Immigration Consequences of Criminal Pleas

Issues of inadmissibility and deportability

In order to properly defend against removal from the United States it is important to first understand that removability laws consist of two distinct parts; laws of inadmissibility and laws of deportability. Generally speaking, the laws of inadmissibility apply to non-citizens seeking admission into the United States after a trip abroad or when applying for permanent residence and are contained in the Immigration And Nationality Act (INA) section 212(a)(2). Deportation laws on the other hand apply to non-citizens who were already “lawfully admitted” into the United States but are now removable because they have not complied with the conditions of their visa or have suffered certain criminal convictions. Laws regarding deportability are contained in the Immigration And Nationality Act (INA) section 237(a) (2).

If you are not a lawful permanent resident and you plead guilty or “nolo contendere”, or have been found guilty for committing a crime of moral turpitude (see crimes of moral turpitude), you may later be found “inadmissible” and denied permanent residence if no provision for waiver or exception exists. The mere admission of having committed certain offenses can be enough to trigger findings of inadmissibility. If at the time of conviction you already were a legal permanent resident, you may need to demonstrate an exception to the law or present a waiver of inadmissibility.

Crimes of moral turpitude

Legal dictionaries define crimes of moral turpitude (CMT) as crimes that are shameful, vile, depraved, or shock the moral sense of the community. There is no definitive list of crimes of moral turpitude because a crime of moral turpitude depends on the wording of the criminal statute which varies from state to state. Consequently, there are hundreds of different offenses that qualify as CMT. For example, crimes where the defendant had the intent to commit fraud, theft, great bodily harm, or lewd sexual acts will be considered CMT regardless of sentence.

Aggravated Felonies

Certain criminal convictions are so severe that they foreclose almost all defenses against removal. This type of conviction is called an aggravated felony and its definition is found at INA 101(a)(43). Determining what state criminal convictions qualify as aggravated felonies requires comparing the language of the state’s criminal statute with the federal definition of aggravated felony and see if there is a match. A match exists when all of the proscribed conduct in the federal definition is also defined in the state criminal statute. If the federal definition of aggravated felony contains more elements than the state’s statute, there is no “match” and consequently no aggravated felony.