When I think of immigration in America, the scene from The Godfather Part II comes to mind.  Young Vito Andolini has escaped assassins in Sicily, sails to America, and stands in line at an immigration station in New York Harbor.  The immigration officer reads his documentation incorrectly.  The officer mistakenly gives the small boy an identification card that says, “Vito Corleone.”  Corleone, Sicily was the boy’s hometown; not his last name. 

Until late 1890’s, each state controlled immigration policy and law.  On April 11, 1890, the federal government took control of immigration.  The government began construction on the first federal immigration station at Ellis Island, New York.   

Since Ellis Island was constructed, immigration law provided for the deportation of immigrants who had been convicted of a “serious crime of moral turpitude.” These crimes were considered evidence of the immigrant’s lack of good moral character. They included serious crimes such as murder, sexual assault, aggravated assault, and armed robbery.

Immigrants who had committed less serious offenses were not subject to the same removal proceedings as those who had committed serious crimes of moral turpitude. Instead, they would face the same penalties as other U.S citizens under the American criminal justice system.

Times have changed.  Beginning in the 1980’s, an uptick of immigration law enforcement began.  Today, a non-U.S. citizen who commits a lesser offense is in danger of going through removal proceedings and/or being deported in addition to facing criminal charges.

What is Crimmigration Law?

Because of this significant increase in prosecuting immigration offenses, criminal law and immigration law have merged into one.  The phrase “crimmigration law” defines this merger.

Why is Crimmigration Law important?

The potential penalties for non-citizens charged with crimes or serious traffic offenses can be devastating.

Even if the person had been charged with a crime in the past that did not affect his or her current status, issues can arise in future situations.  Some examples include problems renewing a Visa, Green Card, and becoming naturalized citizen. The worst result is deportation.

For international students, the ability to attend school in the U.S., traveling within the U.S., and re-entering the country after visiting abroad can all be challenged by the government and denied.

The long-term consequences can be worse.  Some include being separated from family and friends, not being able to finish his or her education, and/or being denied the ability to work in the U.S.

Immigration consequences have become so severe that The Supreme Court of the United States has held that a criminal defense attorney who fails to fully advise his or her client of their possible immigration consequences before the client enters a guilty plea can be deemed as providing ineffective assistance of counsel.  This happens when a lawyer’s performance is so deficient that a defendant is entitled to some form of relief based on that lawyer’s poor representation. 

Common criminal charges, that are relatively minor compared to serious violent felonies, can trigger some of these adverse immigration issues.  Below are some examples of crimes that can cause huge problems:

  • DUI
  • Drug possession (even a small amount)
  • Academic dishonesty
  • Public intoxication
  • Reckless conduct
  • Theft
  • Crimes committed under the Family Violence Act
  • Hit and Run

If a non-citizen is ever arrested for a crime or serious traffic offense, he or she must find a criminal defense lawyer who either practices crimmigration or has an excellent working relationship with an immigration attorney who will assist in the case.