If you hold an immigrant visa for permanent legal residency, also known as a green card, you probably remember how hard you worked to obtain it. You likely filled out reams of forms, underwent interviews and background screenings, and waited for what may have been months or even years. Now that you are a permanent legal resident of the U.S., you want to do whatever it takes to maintain that status.
You may also have questions about how fragile your status might be. For example, the government has the legal right to revoke your green card and deport you from the country under certain extreme conditions, such as if you are convicted of committing a crime. However, what crimes does the government consider deportable?
Criminal charges and your future
In the U.S., crimes generally fall into two categories. Misdemeanors are less serious crimes for which someone might expect to spend a year or less in jail, if any time at all, for a conviction. The more serious crimes are felonies, and these typically carry more severe penalties for conviction, such as lengthy prison sentences. For someone who has immigrated to the U.S., however, these categories do not always apply. In fact, the immigration system has its own categories of criminal offenses that may affect your permanent resident status.
An aggravated felony is a type of crime the immigration authorities consider deportable. These crimes include regular felonies, such as drug trafficking, murder and other violent crimes. However, aggravated felonies also include certain crimes that are merely misdemeanors for U.S. citizens, including theft, perjury or failing to appear for a court date.
Besides aggravated felonies, you should be concerned about crimes of moral turpitude, a category of offenses exclusively for those in the U.S. immigration system. There is no clear definition for a crime of moral turpitude. Instead, the government considers these to be crimes that violate the trust of the people and of the nation. The list of such crimes is fluid, but in general it includes:
- Fraud, including defrauding the welfare system
- Making criminal threats
What is most frustrating about crimes of moral turpitude is that the courts handle every case differently. A single offense of a minor crime of moral turpitude may not result in your deportation, but you can never tell how a judge will rule or whether the court will decide the offense of which you are accused meets the criterion for this category. This is why it is always wise to have professional legal representation whenever you are facing criminal charges, no matter how minor they may seem.