Being convicted of certain federal or state crimes may result in deportation or being barred from becoming a citizen or obtaining a green card, regardless of your legal status, whether you have family in the country, or how long you’ve lived in the United States. Even if you aren’t eligible for deportation, you may lose professional licensing, such as in the legal or medical field, depriving you of your livelihood. For these reasons, skilled criminal defense of immigrants, legal and otherwise, is incredibly important.
What are deportable crimes?
There are a few types of deportable crimes. One of the most common–and confusing–are what are called “crimes of moral turpitude.” Basically, these are crimes in which someone has behaved badly, cruelly, dishonestly, recklessly, or with evil intent. Many crimes are considered “crimes of moral turpitude” or “CMTs.” These can include murder, manslaughter, rape, abuse of family, robbery, assault, drug possession, theft, driving under the influence (DUI), and fraud. Many of these are also considered to be aggravated felonies, which are deportable crimes as well.
Don’t assume that only violent crimes are deportable.
According to the Department of Homeland Security, in 2009 nearly 38,000 people were deported from the United States for drug-related offenses. This category of crime includes manufacturing, transport, sale, possession for sale, and some cases of simple possession. This was the single largest category of crime that resulted in deportation of immigrants: 29.6% of the 128,345 people deported for criminal acts that year.
Even convictions involving only traffic violations are deportable.
The second largest type of crime that led to deportation in 2009? Traffic offenses. More than 20,000 people were deported for traffic offenses that year, and since then, the rate of deportation for driving offenses has doubled. In April of 2014, the New York Times reported that “the largest increases were in deportations involving illegal immigrants whose most serious offense was listed as a traffic violation,” with 193,000 people being deported for traffic violations “during the five years Mr. Obama has been in office.”
Post-Conviction Relief: So, what if I’ve already been convicted and am facing deportation?
A lawyer seeking to prevent your deportation due to a criminal conviction can attempt to salvage your legal status by obtaining what’s called “post-conviction relief.” There are different forms of post-conviction relief. Your lawyer may try to get your original sentence changed, such as by reducing a felony to a misdemeanor. Or they may ask the court to vacate your conviction if it can be shown that your lawyer was negligent, or if you entered a plea deal without your understanding that your admission could result in deportation. This sometimes happens because a normal defense attorney doesn’t know enough about immigration law to realize that you’re pleading guilty to a crime that will result in your deportation.
If a lawyer is unable to secure post-conviction relief, if you’ve had a green card for at least five years and meet other special requirements, they may be able to get the U.S. Immigration Court (rather than a normal criminal court) to give you a “cancellation of removal.”
Post-conviction relief is difficult to obtain, even by the standards of immigration law, so if at all possible, contact us for legal assistance BEFORE your criminal trial starts.