Refugees, Crime, Immigration Status and the Law

Refugees, Crime, Immigration Status and the Law

It’s impossible to ignore what’s going on in the United States in the last week with regard to President Trump’s executive order halting our nation’s refugee program and banning the acceptance of any more refugees from 7 Muslim majority countries.

There is already much debate and conflict over the order and, rather than add a voice to the conflict, I wanted to write about how criminal charges could affect someone – like a refugee – who does not have citizenship in this country.

What Can Affect Immigration Status?

Everyone is subject to mistakes. Usually, when people commit crimes, they do so without considering how it will affect all areas of their lives. Immigrants in this country are subject to the same possibilities of mistakes. However, committing a crime while not a citizen can have more serious consequences than it would for a citizen committing the same crime.

One of the consequences is, of course, deportation from the United States back to one’s own country. In the case of a refugee or someone seeking political asylum, it’s easy to see why this could, in itself, be a harsh punishment. A non-citizen who commits a crime in the U.S. could be barred from re-entry for the duration of his or her life.

There are two circumstances particular to crimes committed by non citizens: Aggravated Felony and Crimes Involving Moral Turpitude.

Aggravated Felony

Under immigration law, Aggravated Felony has a specific meaning. A non-citizen may have committed an aggravated felony under immigration law without having broken a state law, or having committed a crime which, under state law, is considered a misdemeanor. This could include behaviors which aren’t even criminalized.

Because the term Aggravated Felony isn’t itself defined, there is a list of behaviors which make a defendant removable from the country. The list continues to grow, but it includes such behaviors as:

  • Drug Trafficking
  • Firearm Trafficking
  • Trafficking of incendiary devices (bombs)
  • Murder
  • Rape
  • Sexual Abuse of a Minor
  • Money laundering over $10,000
  • Offenses related to explosive material or firearms
  • Violent crimes
  • Theft
  • Kidnapping
  • Child pornography
  • Some prostitution offenses
  • Racketeering
  • Illegal gambling
  • Tax evasion over $10,000
  • Illegal entry or reentry after removal
  • Failure to appear for sentencing when the offense is punishable by at least five years
  • Failure to appear at court for an offense punishable by at least two years
  • Human trafficking
  • Alien smuggling
  • Obstruction of justice
  • Bribery of witness
  • Perjury
  • Fraud
  • Deceit offenses
  • Document fraud in certain cases

Moral Turpitude

As you might imagine, with a phrase sounding so archaic to our ears, courts have had to wrestle over these types of cases. It basically means, for a person not a citizen of this country, that he or she has violated the accepted moral code of the community.

Some of the crimes listed above have been determined to fall under the heading of “moral turpitude” – tax evasion, wire fraud, carrying a concealed weapon in violation of the law, perjury and child abuse. These cases – as are those above – are often dealt with on a case by case basis.

Consider this example: a man seeking political asylum from a country where it is not considered a crime to beat his wife is arrested for domestic violence. If he is convicted, his crime falls under the definition of moral turpitude because it IS considered a crime in this country.

Take Away

Some of these cases can only be considered an aggravated felony if the term of imprisonment is for at least one year. It is crucial to hire an immigration lawyer immediately – before a sentence is imposed. It’s sometimes possible to obtain deportation relief. If you are facing criminal charges as a non-citizen, call us today. We are here to help.

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