One of my law school professors once told me that there is a natural connection between immigration law and criminal law. He told me this very early in my law career after he found out that I was practicing in both areas. He recommended that I continue doing so.
This was good advice. I now often represent individuals both in immigration court and in criminal court. It is strange to say this, but in my experience, the bad consequences of immigration court are much worse than the bad consequences of the average criminal case.
The U.S. Supreme Court said the same thing in the case of Padilla vs. Kentucky, where it said that when a criminal defendant pleads guilty to a criminal charge, the immigration consequences of that criminal guilty plea—usually fines and/or jail time—are usually worse for the person pleading guilty than the fines or jail time. That is because bad immigration consequences often involve what the U.S. Supreme Court called “exile.”
A person who pleads guilty to a criminal charge obviously always faces bad consequences. No one wants to go to jail or to pay a fine or to visit a probation officer several times per week. But immigration consequences are worse because a person can be deported from the United States to his or her own country, where there is often violence or instability or lack of work, and the person is then separated from his or her own family.
And that is the worst part. That is why the immigration consequences can be so much worse than criminal consequences. Immigration consequences can and often do permanently break up families. Obviously criminal convictions for more serious charges like murder or sexual assault can also break up families, but the majority of crimes that individuals are charged with in the court system are for more minor offenses… charges like drunk driving, assault and battery, domestic violence, stealing small amounts of property, etc.
Those small crimes—for which individuals often serve no jail time, only probation—often result from deportation and permanent exile from family and friends here in the United States.
One very powerful example: when an individual is convicted of possession of marijuana—even of a very small amount, like half of a marijuana cigarette—that person can be deportable and barred from ever returning to the United States. This is especially true if a person has two of these types of convictions on his or her record. These crimes are obviously very, very small in terms of potential jail and fines, but they are massive in terms of their immigration consequences.
There are dozens of examples like this. It is my hope—and I know it is the hope of many other immigration attorneys—that U.S. immigration law will eventually be reformed so that it can help families, instead of so often destroying them.
Thank you for reading.