Immigration, Crime & Deportation

The most common reason that both documented and undocumented immigrants get into trouble with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is because they have been convicted of a crime. As an immigrant, you should be aware that certain criminal convictions can block your application for a visa or green card, and even result in deportation.

Deportable Crimes

Not every criminal conviction will necessarily result in immigrant deportation. As an immigrant, you are at risk of being deported if you are convicted of certain crimes specifically listed as being grounds for deportation, such as crimes of moral turpitude or crimes that constitute aggravated felonies.

While crimes of moral turpitude are not well defined by U.S. immigration law, the Department of State has provided some guidance. The most common elements of a moral turpitude crime will include “fraud, larceny, and intent to harm persons or things.”

Crimes that involve dishonesty and theft are almost always considered crimes of moral turpitude. Other crimes of moral turpitude include assault with the intent to rob or kill, spousal abuse, and aggravated driving under the influence (DUI) or driving while intoxicated (DWI).

Crimes of Moral Turpitude

In specific cases, federal courts have determined specific offenses to be crimes of moral turpitude.

  • aggravated assault
  • animal fighting
  • child abuse
  • fraud
  • incest
  • involuntary manslaughter (in some cases)
  • kidnapping
  • mayhem
  • murder
  • rape
  • robbery
  • spousal abuse
  • theft
  • voluntary manslaughter
  • conspiracy, attempt, or acting as an accessory to a crime if that crime involved moral turpitude.

While immigration is regulated at the federal level, most criminal convictions are based on state law, so it is important to know the definition and elements of the criminal charge.

The details within a state criminal statute may potentially affect the determination of whether a particular crime is a crime of moral turpitude that could result in deportation.

Aggravated Felony Crimes

Crimes categorized as aggravated felonies can result in immigrant deportation as well. The Immigration and Nationality Act gives a complete list of crimes considered aggravated felonies under federal immigration law.

Some of these offenses include:

  • child pornography
  • drug or firearms trafficking
  • espionage, sabotage, or treason
  • fraud or tax evasion involving more than $10,000
  • money laundering
  • murder
  • perjury with a sentence of at least one year
  • rape
  • sexual abuse of a minor
  • theft or violent crime with a sentence order of at least one year

Legal Defense

If you have been charged with a crime and decide to plea bargain down to a crime with a lesser penalty, be sure that offense would not be considered a crime of moral turpitude.

A criminal conviction for a crime of moral turpitude cannot be expunged from your criminal record, so the best strategy is to avoid a criminal conviction for that type of crime in the first place.

If you are an immigrant and have been charged with a crime, it is critical to get competent legal advice and advocacy. It is important to note that immigration law is highly specialized and most criminal lawyers will not have expertise in that area, so guidance from an immigration lawyer would be helpful as well.

The information on this website is intended as general legal information only and should not form the basis of legal advice of any kind. Individuals seeking specific legal advice should consult a lawyer.




Written by 

New Jersey lawyer turned blogger, podcaster and legal changemaker.