If you are in the United States under a visa or green card, you probably spent many months or even years working to obtain that status. Being in Mississippi may have reunited you with family, offered you new opportunities for work or study, or granted you protection and safety you did not have in your home country.
With the hard work and time you spent reaching your goal of being lawfully present in the U.S., the last thing you want to do is to jeopardize your status. At some point in your immigration process, you may have heard of the factors that could threaten your status in this country. One of the surest ways to place yourself at risk of deportation is to commit a criminal act.
Special categories for those with visas or green cards
In the U.S., crimes are divided into two main categories: misdemeanors and felonies. Misdemeanors are minor crimes, especially those that cause no physical harm, and felonies are more serious offenses. However, as someone who is in the immigration system, you may face severe penalties even for a misdemeanor conviction.
This is because immigration law includes separate categories of offenses called aggravated felonies and crimes of moral turpitude. The U.S. Congress created these lists of crimes to include true felonies, such as murder, drug trafficking, and firearms trafficking. Throughout the years, Congress added other offenses to the list so that several aggravated felonies are not even felonies or would result in only minor penalties for U.S. citizens, for example:
- Tax evasion
- Failing to appear for sentencing after a conviction
Despite the penalties in place for U.S. citizens convicted of these crimes, because you are in the country on a visa or green card, conviction for an aggravated felony or crime of moral turpitude automatically qualifies you for removal procedures. Depending on the offense, authorities may immediately detain and hold you throughout removal proceedings. You will lose your status and face the additional penalty of being barred from returning to the U.S. This may bring an end to your opportunities and separate you from your loved ones indefinitely.
If a court convicts you of an aggravated felony or crime of moral turpitude, immigration authorities will not consider whether it is safe for you to return to your home country. Even if you are present as a refugee or asylee, a conviction places you in danger of losing the protections your immigration status offers. With so much at stake, it is wise for those with visas or green cards who are facing criminal conviction to seek legal assistance at the earliest opportunity.