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Criminal convictions carry harsh penalties for non-citizens

If you are in the United States under one of the many visa programs or you have obtained lawful permanent resident status, you likely have many plans for your future. Perhaps you aspire to complete your education, start your own business or find a way to assist your family in making their way to Utah. It was no easy task to achieve lawful status, and you have a right to be proud and excited about your opportunities.

However, now that you are facing criminal charges, you may see all those opportunities slipping away. As someone who is in the immigration system, your case has special complications. You also face penalties that a U.S. citizen does not face, including the risk of deportation if you are convicted.

What is an aggravated felony?

Immigration laws in the U. S. are much stricter than the laws governing citizens. For example, criminal offenses that may result in your deportation may be only minor crimes with minimal penalties for a citizen. Some minor crimes, called misdemeanors, are major crimes, called felonies, in the eyes of immigration officials.

Aggravated felony is another category of crime that refers to certain offenses committed only by someone in the immigration system. Congress established this category to include heinous acts such as murder, trafficking firearms or explosives, or trafficking drugs. As years passed, the government added more crimes to the list, including theft, battery and other charges that would otherwise be misdemeanors.

Consequences of a conviction

If authorities charge you with an aggravated felony and a court convicts you, the following may occur:

  • The government may automatically begin deportation procedures.
  • You may not even qualify for a hearing with the immigration court.
  • Agents may detain you while they carry out removal proceedings.
  • You may face deportation even if you are in the U.S. as a refugee and it is dangerous to return to your home country.
  • You may face deportation regardless of the fact that you have family remaining behind in the U.S. who depend on you.
  • The government will possibly bar you from ever re-entering the U.S.

Deportation is not the result of every criminal conviction for a non-citizen. In some cases, immigration officials may downgrade your status. For example, if you are currently a lawful permanent resident, you may be ineligible to pursue naturalized citizenship following a conviction. If you are a refugee, you may lose your option for seeking lawful permanent status.

Additionally, even if you receive a conviction for a crime that is not currently on the aggravated felony list, if Congress ever adds it to the list, authorities may retroactively apply the penalties to you. This is why it is important to take every possible step to avoid a conviction for any crime of which you stand accused.

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