Collateral Consequences for Legal Immigrants

Being arrested for a crime is never a good thing. Aside from the obvious risks of fines or incarceration, a criminal conviction can cost you your job, your home, and more. But few populations have a harder time with these “collateral consequences” than legal immigrants, whose entire life in the United States can be endangered by a criminal conviction.

What Are Collateral Consequences?

The term “collateral consequences” refers to any consequences to a criminal conviction that are not directly related to the sentence itself. For example, someone who has been convicted of a crime may have a great deal of difficulty finding a job, since they need to disclose the fact that they have been convicted of a crime on any job applications. Anyone with a professional license, such as a doctor or lawyer, could also see their licenses suspended or revoked as a result of a conviction.

Other potential collateral consequences may include, but are not limited to:

  • Losing access to government benefits
  • Being kicked out of government housing
  • Losing custody of children
  • Losing the ability to purchase a firearm
  • Being denied loans or grants
  • Being denied admission to an educational program
  • Losing financial aid for college

How Are Legal Immigrants Affected in Particular?

Non-naturalized legal immigrants face a particular threat that native-born Americans or naturalized citizens typically do not: they risk losing their legal immigration status. According to federal law, anyone who commits a “crime of moral turpitude” faces the risk of having their visa, asylum, or permanent resident status revoked. If this happens, they will immediately face deportation to their country of origin, regardless of how long they have lived in the United States.

For many legal immigrants, this is their worst nightmare. Not only would many of them lose their lives here in the United States, but they would often be sent back to a country they have not been to in years. In addition, many people come to the United States fleeing war, poverty or oppression, all threats they will face if they are forced to return to their country of origin.

What is a Crime of Moral Turpitude?

Note every crime counts as a “crime of moral turpitude” for the purposes of determining whether a legal immigrant faces deportation. And unfortunately, there is no strict legal standard for determining what counts as a crime of moral turpitude or not. Instead, the most commonly used definition comes from the court case United States ex rel. Manzanella v. Zimmerman, which defines moral turpitude as follows: “An act of baseness, vileness, or depravity in the private and social duties which a man owes to his fellow men, or to society in general, contrary to the accepted and customary rule of right and duty between man and man.”

Some crimes that have been determined to be crimes of moral turpitude in the past include:

  • Murder
  • Voluntary manslaughter
  • Rape or sexual assault
  • Spousal abuse
  • Child abuse
  • Kidnaping
  • Robbery
  • Aggravated assault
  • Mayhem
  • Animal fighting
  • Larceny
  • Fraud
  • Conspiracy to commit any of the above

Thus, if you have been accused of any of these crimes, and you are a legal immigrant, you should seek a criminal defense attorney right away. Otherwise, you may lose your legal immigrant status, and face deportation, in addition to the risk of fines or imprisonment.

If you or someone you know has been arrested for a criminal offense, you will need legal counsel to help you preserve your rights and work to get the best possible outcome for your matter. A New York criminal defense lawyer, who is experienced in handling criminal cases of all sorts, can advise you of your legal rights and will fight for your best interests in court. If you or your loved one has been arrested, contact the Suffolk County criminal defense attorneys at McGuire, Peláez and Bennett at (631) 348-1702.


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