Your Immigration Status After a Felony
Conviction of Certain Crimes Can Lead to Deportation
United States immigration law allows for the deportation of immigrants who have been convicted of aggravated felonies. Immigrants who have been convicted of certain crimes risk severe consequences to their immigration status. They may not be eligible to apply for residency, citizenship, naturalization, or asylum, and they may be deported without a formal immigration hearing.
Definition of an Aggravated Felony
In the context of immigration law, the term "aggravated felony" can be somewhat misleading. Crimes that are not classified as state felonies can be considered aggravated felonies under immigration law and can lead to deportation. Aggravated felonies for immigrants are any crimes that Congress has deemed serious enough to warrant deportation. This includes crimes of moral turpitude and some crimes that are classified as misdemeanors.
An aggravated felony was first introduced into U.S. law in 1988. At that time, it only referred to the crimes of murder, illegal trafficking of firearms and other destructive devices, and federal drug trafficking. Since that time, Congress has expanded this list as it applies to immigrants. Even crimes that were not considered aggravated felonies at the time they were committed can retroactively be cause for deportation. Whenever Congress adds a new crime to the list of offenses punishable by deportation, any immigrant previously convicted of this crime is immediately eligible for deportation.
Currently, all of the following crimes can affect a person’s immigration status and can lead to deportation:
- Murder, sexual abuse of a minor, and rape
- Money laundering involving sums over $10,000
- Firearms and explosive materials offenses
- Crimes of violence leading to imprisonment of one year or more
- Trafficking of a controlled substance
- Trafficking of firearms or explosive devices
- Theft offenses leading to imprisonment of one year or more
- Demand or receipt of ransom
- Child pornography
- Gambling and racketeering leading to imprisonment of one year or more
- Managing, transporting, or trafficking prostitutes
- Transmitting or gathering classified information
- Fraud, deceit, and tax evasion crimes over $10,000
- Illegal reentry by someone removed for an aggravated felony
- Passport and document fraud leading to imprisonment of at least one year
- Alien smuggling
- Failure to appear offenses punishable by at least five years
- Trafficking in vehicles, forgery, bribery, or counterfeiting
- Attempt or conspiracy to commit an aggravated felony
- Perjury, bribery of a witness, or other obstructions of justice
- Crimes of moral turpitude
Crimes of Moral Turpitude
Crimes of moral turpitude, as defined by immigration law, refer to any crime that shocks the public conscience and is considered depraved, vile, immoral, or against the rules owed from one man to another. The perpetrator must have been acting recklessly or had an "evil" intent. Some (but not all) of the acts that have previously been considered crimes of moral turpitude include murder, animal fighting, theft, robbery, incest, spousal abuse, child abuse, and rape.
Deportation without a Hearing
Immigrants who are convicted of an aggravated felony under immigration law who do not have lawful permanent resident status can be deported without a formal hearing before an immigration judge. Such persons are also not eligible for asylum or other relief such as “withholding of removal,” and they can be physically removed from the country two weeks after the order is made.
When an immigrant is convicted of an aggravated felony and sent to jail or prison, upon release immigration officials must detain that person. Immigrants who are in this situation can request a bond from an immigration judge, but they must show that the crime they committed does not qualify as an aggravated felony under U.S. immigration law.
When convicted of an aggravated felony, immigrants are not eligible for voluntary departure from the United States. They are also permanently inadmissible for reentry to the country unless they obtain a waiver from the Department of Homeland Security. Immigrants who have been convicted of an aggravated felony who then illegally reenter the country can face a prison sentence of up to 20 years.
Challenging an Aggravated Felony Charge
Many immigrants convicted of aggravated felonies have challenged their deportation. Occasionally, courts have decided that such convictions are arbitrary and unwarranted, especially when the charges involve misdemeanors.
Other factors can affect the outcome of a deportation order based on an aggravated felony conviction. Some factors include the length of the sentence, the monetary value of the crime, and the effect of deportation on family members who are legal residents. In addition, various courts have viewed these charges differently, which is why the assistance of an immigration lawyer can be advisable.