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Can Criminal Convictions Affect My Immigration Status?

 Posted on May 15, 2017 in Criminal Defense

Chicago criminal defense attorneyThe Migration Policy Institute (MPI) estimates that approximately 28 percent of the current U.S. population is comprised of immigrants, both with and without documentation. Many people operate under the misunderstanding that once immigration status is achieved, it cannot be taken away. Thus, it may come as an unpleasant surprise to discover that this is not the case.  It is possible to lose one’s legal immigration status if convicted of specific crimes, or if convicted of crimes that speak to a negative character trait such as deceit. While most criminal lawyers are not well versed in immigration law, having one who understands the interplay between the two disciplines can mean the literal difference between life and death, in extreme cases.

Crimes That Establish Removability

While in theory, any crime may be enough for an immigrant to get the attention of Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), there are two specific classes of offenses that render the perpetrator removable in most cases. Aggravated felonies and crimes of moral turpitude both essentially present an immigrant as unable to prove good moral character, which is a requirement for both lawful permanent resident status and citizenship. These crimes also render the person inadmissible because, with such an offense on their record, they would not have been granted a visa in the first place. If one is inadmissible, he or she will usually be issued an Order of Removal.

Over the years, the definitions of both ‘aggravated felony’ and ‘crime of moral turpitude’ have expanded significantly, to a point where a wide range of crimes are now considered aggravated felonies - some classified as misdemeanors under state law. The Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) attempts to define aggravated felonies, but the resulting provision is so extensive that many find it difficult to understand. Crimes of moral turpitude are even more loosely defined, but generally, they can be described as crimes that involve the exhibition of fraud or deceit. With a bit of imagination, almost any crime could fit this bill. It is not a stretch to assume that most crimes have the possibility to trigger inadmissibility if one is convicted.

The Role of the Criminal Lawyer

The reason that any of this may be relevant to the criminal defendant and their attorney is because very often, criminal lawyers will forge plea agreements on behalf of their clients, especially if their clients urge them to do so. However, due to a lack of knowledge on the subject, the attorney may enter a plea to an offense that renders their client removable, even if jail time can be avoided. Conversely, a client will direct an attorney to take a plea to an offense that makes him or her removable, and the attorney might not advise the client of the ramifications of that decision.

Having a knowledgeable attorney who is able to anticipate which offenses may make a client removable is imperative, simply because removal is all but inevitable if accepted as a consequence to a plea. The INA was modified in 1952, tightening the timeframe and procedures for removal of those deemed inadmissible or deportable, and as such, it is nearly impossible to avert such consequences once they are in motion. It can even affect the possibility of any further travel to the United States in the future, as voluntary departure is usually treated differently than deportation.

A Knowledgeable Criminal Lawyer Can Help

The consequences of taking a bad plea can last years or even decades. If you ensure that your criminal lawyer is well versed in immigration consequences, however, you may be able to avoid many issues from the beginning. The dedicated Chicago criminal defense attorneys at Luisi Legal Group will do everything possible to ensure that your case is handled in the way it should be. Contact us today to set up an initial consultation.





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