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Can I be Deported for a Drug Violation?

People who are not citizens of the United States are generally at risk of being deported or removed from the country if they violate the terms of their legal entry. This is especially true if they have been convicted of a crime, even if they are in the United States lawfully on a valid visa or a green card. People who have been convicted on drug charges, for example, frequently face the possibility of a drug deportation.

Drug Crimes and Grounds of Deportability

Committing a crime is one of the most common reasons for U.S. residents who hold nonimmigrant visas or green cards to be deported. However, the crimes that lead to this legal response are often very generally described and are typically under the initial jurisdiction of the laws of the state in which they were committed. Convictions must then be matched to the federal laws that govern deportation.

Because of this confusion of control in the punishment of drug crimes, most convictions are analyzed according to three important questions:

  1. Was this drug crime one of moral turpitude?
  2. Can a drug crime be an aggravated felony?
  3. Are drug crimes listed separately in the list of grounds of deportability contained in the Immigration and Nationality Act?

These are the basic queries used to interpret a drug crime, but the analysis can be further complicated by the location where the crime took place. Federal courts may further vary in their interpretations and treatments of the same crimes.

Can a Drug Crime Be a Crime of Moral Turpitude?

Even the Board of Immigration Appeals finds that the definition of moral turpitude is rather vague and legally unclear. In essence, a person who commits a crime of moral turpitude must have been found to have exercised malicious intent or must have been found to be acting recklessly at the time that the crime was committed.

These definitions are highly subjective in terms of evaluating a crime, and determining the moral intent and the level of care in the action is a matter that is left largely to interpretation. However, the United States government and various federal courts have definitively listed some specific offenses to be crimes of moral turpitude, including:

  • Murder
  • Voluntary manslaughter
  • Rape
  • Spouse and child abuse
  • Kidnapping
  • Robbery
  • Aggravated assault
  • Theft

However, these are not the only crimes of moral turpitude. Because most criminal convictions are based on state laws, each case must be examined individually. In the past, convictions for distributing or trafficking drugs have also been determined to be crimes of moral turpitude, even though possessing and using drugs typically do not fall under this category.

Deportation will be applied if a person:

  • Has committed one crime of moral turpitude within his or her first five years in the United States and has received a prison sentence of at least one year.
  • Has committed two or more crimes of moral turpitude that were separate schemes of misconduct.

Can a Drug Crime Be an Aggravated Felony?

Receiving one conviction for an aggravated felony is automatically a reason for deportation, no matter the length of the prison sentence. In addition, it should be noted that immigration law specifies its own definition of an aggravated felony that varies in some ways from the traditional one.

Many drug crimes are prosecuted under state laws first and federal immigration laws second. This means that a crime that is seemingly minor and may not even involve violence could very likely be seen as an aggravated felony by federal immigration authorities. For example, drug trafficking has been labeled an aggravated felony in some immigration cases and is, therefore, grounds for deportation.

Are Drug Crimes Separately Listed in the Grounds of Deportability?

Federal immigration laws specifically include drug crime convictions as possible grounds for deportation. However, there is an exception for a single offense that includes the possession of 30 grams or less of marijuana for personal use. People who have been convicted of this drug crime are not immediately or automatically deportable.

Can I Apply for a Waiver?

People who are facing deportation following a conviction have the opportunity to apply for another chance known as a waiver of inadmissibility. This document forgives the crime purely for immigration purposes and allows the applicant to remain in the United States as long as they do not commit any further acts of criminal activity.

However, in recent years, the United States government has been restricting the use of this option, effectively preventing people from applying for the waiver for most drug crimes. Therefore, it is important not to rely on this option alone in the event of a conviction.

People also have the opportunity to appeal an immigration judge’s ruling on their immigration status. In this instance, they will need to prove to the Board of Immigration Appeals that the court failed to consider all the relevant facts in making its determination. If successful, they will have another chance to appear before the immigration court about their conviction and pending deportation.

Is there a need for legal counsel?

People who are legally in the United States are generally entitled to the appropriate legal counsel if they are taken into custody on any criminal charges. Ideally, they will want to obtain the representation of an immigration attorney to best protect themselves against the possibility of deportation. Even if a person has already been convicted, a lawyer could help them navigate the complicated issues that may follow a drug offense.

Speak to an Experienced Drug Crime Attorney Today

This article is intended to be helpful and informative. But even common legal matters can become complex and stressful. A qualified drug crime lawyer can address your particular legal needs, explain the law, and represent you in court. Take the first step now and contact a local drug crime attorney to discuss your specific legal situation.

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