If you are a non-citizen facing criminal charges, it’s in your best interest to hire a skilled immigration criminal defense attorney, not just any attorney. It’s imperative that you hire a lawyer who understands the implications of how criminal convictions can affect your immigration status and rights. The stakes may be higher than you realize.
Not only could you face criminal consequences upon conviction of a crime in Texas, but you may also face deportation or the loss of other immigration rights. The law doesn’t care if you have been in the country for decades, own a business, have always been an upstanding member of society, or have multiple children born here who are U.S. citizens. You may be deported back to your home country if you are convicted of certain crimes. For this reason, if you are facing criminal charges, you should contact a lawyer as soon as you can.
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Texas Criminal Convictions and Subsequent Deportation
Who Can be Deported for Criminal Convictions?
According to the federal Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), in some cases, non-citizens residing in the United States are subject to deportation if they are convicted of specific criminal offenses. In other words, many non-citizens can legally be removed from the country if they are adjudicated guilty of certain criminal offenses.
What are “deportable crimes” in Texas?
Only certain crimes are deportable in Texas, and throughout the United States. Not every criminal conviction will make a non-citizen deportable or inadmissible. According to the INA, section 237, the specific criminal convictions that make a non-citizen inadmissible or eligible for deportation from the United States include the following:
- Crimes of moral turpitude
- Aggravated felonies
- Drug (controlled substance) offenses
- Firearms offenses
- Felony domestic violence convictions
Crimes of Moral Turpitude
Crimes of moral turpitude or crimes involving moral turpitude (CIMTs) lack a specific legal definition. In fact, the INA doesn’t define them at all. As such, it has been up to the United States Immigration Courts to define crimes of moral turpitude. First, an Immigration Court will interpret how the state legislature drafted an offense. If it involves evil, deceit, depravity, then Court will find it is a CIMT.
For instance, the following crimes are generally categorized as CIMTs:
- Burglary with the intent to commit theft
If you aren’t a U.S. citizen, all it usually takes is one aggravated felony conviction for you to be deported from the country. The INA has a lengthy list of crimes it categorizes as aggravated felonies. However, some of its most notable ones include the following criminal convictions:
- Child sex crimes
- Theft crimes punishable with over a year of imprisonment
- Fraud convictions involving defrauding someone of a minimum of $10,000
- Crimes involving the operation or supervision of a prostitution business, including pimping
A criminal conviction of using, possessing, carrying, buying, selling, or exchanging firearms or destructive devices can also result in deportation. Any conviction for violating Texas or federal gun laws can potentially lead to deportation.
Felony Domestic Violence Offenses
You can also face deportation upon conviction of a felony domestic violence crime in Texas. Keep in mind that this includes general domestic violence convictions for charges stemming from domestic battery and also those involving restraining order violations or even child abuse. A criminal conviction of a single domestic violence offense can have you deported.
Inadmissibility Because of Texas Criminal Convictions
What Does Inadmissibility Mean?
It should be noted that inadmissibility for a non-U.S. citizen is different from being deportable. Deportable means you can be legally removed from the country. However, inadmissibility isn’t as straightforward.
If you are inadmissible, you can’t receive any benefit from U.S. immigration authorities. Inadmissibility might impact you if you are:
- An undocumented immigrant who wants to change your status to legal immigrant
- A legal immigrant who is leaving the country and desiring to come back to the U.S.
- A legal immigrant pursuing U.S. citizenship or naturalization
Inadmissibility under any of these circumstances means you won’t be able to receive the immigration benefits you are seeking.
Even still, being inadmissible doesn’t necessarily mean you can be deported— with a single exception. If you came to the U.S. or enjoyed an immigration benefit while you were already inadmissible, then you may be deported when they find out that you were already inadmissible when you received the benefit.
What are “Inadmissible Crimes” in Texas?
Inadmissible crimes are nearly identical to those categorized under the INA (section 212) as deportable crimes. Some of the categories of criminal convictions that can make a person inadmissible include:
Crimes of Moral Turpitude
You may be deemed inadmissible if you are either convicted of or admit to all the elements of a CIMT. This means that even if your criminal charges are eventually dismissed, immigration officials can still use evidence gathered from your arrest to prove that you are inadmissible. For example, if after you are arrested, you allegedly confess to the crime, your confession may be sufficient evidence for immigration officials to show you are inadmissible because you “admitted to all the elements” of the crime. This is true even if the prosecutor dismissed your charges.
To be deported related to a CIMT, you usually must have two criminal convictions or a conviction with a maximum sentence of at least one year within five years of entering the U.S. Inadmissibility doesn’t rely on this requirement.
However, there is an inadmissibility exception. Suppose you are convicted of a single crime with a maximum penalty of one year or less and receive a jail sentence of six months or less. In that case, if you are convicted or admit to a crime of moral turpitude, it won’t cause you to be inadmissible. This is known as the “petty offense” exception.
The possibility of inadmissibility is a significant reason why it’s imperative to hire a Texas immigration criminal defense lawyer who is well-versed in criminal and immigration law, how they interact, and the criminal defense of immigrants. If you are facing charges of a crime involving moral turpitude, you need an attorney who understands how to handle your case. If not handled correctly, a criminal conviction, even for a misdemeanor offense, can result in a finding of inadmissibility.
When it comes to drug crimes, any and all of the following can make you inadmissible:
- Admission to all of the elements of a state or federal drug law
- Conviction for any state or federal drug law
Multiple Criminal Convictions
Anyone convicted of at least two crimes (even arising from the same criminal act or scheme) with sentences adding up to five years or more can be deemed inadmissible.
Can I Be Deported or Inadmissible Without Yet Receiving a Criminal Conviction?
Unfortunately, you can be deportable or inadmissible for a criminal act even if you weren’t ever convicted of a crime. It’s crucial to understand that “conduct-based” deportation or inadmissibility can occur. Potential grounds for conduct-based deportability or inadmissibility include the following:
If you did any of the following, you might be declared inadmissible but not deportable:
- Entered the U.S. with the intent to become involved in prostitution
- Became involved in prostitution within ten years of your application for admission, adjustment of status, or receiving a visa
- Secured or tried to secure other individuals to be involved in prostitution (otherwise known as pimping)
You should be aware that a conviction of crimes related to prostitution is required to be inadmissible for these reasons.
Anyone known or reasonably believed to be involved in drug trafficking— even if they aren’t formally convicted on drug trafficking charges, becomes inadmissible but not deportable.
Anyone can be deported if they:
- Are a current a drug abuser or addict
- Have abused or been addicted to drugs since they entered the U.S.
They can also be inadmissible if they are presently a drug addict or abuser.
But how does the government discover you were involved in such deportable or inadmissible conduct? Rest assured, they have their ways. For instance, you let information slip during a civil or criminal matter that may be entirely unrelated to this matter, author a book or article that details your activities, or admit what you have or are doing on an immigration benefit application.
What to Expect at a Removal Hearing in Immigration Court
You will likely be required to go through a “removal hearing” if U.S. immigration authorities suspect you are either deportable or inadmissible due to a past criminal conviction. These hearings are held in U.S. Immigration Court, and an immigration judge presides over these hearings. The immigration judge decides whether you get to stay in the U.S. or be deported.
You will receive a written notice if you are required to attend such a hearing. It will provide you with important information, such as:
- The location, date, and time of your hearing
- The reasons immigration authorities believe you are subject to removal
- Your right to obtain representation from a Texas immigration attorney at your hearing—however, typically, you don’t have a right to a court-appointed lawyer
During your immigration court hearing, you have the legal right to:
- Have attorney representation
- Communicate effectively—if you don’t speak English, the court will provide you with an interpreter either by phone or in person
- Study the evidence against you, including any documentation presented in court
- Submit evidence in your defense
- Cross-examine any witnesses there against you
If you disagree with the judge’s decision, you have the right to file an appeal with the Board of Immigration Appeals.
Can Post-Conviction Writs/Relief be Used to Avoid Deportation/Inadmissibility?
If you have a Texas criminal conviction for an inadmissible or deportable crime on your record, all hope is not lost yet. A Texas immigration criminal defense lawyer can provide trustworthy advice concerning possibly obtaining post-conviction relief in some form. If you are successful, your prior conviction won’t count against you in immigration matters.
The most frequently used forms of post-conviction relief include:
- Reducing a felony to a misdemeanor conviction
- Asking the court to vacate a conviction based on a guilty plea if you weren’t advised of the specific immigration consequences of your plea
- Re-sentencing to a lesser sentence that won’t come with immigration consequences
- Requesting the court overturn the conviction due to ineffective assistance of counsel (in other words, your attorney in the previous criminal case didn’t represent you how they should have or gave you poor legal advice)
- A habeas corpus petition
- Requesting the court to withdraw a plea for other reasons
Do You Need a Texas Immigration Criminal Defense Attorney? Call the Law Office of Jorge Vela Today for Help
At the Law Office of Jorge Vela, our immigration criminal defense lawyers are here to help. The sooner you contact us, the better.
Our office is conveniently located in Austin. To better serve you, our staff speaks both Spanish and English. In addition, we are available 24/7 for your criminal defense and immigration needs.
If you have questions about immigration and criminal offenses or need help with criminal charges, contact us online or call us at 512-537-1237 to speak to an experienced immigration criminal defense attorney today.