Overview of Immigration Consequences for Criminal Convictions

The most severe impact of any defendant’s criminal conviction is potential immigration consequences for legal residents that are not citizens.  In fact, in Padilla v. Kentucky (2010), the United States Supreme Court held that immigration consequences from criminal convictions form an integral part of the penalty imposed on noncitizen defendants, and that defense counsel must accurately inform noncitizen defendants of the immigration consequences that follow from a guilty plea.  Even though the United States Supreme Court requires criminal defense attorneys to give proper immigration advice, many criminal defense attorneys do not understand the overlap between immigration law and criminal law.  If you are a noncitizen facing criminal charges, your life depends on hiring a criminal defense attorney who is intimately familiar with all the immigration consequences of your criminal case.

When any non-citizen is convicted of a crime, they are possible immigration consequences.  Currently, the laws regarding immigration consequences are well-known, but the laws are constantly changing.  It is important to hire an attorney that is up to date on immigration consequences for criminal convictions when choosing to hire a criminal attorney.  The attorneys at the Law Offices of Fred Thiagarajah constantly attend seminars, consults with immigration attorneys and reviews literature dealing with immigration consequences for criminal defendants.

Noncitizens can be here legally and illegally.  This article is designed to give an overview of immigration consequences to legal noncitizens facing criminal charges.  Legal residents of this country include lawful permanent residents, also known as green card holders, people here on student visas or work visas, and legal refugees or people who have been granted asylum.  Legal residents also include minor children of people in these categories.

There are two main types of immigration consequences for criminal convictions – denial of admission (which includes denial of naturalization), and deportation (pursuant to 8 USC 1227(a)(2)).  Some criminal convictions lead to a denial of admission but not deportation.  Some criminal convictions lead to deportation, but not a denial of admission.  Many criminal convictions lead to both.  You need a criminal defense attorney experienced with immigration consequences to help you minimize your immigration consequences.  For a more detailed analysis of deportation and denial of admission, visit our FAQ.

California State Law vs. Federal Immigration Law

Immigration law is governed by federal statutes and federal cases.  Immigration courts follow federal law.  California state law has no impact on immigration courts.  The guidelines for whether a crime has immigration consequences depend on federal guidelines.  However, most defendants face state criminal charges as opposed to federal criminal charges, and thus immigration courts are forced to interpret whether a particular state crime meets the federal guidelines for whatever immigration consequences might be imposed.

For example, any conviction involving controlled substances (other than a single possession for one’s own use with less than 30 grams of marijuana) leads to deportation.  Drugs such as marijuana, methamphetamine, cocaine, heroin and ecstasy are considered controlled substances under both federal and state law.  However, there are some controlled substances that are illegal under California law that are NOT illegal under federal law.  A criminal defense attorney that can convince the prosecution to change the drug charges in a way that does not conflict with federal law will save a defendant from immigration consequences.

Minimizing Immigration Consequences

Although immigration consequences can be severe for many California state crimes, a knowledgeable criminal defense attorney can use many techniques and tools to either prevent or minimize immigration consequences.  If you’re a noncitizen facing criminal charges, your very life in this country is on the line.  The immigration laws are very complex and constantly changing.  If you don’t hire the right criminal defense attorney, even a minor crime like pushing your girlfriend can lead to deportation.

If you are interviewing criminal defense attorneys, don’t be afraid to ask them about their experience involving immigration consequences.  How often do they update themselves on immigration law?  How often do they attend immigration seminars?  Does their practice focus on immigration consequences for noncitizens?  Does their website give an overview of immigration consequences for noncitizens?

Fred Thiagarajah is an immigrant to this country, and son of immigrants.  His parents brought him to the United States when he was three years old and he had the good fortune of being naturalized when his parents naturalized.  Although he has grown up in California, he understands the immigrant culture and knows that most immigrants are good, hard-working individuals who cherish life in this country.  Choose a criminal defense attorney with the intelligence, knowledge and experience necessary to keep you safely in this country.  Choose the Right Choice Law Group.  With offices in Newport Beach, Los Angeles, Long Beach, Pasadena, Diamond Bar, Rancho Cucamonga, Riverside and Murrieta, our attorneys have criminal defense experience in the counties of Orange, Los Angeles, San Bernardino and Riverside.

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