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What Are Examples of Felonies That Cause Issues Under U.S. Immigration Law?

Criminal Convictions Can Lead to Serious Immigration Consequences


One of the biggest conditions of remaining a documented immigrant in the United States is that you cannot commit any serious crimes while you’re waiting for a green card or after you’ve received a green card.

Naturalized U.S. citizens usually can’t be deported for committing crimes, but permanent residents can. Here’s what immigrants need to know about how crimes can impact their immigration status and which types of crimes carry the most serious consequences.

What Is a Felony?

The United States puts different crimes into different categories: misdemeanors and felonies. Although you shouldn’t commit either type of crime, committing a felony can have much bigger consequences than committing a misdemeanor. 

Less serious crimes are classified as misdemeanors. Many misdemeanor convictions will only have a minimal impact on someone’s life if they’re convicted. 

The punishment for a misdemeanor crime is usually paying a fine or serving probation, which is a sentence that allows you to avoid jail time as long as you check in regularly with an officer and meet their requirements. Typically, the maximum prison sentence for a misdemeanor is one year.

Felony crimes are serious crimes. They usually involve violence but can also involve things like theft, property damage, drug trafficking, and fraud. Most people will be sentenced to jail or prison time if convicted of a felony crime. 

How Do Felony Convictions Affect People?

Felonies have serious consequences that can last years, even after someone has fully completed a sentence for a felony conviction. People with felony convictions often have a difficult time finding jobs or renting houses. 

American citizens who are convicted of felony crimes will temporarily lose some of their rights. They need to wait a specific period of time before they can ask the court to give them their rights back.

How Do Felonies Affect Immigration?

The United States rarely allows people to immigrate if they’ve been convicted of a crime similar to a felony in their home country. There are exceptions if the offense they committed isn’t illegal in the United States (i.e. convicted of disobeying religious modesty laws) or if they are eligible for a waiver. In some cases, the United States can provide asylum to people persecuted by politically motivated criminal charges in their home countries.

If you commit a felony as an immigrant within the United States, you may be deported. Even if removal proceedings are not initiated when you’re charged or convicted of a felony, you may be denied your ability to renew your green card and forbidden from applying for United States citizenship. You may also encounter difficulty when attempting to re-enter the United States after international travel. 

What Are Examples of Felonies Under U.S. Immigration Law?

Any felony crime raises red flags with immigration, but there are a few types of crimes they take especially seriously. If you’ve been charged with any of these crimes, your situation is urgent.

Violent Crimes

Any crime where someone causes significant injury or uses force against another person is considered a violent crime. Violent crimes include murder, assault, battery, sexual assault, and rape. 

Drug Crimes

Selling, buying, manufacturing, cultivating, or possessing illicit drugs or controlled substances without a prescription is considered a drug crime. There are changing laws surrounding the circumstances of some substances in the United States. 

Cannabis exists in a gray area. Cannabis is illegal on a federal level, although the current administration has expressed its intention to revisit cannabis laws and possibly change the way the substance is regarded by the law. 

Although recreational cannabis use is legal for adults in some states, immigration is a federal issue. Immigrants need to abide by federal laws as well as state laws. If you purchase or use cannabis from a legal dispensary location in a state with legal recreational cannabis, you’re technically violating federal law. 

It’s unlikely that legally purchasing cannabis would cause criminal complications for your immigration case, but it’s never a bad idea to be safe. It’s best for immigrants to abstain from cannabis use unless and until they obtain naturalized United States citizenship.

Human Trafficking and Drug Trafficking Crimes

Human trafficking is a crime in which someone illegally brings another person into the country to act in their servitude, like human slavery. Many victims of human trafficking are forced into prostitution. 

If you are a victim of human trafficking, contact immigration. You can be awarded a special immigration status (T visa), and the government can keep you safe from your abusers. You will never get in trouble for being trafficked. The government wants your help to apprehend the person who harmed you.

Drug trafficking involves smuggling drugs into the United States from another country. If you played any role in the trafficking process, even if you only drove a car that contained the contraband, you would be guilty of drug trafficking.

Crimes of Moral Turpitude 

Immigration uses the phrase “crime of moral turpitude” (CIMT) but doesn’t specifically define what they mean when they refer to these crimes. The Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) and federal courts have their own interpretation of the phrase. 

Whether an offense is a CIMT often hinges on whether the offense involves willful conduct that is morally reprehensible and intrinsically wrong. The crime is usually the result of a reckless, evil, or malicious intent. Many courts define crimes of moral turpitude to include violent crimes and theft. Any crime that involves murdering, physically harming, or stealing from someone would be likely considered a crime of moral turpitude. 

Weapon-Related Crimes

Permanent residents are legally allowed to purchase firearms in the United States. 

Owning a gun as an immigrant isn’t a crime. Illegally purchasing weapons, smuggling weapons in or out of the country, manufacturing weapons (like explosives), or using any weapon in the commission of a crime is a felony.

Crimes Against Children

The United States takes a strong stance against possessing or manufacturing pornography depicting children, kidnapping, abusing children, and sexually assaulting children. If you’re convicted of a crime against a child, you risk being deported. 

Domestic Violence 

Domestic violence is any violent crime committed by one member of a household against another member of a household. This can be a family member, roommate, or romantic partner. 

The severity of injuries or damage or circumstances of the event doesn’t necessarily matter. It’s still a crime, even if it was a private dispute. The state can choose to press charges against you, even if the other person declines to do so. 

Fraud or Theft

Fraud is any crime where someone deliberately misrepresented facts, lied, or schemed to steal something from someone else. Fraud is a scheme to obtain money, property, privileges, or information. 

Theft is the actual act of stealing something from someone. Theft is often committed by itself, but it can also be committed by fraud.

Undocumented Entry, Undocumented Re-Entry, and Immigration Fraud

These crimes only apply to immigrants. If you’re found to have entered or reentered the country without a valid visa or green card, you will be immediately deported and denied the opportunity to re-enter the United States for a minimum of five years. 

If you knowingly lied when presenting information to immigration in an effort to obtain a visa or a green card, your status will be revoked, and you won’t be allowed to come back. Intentionally misrepresenting your situation is considered document fraud. If you didn’t knowingly present false information, you may be able to challenge the decision.

Espionage and Similar Crimes

If you’ve entered the United States in an effort to work on behalf of a foreign government without disclosing your affiliation or position with a foreign government, your presence in the United States may be considered spying. 

Depending on the nature of your actions while in the United States, you can also be charged with crimes like espionage or treason. 

What Should You Do If You’re an Immigrant Who Has Been Charged With a Felony?

If you’ve been charged with a crime, you need a knowledgeable lawyer immediately. If you’ve been convicted of a crime, you should consider getting a lawyer under some circumstances.

Being charged with a felony is not the same thing as being convicted of a felony. If you’ve been charged, you still have an opportunity to fight the charge in court. A competent criminal defense attorney can help to prove that you didn’t commit the act in question; you should also consider hiring an experienced immigration attorney to consult on potential plea deals. If you’re found not guilty, you may still need the help of an experienced immigration lawyer to resolve the situation with USCIS. 

If you’re an immigrant who has been convicted of a felony, you need to abide by orders to leave the United States and stay out of the country. If you feel as though you’ve been falsely convicted, you can work from your home country to explore your options. Convictions are very rarely overturned. If it’s possible to attempt to overturn your conviction, your lawyer will let you know. 

Do You Have Questions About Felonies and Immigration Status?

If you have questions about felony charges or convictions and how they may impact your ongoing immigration case or legal status in the United States, you can contact the detail-oriented team at Cohen, Tucker & Ades online or by phone.


What Is a Felony Charge? | The Law Dictionary

N.7 Crimes Involving Moral Turpitude | Immigrant Legal Resource Center

8 USC 1324c: Penalties for document fraud | United States Code


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