What Are Aggravated Felonies for Immigration?

Immigration Attorney Defines Aggravated Felonies

If you are a non-citizen, it is vital that you understand how criminal charges can affect your rights. The immigration system is extremely complex and hard to understand. This is very apparent when it comes to how the government handles criminal convictions.

One would think that there would be a simple list of crimes that you cannot be found guilty of if you are a non-citizen. However, the system divides crimes into three different categories. Each category carries with it certain consequences and risks.

Aggravated Felonies are the most serious crimes that affect immigration status. These crimes are quite different from petty offenses and Crimes of Moral Turpitude. An aggravated felony is essentially a bar from the vast majority of immigration proceeding, visas and other relief. If you have an aggravated felony on your record, you can expect that the US government will consider you to be an “enforcement priority.” This means that they may invest resources to actively look for you so that you could be detained and ultimately removed from the country.

But here’s the problem. There is no master list for “Aggravated Felonies.” Some people rely on the advice of counsel to determine the immigration consequences of a criminal plea deal. However, many criminal defense attorneys do not understand the nuances of immigration law and they can advise their clients incorrectly. For example, some “aggravated felonies” are not even felonies! It’s easy to see how a criminal defense attorney who ordinarily does not practice criminal defense could get confused.

Aggravated felonies are also confusing for non-attorneys. But it is important to make the investment and learn the law and the consequences of an aggravated felony BEFORE you take ANY plea agreement.

What happens to non citizens with aggravated felonies?

Aggravated felonies effectively make non citizens ineligible to receive any US visa or green card. If you have a green card, tourist or student visa, or any other type of visa, it is extraordinarily likely that the US government will seek to deport you. The term for “deportation” in immigration is “removal.” If you have an aggravated felony and are placed in “removal,” you can expect that the defenses to deportation will not be available to you. This means that if you have resided in the United States for over ten years, and you have qualifying relatives with status, an aggravated felony will make it impossible for you to cancel your removal.

Aggravated felonies also make it impossible to receive voluntary departure. This is a very significant issue, because an aggravated felony can make a non citizen permanently inadmissible to the United States. If that person returns to the US, they can be charged with “illegal re-entry.” Illegal reentry is a federal crime. While technically this criminal charge carries with it a maximum penalty of more than a decade in prison. However, for first offenders, people convicted of illegal reentry usually serve a sentence in prison of less than one year. That being said, after that sentence is served, the non citizen is again removed from the country and barred from return.

Other legal rights that are affected by aggravated felonies include marriage visas, asylum, and other waivers that are commonly available to people to adjust their status.

It is vital to understand also that sometimes the federal government does not take action against people with aggravated felonies. From time to time we hear of green card holders who try to apply for citizenship with an aggravated felony on their record. When this happens, officials usually move to deport the applicant. This is the case even if the aggravated felony is from the distant past. Our advice? If you aren’t sure you have an aggravated felony on your record, double check with an immigration attorney BEFORE you file paperwork with the government.

But how is aggravated felony defined?

Aggravated felonies involve two concepts. First the CONDUCT must fit one of the actions in the list below. Second, the offense plead to MUST have a sentence that is punishable in prison MORE than one year. The following list below does not include ALL of the conduct that is described in the INA regarding aggravated felony conduct.

  1. firearms or explosive materials convictions
  2. racketeering
  3. money laundering involving more than $10,000
  4. fraud or tax evasion involving more than $10,000
  5. theft or violent crime sentenced to greater than one year
  6. kidnapping offenses
  7. Any Offense Involving Child Pornography
  8. Human Trafficking
  9. Prostitution Business
  10. Crimes against the government such as espionage
  11. Crimes involving forgery or bribery
  12. Warranting for a felony case where the prison term is greater than 2 years
  13. Any offense involving alien smuggling for profit
  14. Offenses against a court such as perjury or bribery of a witness and the sentence is greater than 1 year
  15. murder
  16. rape
  17. sexual abuse of a minor (which can include statutory rape)
  18. simple battery
  19. drug trafficking
  20. trafficking in firearms or destructive devices

Please keep in mind that this is only a very partial list. Again, before you take ANY plea agreement, consult with an immigration attorney to make sure you aren’t making yourself deportable. Our attorneys offer free consultations. Call 602-989-5000.

The law offices of Alcock and Associates PC handles all types of immigration cases. The principle office is located in Phoenix, Arizona, but immigration matters are handled statewide by the firm.

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