The incoming Trump administration has pledged to make enforcement of the U.S. immigration laws a priority against immigrants with criminal records. Frequently, plea agreements are entered into without adequate consideration of the immigration consequences of the resulting conviction.
This is especially true of lawful permanent residents who may have a false sense of security and fail to recognize their vulnerability to deportation for what is perceived to be minor infractions of the criminal code.
Undocumented immigrants and Refugees are also affected, with criminal convictions sometimes acting as a bar to statutory relief from removal or preventing the exercise of prosecutorial discretion to defer the pursuit of removal proceedings. Certain convictions will trigger something called “mandatory detention,” disqualifying an individual in immigration custody from eligibility for release on bond. The list goes on.
Language and assumptions that are widely accepted in the practice of criminal law do not always carry over to the interpretation of immigration laws.
For example, a crime characterized under state law as a “misdemeanor,” and therefore perceived by many to be a relatively harmless transgression, may be construed in immigration as a removable offense. Similarly, a crime described under state law as a misdemeanor may be construed as an “aggravated felony” under the immigration statutes. The term “conviction” is uniquely defined in immigration, and there is a restrictive view of the circumstances under which a conviction is deemed to have been lawfully set aside.
During the coming weeks we will discuss some of the specific ways in which criminal convictions may have unforeseen consequences in the application of U.S. immigration laws.
Of course, the best way to avoid the pitfalls that can result from one or more criminal convictions is to avoid the criminal justice system altogether.
The next best way to protect yourself is to have a criminal attorney who is either experienced in immigration law or that consults with an immigration attorney.