Criminal History and Immigration

As the political clash over immigration continues to heat up, many people have found their status as immigrants threatened by past criminal convictions: in October of 2015, a six day raid by ICE resulted in 235 people arrested, almost half of whom were residents of Utah.  While it is true that many of these people were convicted of serious crimes, many had long since completed their court sentences and returned to normal lives, only to face arrest and deportation more than a decade later.  Whether or not you agree with ICE’s policy of targeting convicted criminals for deportation, it is worthwhile to stay informed of the kinds of convictions that could make you vulnerable to deportation.


                It probably comes as no surprise that people convicted of serious felonies are a prime target for deportation: murder, rape and sexual assault convictions generally sit at the top of that list.  But it might surprise you to learn that people convicted of misdemeanors – even relatively common misdemeanors – can also attract the attention of immigration authorities.  Convictions of domestic violence, simple assault and even DUI can result in an arrest and eventual deportation, even years after the incident.  With over 9,000 of these sorts of arrests in 2014 alone, a lot of people are probably unaware just how vulnerable they are to deportation, whether they’ve completed their sentences or not.

                So if it’s so easy to be put at risk for deportation, the question remains: what can be done about a criminal conviction?


                As with most legal problems, the best solution is to avoid being convicted in the first place: don’t commit the crime if you don’t want to be put at risk.  That being said, for people who’ve been landed with a criminal conviction that puts them at risk of deportation, there are steps that can be taken to reduce or eliminate the risk, convicted or not.

  1.        Get the right conviction.  When you are charged with a crime, your conviction will not necessarily be what you were originally charged with.  For example, many people charged with a DUI might only be convicted of impaired driving before all is said and done.  A skilled criminal defense attorney can make a big difference when it comes to negotiating a plea bargain for lesser offenses, so be sure to discuss your case with one before you accept a plea bargain that might leave you at risk of deportation. 
  2.       Get the conviction reduced.  Even if you were not in a position to hire an attorney back when you got your conviction, the possibility exists that your conviction can be reduced long after you’ve been convicted.  Felonies can be reduced to misdemeanors and misdemeanors can be reduced to infractions, and while all convictions are not eligible for a post-sentencing reduction, it is worth consulting with an attorney to see if the conviction can be reduced.  A simple reduction might be all that stands between you and deportation. 
  3.       Get expunged records reduced.  While expungement might at first seem like an easy solution to immigration problems, the fact of the matter is that, so far as ICE is concerned, expunged records are anything but sealed.  Whereas most state agencies lose access to an expunged record, ICE, being a federal agency connected to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, has complete access to sealed records, and acts on them accordingly.  As such, it is important to have your attorney review not just open and closed cases, but expunged cases as well, so as to determine whether or not they are eligible for reduction.  In the event that the expunged cases are eligible for reduction, your attorney can begin collecting the information necessary to unseal your records and begin the reduction process. 
  4.       Hire an immigration attorney.  While having a criminal defense attorney is critical to work on the first three options for your conviction, an immigration attorney can make a big difference, especially if you’ve already been arrested and are facing deportation.  Immigration attorneys can work with your criminal defense attorney to make sure that your conviction is reduced to the level necessary to deal with any potential deportation consequences.  Corroboration between criminal defense attorneys and immigration attorneys is pretty common, so ask your attorney if they have any recommendations when you’re looking for an immigration attorney.


                If you or someone you know has a criminal history which might leave them vulnerable to deportation, the first thing to do is to act immediately.  Every day spent waiting is another day that ICE agents might show up with a warrant for an arrest.  Contact an attorney and get a consultation –they are usually free – and find out what your options are.  Deportation can have devastating consequences, so take the initiative and protect yourself.

Photo Courtesy of: Stuart

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