There are millions of non-US citizens (or "foreign nationals" or "aliens") in the country at any given time. Many here legally. For example, you may be a "permanent resident" or have a "green card," meaning you can live and work in the US indefinitely and enjoy most of the rights and privileges that US citizens have. Or, you may have a visa, which lets you stay in the country temporarily while you work or go to school. Some non-citizens are here illegally, such when someone sneaks into the country or stays here after his visa has expired.
Regardless, if you're not a US citizen and you're in the country, a criminal conviction may mean your deportation or removal from the US. That is, the federal government can send you back to your native country and bar you from re-entering the US.
Crimes and Convictions
Under US immigration law, a non-US citizen may be deported or removed from the country if she commits any of the following crimes:
- Crimes of moral turpitude (CIMT). These crimes involve some act that's base, depraved or vile. Examples include murder, rape and arson. You may be deported for a conviction on a CIMT only if you were convicted within five years after you were admitted to the US (it's 10 years if you have a green card) and you were sentenced to a year or more in prison
- Aggravated felonies . The immigration law lists dozens of crimes that qualify as aggravated felonies, such as murder, rape and trafficking in drugs or firearms. It doesn't matter how long you've been in the US, either. If you commit an aggravated felony at any time after being admitted to the US, you may be deported
- Failure to register as a sex offender. If you're convicted of a sex-related crime and you're required to register as a sex offender under the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act and you don't, you may be deported
- Drug-related crimes . You may be deported if you're convicted of selling, distributing or possessing illegal drugs or "controlled substances." The exception is if the conviction is your first conviction and it was for possessing 30 grams or less of marijuana for your own use
- Gun-related crimes . A conviction for buying, selling, owning or carrying a firearm is a deportable offense
- Crimes of domestic violence. This means any crime of violence you commit against a current or former spouse, the other parent of your child, or any person you're living with or used to live with
- Crimes against the US or other citizens. You may be deported if you commit treason and espionage, or acts of terrorism
These are just a few examples; there are many other criminal convictions that may lead to deportation. You need to check the federal immigration laws, as well as the criminal laws in the state where the crime was committed, to see if you're subject to deportation.
Can You Come Back?
Maybe. It all depends on the crime. If you were convicted of an aggravated felony, you can't return to the US. Ever. If your conviction was for any other crime, you may be allowed to re-enter the US, but not immediately. You may have to wait up to 10 years before you can file an application to re-enter and pay a filing fee.
If you're a non-US citizen and find yourself in trouble with the police or federal agents, you should contact an experienced attorney immediately, if possible. By contacting a criminal law attorney as soon as you've been charged with a crime, you may be able to avoid a criminal conviction and deportation altogether. If conviction can't be avoided, an immigration law attorney may be able to help you stay in the US. The immigration laws and processes are complicated, and it's best not to go it alone. There's too much at stake.
Questions for Your Attorney
- I can't be deported for shoplifting, can I?
- Can I ask for asylum even if I've been convicted of a crime and ordered to be deported?
- How long can my son be held in detention while waiting for his deportation hearing?