As a larger share of the population is born outside of the U.S. than almost any time in history, immigration and deportation issues are more important than ever. Illegal immigrants can be deported if they violate U.S. immigration laws even if they have already acquired green cards. The most common reason for people to be placed into removal proceedings is because there is evidence that they have committed a crime. However, even if you have committed a serious crime, there may be the opportunity to stay in the country.

Reasons for Removal and Deportation

Immigrants can be deported if they commit a “crime of moral turpitude” or an “aggravated felony,” unless the crime counts as a petty offense. In addition, certain crimes are specifically listed within the immigration laws as being grounds for deportation. This overview describes in more detail those crimes and if any recourse is available to avoid deportation. To learn more about removal and deportation, review our informational page:

What is a “Crime of Moral Turpitude”?

“Crimes of moral turpitude” are not easy to understand and some would argue that in general, they are not defined clearly under U.S. federal immigration law. However, the Department of State notes that the most common elements of a moral turpitude crime include “fraud, larceny, and intent to harm persons or things.” Crimes involving dishonesty and theft will usually be considered crimes of moral turpitude. Other examples include assault with the intent to rob or kill, spousal abuse, and aggravated driving under the influence (“DUI” or “DWI”).

Determining crimes of moral turpitude and how to appropriately respond to a charge is complicated and requires a thorough understanding of U.S. federal law. If you have received a criminal charge that could result in removal/deportation, it is in your best interest to contact an immigration lawyer. To learn more about common defenses for removal/deportation, read our informational page on:

Arguing Against Conviction

It is possible to argue that your conviction should not be classified as a crime of moral turpitude, or that the law you broke contains elements that should not be considered a crime of moral turpitude. These types of defenses are dependent upon the wording of the statute. Criminal statutes almost always come from state law, so you may be raising brand new questions about how these statutes are interpreted under federal immigration law and will need a well-versed attorney.

Petty Offenses May Avoid More Serious Charges

Petty offenses may also exclude you from the classification of a crime of moral turpitude. The petty offense exception applies if the penalty for the crime committed could never exceed one year of imprisonment, and if any time the person actually served in prison was less than six months. Some common examples of petty offenses include:

  • Shoplifting
  • Simple assault
  • DUI that did not involve driving without a license or damage to property or persons

It is important that petty offenses and their accompanying penalties can vary depending on the law in your state. Because of this, if you have committed a petty offense, it makes more sense to work with an immigration lawyer located in the same state where you were charged.

Being Deported for a Crime of Moral Turpitude

There are two ways that crimes of moral turpitude result in deportation proceedings:

  1. You commit a crime of moral turpitude during the first five years after your admission to the United States.
  2. You commit two or more crimes of moral turpitude that did not arise out of a single scheme of criminal misconduct at any time after your admission to the United States.

Remember, issues involving crimes of moral turpitude require a thorough understanding of the law. An attorney will be able to interpret relevant statutes in order to ensure the best possible result for your case. Moving forward in court proceedings without legal assistance will most likely not have the result you desire.

Committing a Crime Within Five Years of Admission

A simple way to determine the date when the crime was committed is to simply count back five years from the date of the charge. If you were legally admitted to the U.S. from the border, airport, or any other point of entry during those five years, you may be placed into removal proceedings. If more than five years have passed since the date you were admitted, there is a possibility that you may avoid removal proceedings. However, this can only be interpreted on a case-by-case basis.

Multiple Crimes of Moral Turpitude

You can also lose your green card and be placed into removal proceedings if you have committed more than one crime involving moral turpitude, regardless of when the crimes occurred. However, if multiple crimes “arise from a single scheme of criminal misconduct” they will be considered only one crime when determining your residency status.

Unlike with a single crime of moral turpitude, once you commit two crimes of moral turpitude, you can be removed regardless of how much time has passed since your last entry (“admission”) to the United States. There is no five year “look-back” period if you commit two of these types of crimes.

Waiving a Crime of Moral Turpitude

You can apply for a waiver of a crime of moral turpitude under Section 212(h) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (I.N.A.). A “waiver” is a form of legal forgiveness that would allow you to avoid deportation. In order to qualify, you must never have committed an aggravated felony, you cannot be a threat to national security, and you must have lived within the U.S. continuously for at least seven years.

Receiving a Waiver Due to VAWA

You can also apply for a 212(h) waiver if you can show that you self-petitioned for your green card under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) because you suffered physical or emotional abuse at the hands of a U.S. citizen or permanent resident spouse or parent, or that your deportation would cause extreme hardship to a U.S. citizen or permanent resident spouse, parent, or child.
Ultimately, your success in obtaining a 212(h) waiver will depend on the level of violence involved in any crimes committed, proof of rehabilitation, and other factors showing that you deserve a second chance.

Other Crimes That Can Make an Immigrant Removable

The full list of relevant crimes is in Section 237 of the I.N.A. It includes charges related to:

  • Drug crimes
  • Possession or Sale of Illegal firearms.
  • Espionage
  • Domestic violence.
  • Stalking.
  • Child Abuse or Neglect
  • Human trafficking
  • Terrorist activity
  • Other Crimes.

Remember, this list is not exhaustive and interpreting a criminal charge should be done by a licensed attorney. It is important to remember that the classification of a crime can effect your case. For example, the penalty for a charge for a petty offense will be less sever than a more serious offense.

Contact Us to Learn More

Receiving a charge for a crime of moral turpitude is serious and can significantly alter your life and future. Understanding the law is important and professional interpretation of the law can only be done by an attorney. If you are facing a charge that could effect your immigration status, call Pride Immigration Law Firm PLLC

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Beeraj Patel, Esq.

Partner at KPPB Law
Beeraj Patel's philosophy is simple - make it easy for talented and ambitious individuals to have access to immigration materials so that they can make the choice which is right for them.
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