Written by attorney Irina Lust

The Impact of Criminal Convictions on Immigration Status

If you are undocumented and charged with a criminal offense, you must deal with unique challenges because convictions of many criminal offenses can severely impact your immigration status. Although many presume that only serious felonies impact one’s immigration status, even minor offenses or driving under the influence can adversely impact you if you are a non-citizen. If you are a lawful resident, a criminal conviction can still result in removal proceedings. If you are merely in the process of obtaining a Green Card, a criminal conviction can raise moral character issues and derail your application.

Three separate categories of criminal convictions can create a risk that you will be exposed to removal proceedings:

  • Aggravated felonies (i.e. serious felonies)
  • Criminal offenses involving violations of moral turpitude
  • Crimes listed in the Immigration and Nationality Act

When you are a non-citizen and charged with a crime, you must consider the potential immigration effects of any plea agreement. Any sentence of a year or more in prison constitutes an aggravated felony. If you are convicted of an aggravated felony, you may be exposed to removal from the U.S. and a permanent bar to re-entry into the U.S. If you are facing pending criminal charges you should make sure that you understand the potential immigration impact of possible plea agreements or criminal charges. Even a misdemeanor under New York law can constitute an aggravated felony depending on the sentence imposed.

Violent offenses are another form of aggravated felony which can adversely impact immigration benefits. The notion of what constitutes a violent crime is much broader than what most people understand this term to mean in everyday discussion. While crimes that you expect may constitute violent crimes like murder, spousal abuse may also qualify depending on the specific circumstances.

Offenses of moral turpitude are another type of criminal conviction that can damage your immigration status. This type of offense generally includes crimes that involve dishonesty or acts that are inherently bad acts rather than mere regulatory offenses. Examples of crimes of moral turpitude may include fraud, theft and intentional harm to others, but there is no comprehensive list of all applicable offenses that constitute crimes of moral turpitude.

If you are charged with a crime or have a criminal record, the process of obtaining or maintaining legal immigration status can be complicated. I recommend you consult with an experienced immigration lawyer to go over your particular situation.

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