The Holidays are coming. We can feel it everywhere. All the stores are stocking up, sales are buzzing everywhere, holiday lights and music fill the air. What does this all have to do with immigration? Well, I’ll get to that.
Shoplifting and that pesky petty theft (retail theft) presents a special problem for immigrants. Now, I am not suggesting that immigrants are more likely to be shoplifters because I have no idea about the data around that. But I do know a little bit about culture shock. One of the differences that was immediately noticeable upon coming to the US was the sheer size of some of the large department stores. Articles on display and within reach of the consumer. Of course, they are monitored by employees and security cameras, but they were much more easily handled by the average shopper than anywhere in India at that time, though this is changing and has changed to a degree with the recent infiltration of large malls in the major Indian cities. Regardless of how temptingly easy it may look to be able to slip a couple of expensive items in your purse or jacket, don’t do it. Aside from the moral reason, here are the reasons why.
Shoplifting is handled differently in immigration cases
First, if you have ever been in the unfortunate situation of learning firsthand about some of the criminal system in the US, put aside your knowledge for a while. Immigration law treats crimes differently. You see, immigration law is federal, while much of the criminal laws are state laws. So, unless you were charged with a federal crime, one of the issues presented is converting the criminal statute into immigration terms. While many states offer various degrees of guilt/innocence and various options for punishments, the first thing to know about crimes in immigration law, is you are either innocent or not innocent. There are no in-betweens. So, unless you are shown to be innocent, even if you were never convicted but you only admitted to having “done it” you can expect to be treated as if you were convicted. Yes, even a verbal admission is treated as proof of guilt.
Furthermore, there are different types of crimes–Regular crimes, Crimes Involving Moral Turpitude (CIMT) and Aggravated Felonies, for example. Shoplifting falls under the CIMT category. CIMTs are crimes that tend to have a component of lying, deceit, stealing, or fraud generally-speaking. (This is very simplistic, but I am trying to make this easily understandable.) No matter how small the crime or offense, if it involves a component of the above, it is a CIMT for immigration purposes. Two or more CIMTs make someone “inadmissible” to the United States. If you are on a visa and want to extend your stay, change your status, apply for a green card, apply for citizenship, or if you seek entry into the United States, you are seeking “admission,” and with two or more CIMTs, you won’t be permitted admission.
You are beginning to see the problem, right? I hope. Two or more admissions or convictions of shoplifting (retail theft or petty theft) can make you inadmissible. What if you only have one? Well, then, depending on the nature of the crime and the severity of the punishment, you may qualify for a petty crime exception, which would make it so the crime cannot be a cause of inadmissibility on its own.
In short, shoplifting, or another CIMT, regardless of how “minor” it is, can be a problem. If you have one, I hope you learn your lesson and never ever ever get another. Practically speaking, this means being extra-vigilant while shopping. Check your children before departing the stores, check your baskets and shopping carts carefully to make sure nothing got away, and resist that temptation at all costs.
What to do if you have recently been caught shoplifting or charged with a petty theft? I will write more in the next article…so stay tuned and stay safe and happy shopping!