Interviewer : When someone commits a crime, I’m sure in Arizona, not everyone there was born there. They may be Mexican Nationals, or they may be people from overseas that work for the tech companies there, like Intel for instance or Motorola. If they’re accused of a crime, can that affect their immigration status if they’re not citizens? Or even if they were and they were nationalized?
Mike: Yes. In Arizona, we have many different people that are not citizens who are accused of committing crimes every day. You have illegal immigrants, which if they’re convicted of a crime, that will for sure affect their ability to stay in Arizona and in this country. You also have people with green cards, or legal resident aliens, and if they’re convicted of a crime, they can also be made to leave the country and they can lose their legal resident status. So when people who are either on legal resident status or are accused of committing a crime, it’s very, very important that they get really good legal representation so that they don’t end up having the system deport them. For illegal immigrants, the big issue is the minute they get taken into custody, once the case is resolved, regardless of how the case resolves, even if the case is dismissed, once they’re in custody, they’ll be moved over to essentially ICE. Which is Immigration and Customs Enforcement, that’s on the Federal level. Once ICE gets a hold of them, they’re going to process them to be deported because they’re here illegally.
For legal resident aliens, or people with green cards, they’re here legally and they have the right to work here, and a lot of people live here for very long periods of time. But one of the conditions of being here is that they have to be a law abiding citizen, just like everybody else. Now, if they’re accused of a crime, not only they need to worry about what they’re accused of, but they need to worry about their immigration status. Because one of the things that is always said in court before someone either goes to trial or if someone takes a plea agreement, they need to understand that pleading guilty or being convicted of a crime could affect your immigration status if you are not a United States citizen. That’s where either they need to find a criminal lawyer who understands immigration law, who can advise them on that, or sometimes they need to find a separate immigration lawyer and have a consultation with them. Because one of the big things for immigration law is a legal resident alien, it’s possible, can commit a crime and still be allowed to stay here in the United States. But there are certain types of crimes where that’s not the case, and the big focus here for immigration purposes is whether or not the crime was one of moral turpitude. There are certain crimes that fall into that category. And if they’re convicted of certain types of offenses, then they could be deported. So that’s really important to them.
Interviewer : Can someone’s immigration case proceed faster than their criminal case? Could they be in the middle of being deported before they can ever get anywhere on their criminal case?
Mike: No, the criminal case is going to take priority. The criminal is always going to have to be resolved before the immigration courts make a decision, not to mention, here in Arizona, immigration courts are pretty backlogged, so they usually have a longer time line in terms of how long they take.
Interviewer : This applies even to people that have student visas, work visas…?
Mike: Yes, yes. Anybody who’s in this country legally but is here on a certain type of restriction, that includes visas, work visas, student visas, green cards. All of those people need to be aware that if you’re accused of a crime, you need to take it very seriously, and call a lawyer that understands these issues.
Interviewer : How about if you’re a naturalized citizen, are you the protected? Does that help you?
Mike: Once you become a full US citizen, whether or not you’re born here or naturalized, once you’re a US citizen, then you really don’t have any worry of being deported, because now you’re a full citizen. Is it possible that someone’s citizenship can be taken away? Yes, but that’s in very, very, very unique and not likely circumstances. What’s going to happen is, if you’re a citizen, you have the same rights as everyone else. The truth is, in the United States, even if you’re from a different country, the rights bestowed on every citizen of this country are bestowed on foreigners as well when they’re here in terms of how they’re treated in the justice system. The only thing that’s different is they’re conviction could affect they’re immigration status by deportation. Ask me about what if someone has to go to prison or jail, are they deported before they have to serve their time? That’s a valid question.
Interviewer : All right. So if someone’s convicted of a criminal offense and it does affect their immigration status, what will come first? Will they be deported first, and if they ever come back, they have to serve time? Will they serve time first, and then be deported? What will happen?
Mike: What will happen is they have to serve the consequences of their sentence before they’re deported. So if someone gets a lengthy prison term or jail term, they will not go through the immigration process until they’re complete their term. There are laws on the books that the term of incarceration can be shortened for non-US citizens, and those laws are put there because of budget concerns. But yes, they will have to serve the sentence first, before any immigration proceeding is held
Interviewer : What does moral turpitude mean?
Mike: It’s kind of a vague meaning. Crimes of moral turpitude can be crimes that have to do with telling the truth or crimes of extreme violence. It can mean many different things. But I know that intentional violence can be something that knocks someone out of this country. Possible theft or fraud can be something that makes losing your legal residence an issue. Certain types of domestic violence cases. There’s a wide range of cases that can affect someone’s immigration status, and without giving specifics, because I don’t want anyone to take this conversation and use it as legal advice. They really need to talk to a lawyer who understands these issues and to get good legal advice from them before they either go to trial or take any kind of plea agreement on any criminal offense.