Consequence of Criminal Conduct for Non-Citizens

by Tudor Mihai Neagu on Oct. 04, 2018


Summary: Non-citizens who come into contact with the criminal justice system may face serious immigration consequences, particularly in recent years.

If you are in the United States, but you are not a citizen, deportation is always a possibility, unfortunately.  That is especially true if you come into contact with the criminal justice system.  Even if you get arrested and released a day later, you have to talk about that on immigration forms.  US citizens are not usually asked to talk about arrests unless they lead to convictions.  So as usual, everything is stricter for immigrants. 

For green card holders, my advice is simple: become a citizen as soon as you become eligible, because that’s the only way to be guaranteed protection from deportation.  Some of the older folks listening who are afraid of the citizenship exam, you should know that there are exemptions from the test.  If you’re over 50 and had your green card for a long time, you may be able to take a simplified version of the test. 

For those who are not eligible to become citizens, my advice is even simpler: don’t get arrested, whatever you do.  Obviously.  But if you do get arrested, it is crucial that you don’t just have a criminal attorney, you must have a criminal and immigration attorney, or even better, an attorney who specializes in both criminal and immigration law.  Lucky for you, we have those here at our law firm. 

The interaction between criminal law and immigration law is immensely complicated, and it’s not really possible to give it any fair treatment in just a few minutes, but the main idea is this:  our immigration laws balance two things.  On the one side of the scale, the law considers what kind of crime you committed, how serious it is, and what the punishment is.  Obviously the more serious the crime, the more the scale tilts on the side of deportation.  On the other side of the scale, the law weighs your relationship with the United States.  Were you admitted legally?  Do you have a green card?  How long have you been here?  Do you have relatives here?  The more significant your relationship is with the United States, the more the scale will tip in the direction of forgiveness.  So for example, if you had a green card for ten years and you got caught speeding, you’ll probably be ok.  But if you snuck across the border yesterday and got caught speeding, you’re probably getting deported. 

Having said all that, there are some clear cut criminal convictions that will guarantee deportation regardless of your status in the United States, and they’re called aggravated felonies.  I’ll give you some examples (remember, aggravated felony in the immigration sense doesn’t mean the same thing as a felony in the criminal sense):

Murder, rape, sexual abuse of a minor, drug trafficking, arms trafficking, laundering money, crimes of violence in general, theft, burglary, child pornography, racketeering, kidnapping and ransom, prostitution, fraud and deceit offenses, alien smuggling, reentering the US after being deported, fugitives, perjury, terrorism, basically serious stuff.  These will guarantee that you get kicked out, no matter what your status is here other than citizen.  And remember, you’ll probably have to serve a long sentence in a US prison first, before you get deported.  And if you’re from China, they often will refuse to issue a passport to you if you were convicted of a serious crime in the United States, which leads to a different kind of problem that we’ll discuss another time. 

Remember, these are crimes that will guarantee deportation, but you can be deported for much less than that, and that is why I urge anyone here who is not a US citizen and gets arrested, to contact a criminal and immigration attorney. 

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