery may render an alien inadmissible.  
Theft crimes are very common, but can be potentially disastrous to one’s immigration status depending on the classification of the theft offense.  Theft crimes involve the criminal intent to deprive the owner of their property and therefore are considered to involve moral turpitude.  Under certain states’ law, a theft crime involving less than $50 of stolen property is considered a Class C misdemeanor.  A theft crime involving stolen property worth less than $500 but more than $50 is considered a Class B misdemeanor for which the terms of punishment can be as much as 180 days in jail.  A theft crime involving stolen property of more than $500 but less than $1,500 qualifies as a Class A misdemeanor, invoking a maximum prison sentences of one year.
Being convicted for a theft offense where the term of imprisonment is at least 1 year qualifies as an aggravated felony under immigration law.  As a result, if an alien is convicted of Class A misdemeanor theft, they could be rendered inadmissible as a result of committing an aggravated felony or a crime involving moral turpitude. 
A single alcohol related offense will typically not trigger serious immigration implications.  However, a pattern of alcohol related crimes can make an alien inadmissible for health related grounds.  For immigration purposes, a conviction for driving while under the influence of alcohol (DWI) can be especially significant if one is a green card holder attempting to apply for naturalization.
An essential requirement for becoming a naturalized citizen is establishing good moral character during the preceding five years prior to applying for citizenship.  A single DWI conviction during that period could prevent an alien from gaining citizenship, and multiple DWI convictions during the five year statutory period would almost certainly prevent an alien from establishing the good moral character requirements necessary to naturalize.
While criminal and immigration law are two unique areas of law, it is not uncommon for them to occasionally merge.  Therefore, when facing the prospects of an impending criminal matter while your immigration status is temporary, not secure, or even if you’re a green card holder and plan to travel outside of the US, it is critically important to be aware of the potential immigration implications.
Rehan Alimohammad is an Attorney and CPA.  Our office handles all immigration law issues and tax law. Please visit our website at, or call our offices at (281) 340-2074 or (800) 814)-3920.

Disclaimer:  This article is not meant as specific advice regarding a person’s individual case.  An attorney should be consulted.  This article does not create an Attorney-Client relationship.  

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