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What does a criminal charge mean for my immigration status?

Being arrested is always a stressful experience—particularly if you’re facing criminal charges. However, as an immigrant—even a green card holder with permanent residency status—the process can be especially harrowing. In addition to facing the usual criminal penalties—prison sentence, probation and fines—a non-citizen also faces the prospect of being removed from their family and the country they call home.

In recent years, the list of deportable crimes has grown. Conviction on even minor criminal charges, such as a DUI or minor drug offense, can lead to deportation—and permanent ban on re-entry—for non-citizens.

Under regular circumstances, a criminal defense strategy is usually aimed at avoiding a trial or jail. However, for non-citizens, successfully avoiding these things could still result in subsequent removal proceedings in Immigration Court. Therefore, if you’re a non-citizen facing criminal charges, it’s crucial to hire two types of attorneys:

  • Criminal defense attorney: An expert in criminal law, this attorney is experienced at helping you avoid or minimize penalties for your alleged crime.
  • Immigration attorney: An expert in immigration law, this attorney works in collaboration with your defense attorney to ensure that your defense strategy fully considers any potential implications on your immigration status.

When you meet with your attorneys, it’s important that they understand your country of origin and your immigration status. If you are not a U.S. citizen, be clear about exactly where you are in the immigration process.

When facing criminal charges as an immigrant, avoiding jail is not the only goal. You also want to make sure that you avoid deportation. Your team of attorneys can work with you to:

  • Understand your rights in the event of contact with immigration authorities
  • Understand how a guilty plea or no-contest plea could affect your immigration status
  • Avoid a disposition that counts as a “conviction” for immigration purposes
  • Avoid a conviction that automatically triggers deportation or a ruling of inadmissibility to the U.S.
  • Strike a plea bargain that allows you to remain in the country—if a conviction is unavoidable
  • Understand how an immigration hold may factor into the process

As an immigrant, the penalties you face for criminal charges can be far more severe than for a citizen—and the legal process to get you off the hook is far more complex. It’s important to have a team of legal experts with a nuanced strategy to help you.

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