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How criminal charges affect your immigration status

If you are in the United States on a green card or visa, you are enjoying many of the rights and privileges that come with your lawful status. Perhaps you are here to study, to visit family or to work in your chosen field. The longer you are here in New Jersey, the more comfortable you may become with your lifestyle, your friends and your community.

As a visa or green card holder, you likely understand the delicate nature of your lawful presence in this country. Unlike with U.S. citizens, one bad decision leading to a criminal conviction may remove you from many people and things you have come to love, perhaps including family members.

Criminal actions and immigration risks

Any criminal conviction is a serious concern for someone in the immigration system. Even a misdemeanor can result in the reduction of your status, making it more difficult for you to achieve your goals. Your legal status protects you from deportation, but convictions for crimes may remove that protection.

If you are in the immigration system, you are subject to more stringent legal expectations. For example, categories of offenses exist for you that do not apply to citizens, or at least they carry consequences for citizens that are not as harsh. Some crimes considered aggravated felonies for you, for example, may be only misdemeanors in federal or state court for U.S. citizens. In immigration courts, however, this hodgepodge of crimes may result in your immediate loss of removal protections. These may include offenses such as the following:

  • Failing to appear for a court summons
  • Filing tax returns with fraudulent information
  • Theft
  • Assault
  • Murder
  • Drug or weapons trafficking
  • Crimes of moral turpitude

The last category includes offenses that are considered shocking or unacceptable in society, some of which are already felonies -- like murder and kidnapping -- and others that are not, for example, tax evasion and perjury.

What to do next

In addition to penalties that may include jail time, your status as a lawful resident may be in jeopardy if the courts convict you of an aggravated felony or crime of moral turpitude. If immigration authorities begin removal proceedings against you, they may detain you during that time. Additionally, once you are deported, authorities may bar you from returning to the U.S. This could mean separation from loved ones indefinitely.

If you are facing criminal charges as a foreign national, you have every right to be concerned, and seeking legal assistance as soon as possible is critical. It is also important that your legal advocate have experience in immigration law and removal procedures.

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