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Criminal convictions and your immigration status

If you are in New Jersey on a U.S. visa or green card, you probably went through a long, frustrating process to obtain that privilege. Perhaps you are here for employment, or a family member sponsored your application for permanent residency. Whatever your situation, you may have plans for the future that involve remaining in the U.S. or returning at some time in the future after your visa expires.

To ensure those opportunities are not lost, you will want to avoid any behavior that could jeopardize your status in this country. Among the most common reasons why a visa holder or permanent resident may face deportation is a conviction for a criminal offense. However, it is important to understand that the law holds green card and visa holders to a different standard from what is expected of U.S. citizens.

What is a felony?

In the criminal justice system, serious crimes are called felonies, and less serious crimes are misdemeanors. For example, shoplifting is a misdemeanor in most courts while murder is a felony. This is not the case when the person suspected of committing a crime is in the country through the immigration system.

As a holder of a green card or visa, you risk deportation for certain crimes that are misdemeanors to other citizens. Under immigration law, you may hear these offenses referred to as crimes of moral turpitude or aggravated felonies.

Special scales for immigration justice

Crimes of moral turpitude violate the standard of decency in society. There is no specific list of these crimes, which means you may not know your actions will fall under this category until you face the charges. However, some courts have labeled these and other offenses as crimes of moral turpitude:

  • Abusing a child
  • Evading payment of your taxes
  • Committing perjury
  • Committing forms of fraud

Aggravated felonies are typically misdemeanors or even infractions in federal or local courts. Congress created this special category of offenses that can result in deportation for those subject to immigration law. The offenses contained under this heading are broad, and Congress occasionally adds new ones. Once a charge that dealt only with violent or drug trafficking crimes, an aggravated felony may now include these offenses and others:

  • Simple battery
  • Failing to appear for a court hearing
  • Lying on your tax return
  • Shoplifting

Yes, shoplifting can result in serious penalties if you are in the immigration system. In addition to the risk of deportation or permanent denial of legal residency for convictions under either of these two categories of offenses, you may face a ban on ever returning to the U.S. and years in prison. Facing these charges with an experienced criminal defense attorney may improve your chances of avoiding this fate.

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