How Does a Felony Affect Immigration Status?
One of the last things you want to do if you are in the United States on a visa or green card is commit a felony. Immigration officials may deport you or downgrade your status on the basis of a felony or even a non-felony conviction, depending on your current status, the type of offense, and the specific facts surrounding your case.
Moreover, convictions for crimes involving "moral turpitude" or those labeled "aggravated felonies" carry harsh consequences for non-citizens. A non-citizen who commits an aggravated felony or a crime involving moral turpitude is generally ineligible for relief from deportation and often will be barred from reentering the U.S. in the future.
For immigration purposes, the term aggravated felony includes some offenses that are considered misdemeanors in state or federal courts, or in some cases conduct that is not even criminalized. In other words, it is a category unique to immigration law encompassing a wide variety of acts considered removable offenses by Congress.
Initially enacted in 1988, aggravated felony was limited to serious crimes such as murder, federal drug trafficking, and the illicit trafficking of firearms and incendiary devices. Since then, Congress had added a number of offenses to the list, including (but not limited to) the following:
- Simple battery
- Filing a fraudulent tax return
- Failure to appear in court
- Consensual sex between a 17-year-old and a 16-year-old
Even if an offense was added to the list of aggravated felonies after a foreign national has been convicted, the individual immediately becomes deportable (unless Congress specifically states otherwise).
Crimes of Moral Turpitude
Crimes of moral turpitude refer to acts determined by a court to violate the accepted moral standards of the community. The following offenses have been considered crimes involving moral turpitude by some courts, but there is no definitive list:
- Tax evasion
- Wire fraud
- Carrying a concealed weapon
- Child abuse
Immigration Consequences for Felony Convictions
If you are a foreign national, the commission of an offense described above does not necessarily lead to deportation. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) considers a number of factors with regard to the penalties faced by an immigrant to the U.S., while most forms of relief from deportation are discretionary. Still, aggravated felonies usually do lead to deportation.
The following is a general summary of possible consequences for immigrants who commit aggravated felonies, by type of status:
- Legal Permanent Resident: Subject to deportation; may be detained during removal proceedings; subject to up to 20 years in prison if LPR reenters the U.S. without permission after removal; permanently barred from future immigration to the U.S.; if not removed, LPR may be barred from becoming a naturalized citizen
- Refugee (without LPR status): May be deported after a criminal conviction, even if they would be in grave danger in their home country; some felonies, subject to judicial discretion, may result in the inability to obtain LPR status
- Asylee (without LPR status): May be deported only after being convicted of a "particularly serious crime," which includes any aggravated felony; some felonies, subject to judicial discretion, may result in the inability to obtain LPR status
- Non-Citizen with Temporary Lawful Status: This includes individuals with nonimmigrant visas and those with temporary protected status; may lose status and be removed for any felony conviction or two or more misdemeanor convictions
- Non-Citizen without Legal Status: Since undocumented immigrants are not authorized to be in the U.S., any criminal offense can result in deportation
For more information about problems that may arise with regard to immigration status, see FindLaw's Deportation and Removal subsection and "Visas: Reasons for Ineligibility." If you are a foreign national and have been convicted of a felony, an immigration attorney may be able to help.