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How Does a Felony Affect Immigration Status?

One of the last things you want to do if you are in the United States on a visa or green card is commit a felony. Immigration officials may deport you or downgrade your status because of a felony. They even may do so for a non-felony conviction. But this can depend on your current status, the type of offense, and the specific facts surrounding your case.

Crimes involving "moral turpitude" carry harsh consequences for non-citizens. Crimes labeled "aggravated felonies" also carry harsh consequences for non-citizens. A non-citizen who commits an aggravated felony is often ineligible for relief from deportation. The same is true of those who commit crimes involving moral turpitude. They will often be found inadmissible, preventing them from reentering the U.S. in the future.

Aggravated Felony

For immigration purposes, the term aggravated felony includes a certain variety of offenses. These offenses are misdemeanors in state or federal courts. In some cases, these offenses are types of conduct that are not even criminalized. An "aggravated felony" is a category that is treated uniquely in immigration law. They encompass a wide variety of acts considered removable offenses by Congress.

Crimes designated as an “aggravated felony" were once limited to serious criminal offenses. These included murder and federal drug trafficking. They also included the illicit trafficking of firearms and incendiary devices. Possession of controlled substances can also be treated as an aggravated felony. Since then, Congress has added a number of offenses to the list, including (but not limited to) the following:

  • Simple battery
  • Theft
  • Filing a fraudulent tax return
  • Failure to appear in court
  • Consensual sex between a 17-year-old and a 16-year-old

If an offense was added to the list of aggravated felonies after a foreign national has been convicted, they are still immediately deportable. This is the case unless Congress specifically states otherwise.

Crimes of Moral Turpitude

Crimes of moral turpitude refer to acts determined by a court to violate the accepted moral standards of the community. The following offenses have been considered crimes involving moral turpitude by some courts, but there is no definitive list:

  • Perjury
  • Tax evasion
  • Wire fraud
  • Carrying a concealed weapon
  • Child abuse
  • Money laundering
  • Counterfeiting

Other crimes that may qualify as crimes of moral turpitude are:

  • Alien smuggling
  • Child pornography
  • Statutory rape (sexual abuse of a minor)
  • Any other crime of violence
  • Domestic violence
  • Obstruction of justice

Immigration Consequences for Felony Convictions

If you are a foreign national, the commission of an offense described above does not necessarily lead to deportation. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) considers a number of factors with regard to the penalties faced by an immigrant to the U.S. Most forms of relief from deportation are discretionary. Still, aggravated felonies usually do lead to deportation.

The following is a general summary of possible consequences for immigrants who commit aggravated felonies, by type of status.

Legal Permanent Resident (LPR)

  • Subject to deportation
  • May be detained during removal proceedings
  • Subject to a term of imprisonment up to 20 years in prison if LPR reenters the U.S. without permission after removal
  • Permanently barred from future immigration to the U.S.
  • If not removed, LPR may be barred from becoming a naturalized citizen

Refugee (Without LPR Status)

  • May be deported after a criminal conviction, even if they would be in grave danger in their home country
  • Some felonies, subject to judicial discretion, may result in the inability to obtain LPR status

Asylee (Without LPR Status)

  • May be deported only after being convicted of a "particularly serious crime," which includes any aggravated felony
  • Some felonies, subject to judicial discretion, may result in the inability to obtain LPR status

Non-Citizen With Temporary Lawful Status

  • This includes individuals with nonimmigrant visas and those with temporary protected status
  • May lose status and be removed for any felony conviction or two or more misdemeanor convictions

Non-Citizen Without Legal Status

  • Since undocumented immigrants are not authorized to be in the U.S., any criminal offense can result in deportation

For more information about problems that may arise with regard to immigration status, see FindLaw's Deportation and Removal subsection and Visas: Reasons for Ineligibility. If you are a foreign national and have been convicted of a felony, an immigration attorney may be able to help. An aggravated felony conviction can lead to your deportation or a negative adjustment of status.

Effects of a Felony on Cancellations and Withholdings of Removal

If you are in the midst of petitioning a court for cancellation or removal or withholding of removal, keep the following in mind. It is very difficult to win an appeal before an immigration court for cancellation of removal. In such a process, you have been deemed a “deportable alien." Under most circumstances, it is very difficult to have your status adjusted to that of any number of statuses under which you can remain in the country. If you are in the midst of a criminal proceeding or you have been convicted of a crime, it will be even more difficult.

In cases where you petition an immigration court for withholding of removal, it is possible you could receive leniency regardless of a felony. In a withholding of removal, you must prove that you would be victimized in your country of origin based on a handful of criteria.

Acceptable grounds for petitioning an immigration court in this way include:

  • Political orientation
  • Religion
  • Membership in a particular social group

If you were to face persecution in your country of origin for any of these reasons, you might qualify for withholding of removal.

If you've been accused of a crime or have been convicted of one, it is possible you could receive leniency in petitioning a court for withholding of removal. However, being accused of a crime or being convicted of one can always make this process more difficult. In any of these processes, you will appear before an immigration judge for your petition to be considered. It's not as much of an issue if you have a criminal record in your country if you can prove that the criminal record was a result of the grounds upon which you fear persecution in your country of origin.

During any stage of deportation proceedings, being accused of a crime or being convicted of one can make your situation far more difficult. However, proving extreme hardship in the case of fearing persecution in your country of origin can prove to be in your favor. Under such circumstances where you are facing deportation for a crime, you will likely be detained at a facility.

In any case, where an immigration judge rules that you must be removed, immigration authorities will handle your deportation. Such authorities will be from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). If you have been deemed to be in the country on unlawful grounds, it is very likely you will be removed.

However, if you obtain cancellation or withholding of removal, or withholding based on convention against torture, you will not be removed. Voluntary departure is not usually an option in these cases. Know, however, that your family members will not necessarily be affected by your deportation.

If you have been removed, you can apply for a certain kind of waiver to re-enter the United States. This type of waiver is known as Form I-212. Under the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), there are still a variety of ways to re-enter the country after being deported. Form I-212 is one of these ways. Permission around reentry can be contingent on any number of factors. It's important to work with an attorney to learn more about this process.

Questions About How a Felony Can Affect Your Immigration Status? Talk to an Attorney

Certain felony convictions can have enormous consequences on your future, especially if you're an immigrant on a visa. If you're seeking to become a U.S. citizen or are concerned about your immigration status because of a felony conviction, it's crucial to speak to an immigration attorney. An attorney can help you figure out your options.

If you've been convicted of a felony, it can have serious consequences for your legal status in the United States. A felony can derail your naturalization process. It can interfere with obtaining lawful permanent resident status. Whatever your unique set of circumstances, it's important to speak with an immigration lawyer if you are facing any set of immigration-related difficulties.

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