If you are not a citizen of the United States, there are certain offenses for which the US government can deport you. Even so, you will not always face deportation for committing these criminal offenses. Most criminal offenses do not carry deportation as even a potential penalty. It is important that you know which offenses render you deportable, however, so that you can be prepared if you are charged.
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Which Categories of Crimes Can Get You Deported?
The crimes that can get you deported from the US can be grouped under five categories, even though even these categories cannot account for every possible deportable offense. We’ll describe these categories below.
Crimes of Moral Turpitude
US immigration law does not precisely define the term “moral turpitude.” This term refers to crimes that are shocking to the conscience or crimes that involve dishonesty. “Shocking” crimes include murder, rape, arson, child abuse, and terroristic threatening.
Crimes involving dishonesty include embezzlement, fraud, theft, and perjury (lying under oath). There is no final, definitive list of what constitutes a crime of moral turpitude, leaving lawyers room to argue.
In any case, you can only face deportation for a crime of moral turpitude under the following circumstances:
- You were last admitted to the US less than 5 years ago, or
- You committed two unrelated crimes of moral turpitude (no matter how much time has elapsed since you were last admitted to the United States).
Even under the foregoing circumstances, you can still try to argue that your crime was a “petty offense” such as DUI (as long as you were driving on a valid license). A petty offense is an offense for which it is impossible to serve more than a year in jail, and for which you personally served no more than six months in jail.
Immigrants often comment on how lax firearms laws are in the US. However, if you break one of these laws, especially federal laws, you are very likely to face deportation. Each state maintains its own firearms law, and these laws vary drastically by state. California has the strictest gun laws, while southeastern states like Alabama and Mississippi have some of the most lenient.
Aggravated felonies are serious crimes that are specifically mentioned in the US Immigration and Nationality Act. The list names numerous offenses, including:
- Sexual abuse of a minor,
- Child pornography,
- Money laundering over $10,000,
- Tax evasion over $10,000,
- Human trafficking (except a first offense to help your spouse, child, or parent across the US border);
- Receipt of stolen property,
- Trafficking in firearms or explosives,
- Drug trafficking,
- Felony document fraud (creating a fake passport, for example),
- Felony gambling offenses,
- Felony racketeering,
- Felony counterfeiting,
- Prostitution, and
- Violent felonies (with a possible sentence of at least one year).
A mere attempt to commit any of the crimes listed above, or a conspiracy to commit one, can get you deported. As you may have noticed, many of these crimes are already listed as deportable offenses under other sections. Many of them are “crimes of moral turpitude,” for example, and one is a firearms offense. Nevertheless, US immigration law contains some aggravated felonies that are not listed above.
Almost any drug crime is a deportable offense. That includes not only manufacturing and trafficking but also simple possession of any amount of an illegal drug. The only exception is that possession of under 30 grams of marijuana for personal use only is not a deportable offense.
A word of caution about marijuana. Possession of any amount of marijuana is illegal under federal law. This is true throughout the United States, even in states that have legalized marijuana. The federal government has simply been refraining from enforcing federal marijuana laws in states that have legalized it. That doesn’t mean they can’t deport you for it if they catch you with over 30 grams of it, however.
Domestic Violence and Related Offenses
You can be deported for domestic violence and related offenses such as:
- Child abuse,
- Child neglect or abandonment, or
- Violation of a protection order.
You can also be deported for any crime of violence against a relative, ex-spouse, or someone you live with. Be aware US authorities take domestic violence extremely seriously, and the police very easily arrest people for it. You should also be aware that false domestic violence allegations are not uncommon during child custody proceedings.
What Options Do You Have If You Have Already Been Convicted of a Deportable Offense?
You need to speak to a lawyer to understand the full range of options that might be available to you, depending on the specifics of your case. Following are descriptions of two of the most prominent options.
Cancellation of Removal
“Removal” is the US immigration term meaning “deportation.” “Cancellation of removal” is a legal way to have the government cancel deportation proceedings against you, even if you have been convicted of crimes that would otherwise warrant deportation. Cancellation of removal is an immigration benefit that is difficult to obtain. However, if you obtain it, you will qualify for permanent residence (a “green card”) if you don’t already have one.
You must apply for cancellation of removal on your own initiative. Eligibility requirements differ depending on whether you currently hold permanent residence. If you don’t hold permanent residence, you will need to show that deporting you will cause “exceptional and extremely unusual hardship” to a family member who is a US citizen or permanent resident. Hardship to you is irrelevant–only hardship to your family member matters.
The I-601 Waiver
You can file for an I-601 waiver together with a visa or permanent residence application to seek forgiveness of your criminal offenses. An I-601 waiver will terminate deportation proceedings and allow you to remain in the US in your new visa/permanent resident status. You can apply for an I-601 waiver whether you are inside or outside the United States.
Nevertheless, not all crimes are eligible for the waiver. Certain aggravated felonies such as murder, rape, arson, terrorism, etc., are ineligible for a waiver. Many drug offenses will also disqualify you. Speak with your lawyer to assess your chances of obtaining an I-601 waiver.
We’re Ready to Fight for You
If you are an immigrant and the government has charged you with a deportable offense, you are facing a difficult situation, to say the least. If you are not even sure whether the offense is deportable, you might not even understand the consequences of accepting a plea bargain.
We can help you. The criminal defense attorneys at Blair Defense Criminal Lawyers have spent more than a decade honing their skills in San Diego’s unforgiving criminal justice system. We know how the local prosecutors think and how to get results.