Being an immigrant in the United States right now puts you in a precarious position, even when you're here legally. One mistake and one arrest later and your chances of being able to stay in the country long-term are gone forever.
What type of crime can lead to deportation if you're an immigrant?
An aggravated felony charge puts you at extreme risk of deportation. The term "aggravated felony" used to refer only to crimes like murder, drug trafficking, firearms trafficking and a few other major offenses. Now, for the purposes of immigration law, the definition includes more than 30 types of offenses, including battery, theft and failing to appear in court.
What other types of crimes can lead to deportation?
Any "crime of moral turpitude," which is a broad catch-all term used to describe everything from getting caught with an ounce of marijuana to prostitution, is also cause for deportation. Many things that are minor offenses for citizens take on major meaning when immigration is involved.
What happens following an arrest for either an aggravated felony of a crime of moral turpitude if you're an immigrant?
If you're a legal permanent resident or here on some other visa or temporary lawful status, an aggravated felony conviction or the conviction of a crime of moral turpitude will likely result in deportation. Only lawful permanent residents are even entitled to a hearing before an immigration judge in these situations. In addition, a conviction of an aggravated felony will generally bar you from any form of immigration relief in the future, including asylum, waivers of inadmissibility due to past misconduct or voluntary departure. If you do return to the United States illegally following your conviction for an aggravated felony, you can be imprisoned for 20 years and then deported again.
Would pleading guilty or "no contest" help?
Pleading guilty or "no contest" to an aggravated felony or crime of moral turpitude has the same effect as a conviction on your immigration status.
That makes a strong criminal defense extremely important to your future -- you simply cannot afford to take your chances with the court or plead guilty if you hope to remain in the United States. The best thing to do if you are charged with a serious crime is to invoke your right to remain silent and contact a defense attorney immediately.
Source: American Immigration Council, "Aggravated Felonies: An Overview," accessed March 24, 2017