Lately, I’ve been discussing the relationship between immigration law and criminal law.  This is an important subject, and as I often do in these posts, I hope to some time weeks discussing it.

I’ve made the argument that immigration consequences—especially for misdemeanors—are much, much worse than the criminal consequences.  Perhaps I should clarify what I mean by that: by criminal consequences, I mean those consequences that a person faces when they go to a local criminal court to face a judge after being charged with a crime like domestic violence, drunk driving, assault & battery, or stealing.

Speaking of immigration consequences, I mean those consequences that attach to a person after he or she finishes her criminal case, or after immigration finds out about his or her unlawful presence in the United States.  Very often, the immigration police (“Immigration and Customs Enforcement” or “ICE”) officers will come looking for a person only after he or she pleads guilty to a criminal offense.  It is very common for ICE officers to be waiting for an individual at a probation appointment, or when someone is released from prison, or even at court.  

However, ICE officers can show up at any place and any time as long as they have good reason to believe that someone is unlawfully present.

There are two different types of immigration consequences of criminal convictions: (1) those that attach to people with immigration status (like permanent residency or DACA or TPS or a visa), and (2) those that attach to those who have no status at all.  

First—and most commonly—there are those immigration consequences that attach to those that have no status in the United States.  These consequences happen when a court official, a judge, a local police officer (either a police officer at a jail, or even a local traffic officer who stops someone on the side of the road for speeding) can and will often call ICE to report someone who is suspected of not having legal permission to be present in the United States.  This happens all the time.  A person does not even have to be convicted of a crime, and he or she can still be reported to ICE simply because they do not have any legal papers.  

Second, individuals who have legal status—like permanent residents—often suffer immigration consequences of a different type only after being convicted of a crime.  These type of immigration consequences are a bit more rare in my experience than those consequences that attach to people who do not have any legal status.  This is because it is obviously harder to deport someone with legal status than it is to deport someone who does not have any status.  Normally, only more serious crimes have immigration consequences.  However, there are exceptions to this rule.  For example, any two crimes related to theft or fraud will make someone deportable as will many drug or firearm-related offenses.

I have had clients without status, without papers who are caught simply because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time, but did nothing wrong.  I have had clients with papers who did not realize that they could be deported for pleading guilty to minor offenses.  My advice to all who read this is to make sure that anyone you know with immigration issues always seeks legal advice before going to court.

Thank you for reading!