There are no harsher consequences in immigration, than those that derive from criminal activity. Even many misdemeanor crimes can have severe immigration consequences. Books have been written on the subject so it is very important to speak to an experienced immigration attorney if you are being accused of a crime to understand what all the immigration consequences can be due to your situation.

Crimes Involving Moral Turpitude:
Moral turpitude is a term that has mostly been defined in Immigration Court by case law. In general, if a crime manifests an “element of baseness or depravity under current societal mores” it involves moral turpitude. Thus, certain crimes such as murder, rape, blackmail, and fraud are considered crimes involving moral turpitude, whereas crimes such as simple assault have not been considered to involve moral turpitude.

Aggravated Felonies:
INA Section 101(a)(43) defines “aggravated felony” through the listing of a number of criminal categories and specified crimes. The broadest categories of aggravated felonies under the INA are:

  • Any crime of violence (including crimes involving a substantial risk of the use of physical force) for which the term of imprisonment is at least one year;
  • Any crime of theft (including the receipt of stolen property) or
  • Burglary for which the term of imprisonment is at least one year; and
  • Illegal trafficking in drugs, firearms, or destructive devices.

Many specific crimes are also listed as aggravated felonies under the INA. These include:

  • murder;
  • rape;
  • sexual abuse of a minor;
  • illicit trafficking in a controlled substance, including a federal drug trafficking offense;
  • illicit trafficking in a firearm, explosive, or destructive device;
  • federal money laundering or engaging in monetary transactions in property derived from specific unlawful activity, if the amount of the funds exceeded $10,000;
  • any of various federal firearms or explosives offenses;
  • any of various federal offenses relating to a demand for, or receipt of, ransom;
  • any of various federal offenses relating to child pornography;
  • a federal racketeering offense;
  • a federal gambling offense (including the transmission of wagering information in commerce if the offense is a second or subsequent offense) which is punishable by imprisonment of at least a year;
  • a federal offense relating to the prostitution business;
  • a federal offense relating to peonage, slavery, involuntary servitude, or trafficking in persons;
  • any of various offenses relating to espionage, protecting undercover agents, classified information, sabotage, or treason;
  • fraud, deceit, or federal tax evasion, if the offense involves more than $10,000;
  • alien smuggling, other than a first offense involving the alien’s spouse, child, or parent;
  • illegal entry or reentry of an alien previously deported on account of committing an aggravated felony;
  • an offense relating to falsely making, forging, counterfeiting, mutilating, or altering a passport or immigration document if the term of imprisonment is at least a year and (2) the offense is not a first offense relating to the alien’s spouse, parent, or child;
  • failure to appear for service of a sentence, if the underlying offense is punishable by imprisonment of at least five years;
  • an offense relating to commercial bribery, counterfeiting, forgery, or trafficking in vehicles with altered identification numbers, for which the term of imprisonment is at least one year;
  • an offense relating to obstruction of justice, perjury or subornation of perjury, or bribery of a witness, for which the term of imprisonment is at least one year;
  • an offense relating to a failure to appear before a court pursuant to a court order to answer to or dispose of a charge of a felony for which a sentence of two years’ imprisonment or more may be imposed; and
  • an attempt or conspiracy to commit one of the foregoing offenses.

Note: Unless otherwise specified, an aggravated felony includes both state and federal convictions, as well as foreign convictions for which the term of imprisonment was completed less than 15 years earlier.


Crimes Affecting Finding of Good Moral Character:
INA § 101(f), states that an alien is barred from being found to have good moral character if, during the period for which character is required to be established, the alien:

  • commits certain acts related to prostitution or another commercialized vice;
  • knowingly encourages, induces, assists, abets, or aids any other alien to enter or to try to enter the United States in violation of law, except in limited circumstances;
  • commits a crime of moral turpitude, unless the alien committed only one crime and either
    • the crime was committed while the alien was a minor and the crime (as well as the alien’s release from any imprisonment for the crime) occurred at least five years prior to the pertinent application or
    • the maximum possible penalty for the crime did not exceed one year’s imprisonment and the sentence imposed did not exceed six months;
  • violates a federal, state, or foreign law or regulation relating to a controlled substance, other than a single offense of possessing 30 grams or less of marijuana;
  • commits two or more offenses for which the aggregate sentence imposed was at least five years;
  • gives false information in attempting to receive a benefit under the INA;
  • has an income principally derived from illegal gambling activities;
  • commits at least two gambling offenses for which the alien is convicted;
  • is in criminal confinement for at least 180 days; or
  • has at any time been convicted of an aggravated felony.

Immigration Consequences of Criminal Activity

Deportation: You may be removed from the US wether you are lawful permanent resident, here legally on a visa, or are here without any lawful status. However, dependant on your status you may qualify for different forms of relief or no relief at all.

Inadmissibility: You may face a lifetime bar to adjust status to permanent residence or to even return to the US if you depart for certain criminal activity. Some inadmissibility issues can be cured with a waiver. However, many cannot.

Mandatory detention: Certain convictions will result in detention without the possibility of bond (bail) during the removal process, including the time during an appeal.

Denial of naturalization: Even if you are not deportable or inadmissible, you may be denied naturalization to US citizenship for 5 years or more.

How to avoid these consequences?
If you are accused of a crime it is extremely important that your immigration attorney provide counsel to you and your criminal defense attorney during plea negotiations. Additionally, you should strongly consider hiring criminal defense counsel with vast trial experience and be ready to aggresively defend your case. Remember, NEVER TALK TO POLICE. YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO REMAIN SILENT. USE IT ALWAYS. NO EXCEPTIONS. Listen to my law school professor to find out why even telling the truth to police can hurt you. Link to Youtube video – Why you should never talk to police by Prof. James Duane.