Industries are full of jargon and made-up words that describe certain people, places, and things. The legal industry is no different. Crimmigration is one recent word to come out of the offices of criminal defense lawyers, especially those who also specialize in immigration law. You won’t find crimmigration in the dictionary, but you can think of it as the body law that deals with the impact specific crimes have on a non-U.S. citizen’s immigration status.
How Exactly Do Crime and Immigration Intersect for Non-citizens?
The intersection of crime and immigration specifically occurs because non-citizens convicted of crimes face harsh consequences with regard to immigration status. These penalties are in addition to any fines or jail time imposed by the court. Although the criminal justice system separates crimes by felonies, misdemeanors, and other petty crimes, the separation is not as clear for non-citizens. Even minor crimes, such as shoplifting, can result in mandatory removal, the legal word for deportation.
Strict Crimmigration Policies Are on the Rise in the U.S.
Non-U.S. citizens with and without green cards need to be concerned about the recent increase in policies that target those who have committed crimes, even minor ones. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) reported that their officers arrested more than 140,000 non-citizens in 2019 and removed over 267,000, representing an increase from the previous year. More than 85 percent of those arrested by ICE had pending criminal charges or convictions. The increased removals show that crimmigration policies are on the rise, and the massive numbers suggest ICE is removing far more than violent criminals.
In fact, the anti-immigration rhetoric and policies coming from the Trump administration suggest that the federal government is pushing for removal. Mandatory deportation comes with any aggravated felony conviction, but in other cases, judges have discretion; A judge has the option to let someone stay in the United States or order their immediate removal. In these situations, the policy already exists, and many judges default to the strictest consequence—mandatory deportation.
What Are the Consequences of Crimmigration Policies?
Non-U.S. citizens who are convicted of a crime face a wide array of negative consequences that impact their immigration status. The exact impact depends on the type and severity of the charges, laws about mandatory deportation, immigration status, and the disposition of the court. Examples include:
- Removal, which is the legal term for deportation, from the United States
- The inability to re-enter the United States after leaving called inadmissibility
- Denial of requests for asylum or hardship
- Inability to apply for permanent resident status referred to as “getting a green card”
- Inability to naturalize or become a U.S. citizen
Who Is at Risk for Consequences of Crimmigration Policies?
If you have a green card granting you permanent resident status in the United States, you might think you are safe from the consequences of crimmigration policies. It’s true that ICE targets undocumented non-citizens and those without permanent status for deportation and/or inadmissibility. Yet, the government can still force the removal of those with green cards when they commit a crime. Any immigrant who plead guilty or gets convicted of an aggravated felony faces deportation. An aggravated felony is a special class of criminal offenses that refer to serious crimes. Other convictions, arrests, and minor offenses also put immigrants at risk for deportation, typically at the discretion of a judge.
The Criminal Legal Process for Immigrants
When an immigrant gets arrested and charged with a crime, they must go through the same process as citizens, but their immigrant status comes into play during court proceedings. The broad steps of the crimmigration process for immigrants include:
- Law enforcement arrests a person and takes them to Central Lock-up in New Orleans. Most cities have some sort of central facility, but the exact location varies depending on where you live.
- Law enforcement books, fingerprints, and processes the arrest at Central Lock-up.
- The detained immigrant waits to get in front of a criminal judge for an arraignment, where the judge decides whether to release the defendant, release the defendant on bail, or order them to remain in jail to await their trial.
- The defense and prosecution prepare their cases for trial. The prosecution runs a criminal background check on the immigrant as well as researching the status of the person in terms of citizenship and immigration.
- The prosecution notifies the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) of the arrest but might wait to inform them after a conviction.
- The trial date arrives and the court renders a verdict for the defendant.
An arrest is unlikely to result in negative immigration consequences on its own; a conviction must occur. Yet, as soon as you are arrested for a crime, you are on the radar of local law enforcement, making it likely you will be arrested again if you do not strictly adhere to laws. Unfortunately, some law enforcement might specifically target you and find a way to arrest you for a crime.
Historically, law enforcement and prosecutors only had the authority to report arrests and charges for major crimes to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The law is unclear under the Trump administration and anti-immigrant sentiments of those in positions of power typically result in reports to ICE for the most minor arrests.
Legal Representation Is Your Best Chance to Avoid Consequences of Crimmigration Policies
If you’ve been arrested and charged with a crime and you are not a U.S. citizen, you have a lot to lose because of crimmigration policies. Your best chance of avoiding deportation and other negative immigration consequences is to hire an experienced crimmigration attorney who can help fight your charges and advocate for you during the criminal process. The skilled legal team at Stephenson, Chávarri & Dawson have more than 50 years of combined experience representing non-citizens who face negative immigration consequences as a result of being charged or convicted of a crime. Contact us today online or at 504-523-6496 to discuss your situation, your crimmigration legal needs, and the best path forward for your circumstances.