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Being a non-citizen resident in the United States can a precarious position. Until you become a naturalized citizen, there are many grounds upon which you can be deported.
A criminal conviction doesn't just affect your day to day life, it can get you deported. But, what if you never went to trial? Can a guilty plea affect your immigration status?
For unlawful residents in the United States, any crime can get you deported. Some crimes, such as aggravated felonies, can even bar you from returning to the United States, even with a visa.
For lawful permanent residents, you may be deported if you were convicted of a crime of moral turpitude, such as theft or fraud, with a sentence of one-year in prison or more, drug crimes, certain firearm offenses, domestic violence, or human trafficking. You may even face expedited deportation if you are convicted of aggravated felonies, such as murder.
A more comprehensively list of deportable offenses can be found in the Immigration and Nationality Act section 237.
Guilty Plea is a Conviction
You can only be deported because of a crime if you have been convicted. If you've only been arrested or the charges against you were dropped, then the government cannot use them as a basis for deportation.
However, if you've been convicted and sentenced to jail, then the conviction can be used to deport you. Remember, a guilty plea counts as a conviction, even if you never go to trial. So you can still be deported if you plead guilty.
In the case of Padilla v. Kentucky, the Supreme Court found that attorneys have a duty to tell their clients about possible immigration consequences of a plea deal. If your attorney did not advise you on this fact, your Sixth Amendment right to effective assistance of counsel may have been violated.
Not all criminal defense attorneys may know about the ramifications of criminal convictions on immigration status. An immigration attorney would be better able to determine whether a certain crime may be a deportable offense.
If you are a lawful permanent resident charged with a crime, consult with both an immigration and criminal defense attorney before you agree to any plea deals.