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Effect of Crimes on Immigration Applications

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The area of crimes in immigration is a HUGE topic. So huge, in fact, that Harvard University has recently begun offering a course called Crimmigration (The intersection of immigration and criminal laws).  The main reason that this is a complex area is because criminal law is state law, and each state has different terminology, different levels of punishments, and even differing elements to what constitutes a particular crime.  Immigration, on the other hand, is federal law.

This means that each time anyone on any immigration status, including legal permanent residents, or green card holders, anyone on any kind of a visa, or an undocumented immigrant, have to consider how the particular crime translates in the immigration world and the effect that it has on immigration.  For this reason, it is with some reservation that I write about this enormous and complex topic.

This blog post is no substitute for an attorney consultation.  Nevertheless, I believe that general information gives the reader a place to start and some points to take into consideration.

First it is important to understand that a conviction may be crime that has any kind of a punishment (even if it is only a penalty).  Expungements are not recognized in immigration law. In fact, even the verbal or written or implied admission of a crime is viewed under the same light as a conviction.  In other words, if you are not found innocent, you are likely to be “guilty” under immigration.

One must decide whether the immigrant is seeking ADMISSION, or avoiding REMOVAL.  Different rules may apply depending on which it is.  Someone applying for a green card or a specific visa, or seeking to enter the US, is seeking “admission.”  Someone who is on a green card, but wants to prevent being removed, must look at the laws that refer to removability.

Generally speaking, a broad category of crimes known as “Crimes Involving Moral Turpitude” receive more serious treatment than many other crimes.  An example of a CIMT is retail theft.  While retail theft is a small crime in most states, it is considered to be a CIMT, and thus, often receives more serious consideration in the immigration context.  Anything that involves lying, stealing, or fraud is generally speaking a CIMT. A single small CIMT may be eligible for the minor crime exemption in some contexts.

Drug crimes also receive serious consideration in the context of immigration.  A cocaine conviction, no matter the amount, is a removable offense.  Firearm offenses in the US are also often removable.

So, what should you do if you have been arrested for a crime?  First, make sure that your criminal defense attorney speaks to an immigration attorney as well before pleading.  You should also consult with an immigration attorney.  If there is a small crime, an attorney may be able to argue for a minor crime exemption on your behalf.

Do not take immigration for granted when it comes to criminal issues.  Be sure to consult with an immigration attorney for any major life event, and an event as significant as even a small arrest deserves a serious examination by an immigration lawyer.  Do not simply believe a police officer, or anyone else who is not an immigration lawyer.

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