Criminal convictions and consequences

(Part 1 of 2)

Criminal convictions in immigration are definitely ‘dealbreakers’.  Even just one can cause regrets about  the incident which led to it.  Not a lot of aliens definitively know the immigration consequences of their illegal acts and when they do, it might be  too late for  regrets or  remedies.  The United States does not want criminals within its borders.  Which country does anyway?    An alien who applies for any immigration benefit is meticulously checked for criminal records.  Even DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) applicants who finally obtain only a temporary permission to work or stay in the U.S. ( not a visa), are expected to be ‘squeaky clean’.

The dire consequences of having criminal convictions apply to  aliens who are (a) applying to become legal residents; (b) maintaining their LPR (lawful permanent resident) status; and, (c) applying for U.S. citizenship. It is a common misconception that once  a green card has been issued in one’s favor, nobody or nothing can remove an LPR from this country.  It is farthest from the truth, LPRs are required to maintain the  responsibility  to obey its laws and uphold the values for which it stands.  The strict scrutiny approach that U.S. immigration has adopted in dealing with LPR vis-a-vis criminal convictions (local or foreign), is appropriate and necessary.  It is logical to think that when an alien commits egregious acts  and heinous  crimes like murder, child pornography or rape, they should be deported.  But it is not too easy to comprehend why a conviction for theft (that carries a sentence of one year or more) can cause the removal of  an alien from this country.  The Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) specifically defines what comes within the realm of ‘deportable offenses.’   It does not matter whether the crime is only considered a ‘misdemeanor’ under state law. The ultimate consequence is still removal. As someone desiring admission into civil society, please  understand and accept that crime is bad and criminals deserve to be removed from it. By  avoiding  being  labeled ‘undesirable’ maybe the  ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) officers will leave you alone.  Be aware of crimes of violence (COV) and crimes involving moral turpitude (CIMT).  Again, the concepts of COV and CIMT are specifically defined in the law.  COV, includes  assault, armed robbery, aggravated battery, to name a few.  CIMT has an element of “moral turpitude”, defined as an “act that is bad, evil, vicious, wretched, vile or depraved”.  It is bad to take another’s property without consent (theft), or burn somebody’s dwelling (arson); it is inherently vile or depraved to molest a child (incest or molestation), assault or force yourself upon another by force (assault, rape), kill someone (murder) or fool someone into believing that you have funds for the check you issued (obtaining money on false pretenses).  Generally, regulatory laws  are passed to maintain order in society (not to punish inherently evil acts)  and therefore cannot be CIMTs .  But through time, the courts have found a few of them to be serious enough hence, are considered for immigration purposes.  For instance, although driving under the influence (DUI) of alcohol or illicit drugs is a  violation of a regulatory state law and even considered a traffic offense in certain jurisdictions, it carries with it a penalty, which if considered can reflect someone’s lack of good moral character.

When I was a “new arrival” in the U.S. and was still oblivious to immigration realities in this country, it was sad to hear that a friend of a friend was convicted of involuntary manslaughter.   During sentencing, the victim’s mother surprisingly pleaded for  leniency  on his behalf  because she did not want him to be  deported.  She said it was a vehicular  accident and the accused did not mean to  cause the death of her daughter when his car hit her..    It was an accident, no doubt; but the felony conviction and the sentence imposed  led to his removal.  Unjust maybe but dura lex sed lex.  (The law is harsh but it is the law.)

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Maria Rita Reyes-Stuby is a licensed attorney in Michigan.  She is a graduate of the University of the Philippines College of Law. She specializes in immigration and practices in Las Vegas, Michigan, California and other states.  Bernadette Bretana, a graduate of the Ateneo Law School and Ms. Stuby are licensed attorneys in the Philippines. Please call @702-403-4704 or email her at [email protected] or go to for any questions on this article.

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