Consequences of a Criminal Conviction on Immigration Status

If you’ve been accused, arrested, or charged with a crime in Michigan, you should immediately consult a top Michigan criminal attorney.

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The indirect immigration consequences of criminal activity are a complex area of law.

Anyone who is not a U.S. citizen may be deported or declared inadmissible for past criminal conduct. You may be removed from the United States if you are not a lawful permanent resident and are convicted of a removable offense. You will want to consult with a Michigan criminal attorney to discuss which offenses could result in potential removal from the United States, the immigration consequences of criminal convictions, and what can be done to minimize immigration-related consequences.

The criminal grounds of inadmissibility or deportability may apply to criminal convictions and criminal activity that did not result in a conviction. A conviction may include a plea of nolo contendere, mere admission to facts sufficient to support a finding of guilt, or any punishment, penalty, or restraint on liberty imposed by a judge. To render a non-citizen inadmissible or deportable, the conviction must be “final.”

Deportability v. Inadmissibility

The grounds of deportability differ from those of inadmissibility. Deportability requires that the non-citizen is convicted of the crime. There is an order by a judge or jury, a plea of guilt or nolo contendere, or the alien admitted to facts sufficient to warrant a finding of guilt. Such a finding also requires that some form of punishment be imposed. An experienced Michigan criminal attorney will be able to assist you with issues of either deportation or inadmissibility. A “conviction” for criminal record purposes differs from a “conviction” for immigration purposes. A defense lawyer’s skill and knowledge of the immigration consequences of criminal convictions can be essential in avoiding deportation or inadmissibility.

What is a conviction under immigration law? Is it different than under criminal law?

A “conviction” for immigration purposes is an admission or lack of denial (no contest plea) on the record of facts that constitute a crime. It does not matter under immigration law that a “conviction” was not entered on the defendant’s criminal history. A plea of guilty or no contest under advisement or delayed sentences is still a “conviction” under immigration law. Criminal convictions have the same effect for purposes of both inadmissibility and deportability. Certain crimes will always render a non-citizen deportable but may not render someone inadmissible. However, some drug trafficking offenses, prostitution crimes, crimes of moral turpitude, and others may render a non-citizen inadmissible but not make them deportable.

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What is a crime of moral turpitude?

Moral turpitude is one of the most complex concepts in immigration law. There is no clear definition of moral turpitude. However, many courts have attempted to create one, using phrases such as “an act of baseness,” “conduct that is considered contrary to community standards of justice, honesty or good morals,” “depravity,” or “vileness.” While there is no set definition, it is clear that the moral turpitude involved must be part of the essence of the offense. A crime involving moral turpitude need not have resulted in a conviction for it to render a person inadmissible. Admitting to an act with the elements of a crime involving moral turpitude is sufficient to bar entry.

Where an actual conviction occurred, the only issue is whether the offense was a crime involving moral turpitude, such as domestic violence or domestic assault. Where there is only an admission, several other steps are required. First, it must be clear that the crime the alien admitted to could have been criminally prosecuted in the place where it occurred. Second, the immigrant must fully understand the elements of the crime to which they have admitted. Third, while the immigrant needs to say that they are guilty of an offense, they do need to admit to all of the essential elements of the offense. Fourth, the admission must be voluntary. The immigration consequences of criminal convictions involving moral turpitude can be challenging to understand without an expert assisting you in court.

A Criminal Defense Lawyer can help a non-US Citizen.

Any non-U.S. Citizen may be deported or declared inadmissible for past criminal conduct. If you are not a lawful permanent resident and you are convicted of a removable offense, you will likely be removed, and the need to hire a criminal defense specialist is critical. For Lawful Permanent Residents, there is some hope even if you are convicted of a removable offense because the law provides for Cancellation of Removal under certain circumstances. The lawyers with LEWIS & DICKSTEIN, P.L.L.C. have vast experience in helping those individuals who are not United States citizens through the criminal defense process. We do whatever is necessary to achieve a resolution resulting in the least possible immigration consequences. Because the immigration consequences of criminal convictions can devastate a client and their family, we understand that everything possible must be done to get charges dismissed.

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Frequently Asked Questions Regarding the Immigration Consequences of a Criminal Conviction

Can I get a green card with a criminal conviction?

Whether you’re applying for a family, work, education, or marriage green card from inside the United States or from abroad, the Visa application will ask questions about your criminal history. As part of the visa/green card process, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will search for criminal convictions for both the U.S. citizen or green card holder sponsoring the applying individual and the person applying to receive a green card. According to U.S. immigration law, three types of criminal convictions will make you inadmissible and ineligible for a green card: (1) aggravated felonies, (2) crimes involving “moral turpitude” (CMT), and (3) crimes involving illegal drugs.

Will a conviction prevent me from getting naturalized?

Some crimes are defined by U.S. immigration law as “crimes involving moral turpitude” or CMT. A CMT conviction will likely bar you from receiving citizenship for five years after your conviction date (only three years if your permanent residence is based on marriage to a U.S. citizen). In most cases, they will need to wait for five years after the date of the conviction before applying for citizenship. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) can deny your application if they believe your criminal record shows that you do not have good moral character.

What happens if a non-US citizen commits a crime?

A criminal offense carries severe repercussions and may result in deportation. If a non-citizen is convicted of a crime that is considered an aggravated felony or multiple crimes of moral turpitude (sometimes, one is enough), deportation is likely. Aggressive felonies include homicide, criminal sexual conduct, drug trafficking, sexual abuse of a minor, child pornography, perjury, and violent/assaultive crimes.

How does a felony criminal conviction affect immigration status?

A non-citizen who commits an aggravated felony or an offense involving moral turpitude is typically ineligible for relief from deportation and is frequently prohibited from reentering the United States in the future.

Can someone with a criminal history sponsor a foreign national’s petition for a green card?

A criminal history can disqualify you from sponsoring someone requesting a green card; however, not all offenses are viewed the same by USCIS. Crimes against children automatically bar a U.S. citizen from sponsoring a spouse or relative. Examples include the following:

  • Kidnapping—unless it’s by a parent or a guardian
  • Using a minor in a sexual performance
  • Soliciting to engage in prostitution
  • Soliciting a minor to participate in sexual conduct
  • Possessing, producing, or distributing child pornography
  • Video voyeurism
  • Criminal sexual acts that involve a minor or use of the internet to enable or attempt sexual acts
  • Any behavior that is by nature a sex offense against a minor
  • False imprisonment—unless it’s by a parent or a guardian

Can non-U.S. citizens be prosecuted?

The criminal justice system must treat non-U.S. citizens like U.S. citizens when charged with a crime. You have the right to an attorney in your criminal case and the right to all the same constitutional protections as a U.S. citizen.

Can you become a US citizen if you went to jail?

Even if you are not subject to an automatic prohibition to citizenship, the USCIS may still reject your citizenship application based on the totality of the circumstances. Even arrests and accusations that did not result in a conviction can result in an immigration penalty. USCIS can consider any time spent incarcerated when deciding on a petition for citizenship or a green card.

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Experienced Criminal Defense Lawyers Who Can Help You

Call one of the Michigan criminal attorneys at LEWIS & DICKSTEIN, P.L.L.C. today. We will take the time to speak with you, answer your questions, and address your concerns regarding the immigration consequences of criminal convictions. Together, we will develop a winning strategy. Don’t delay seeking help if you are at risk of being deported or concerned that your immigration status will be at risk. We will find a way to help you!

Call us today at (248) 263-6800 for a free consultation or complete an online Request for Assistance Form. We will contact you promptly and find a way to help you.

We will find a way to help you and, most importantly,
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