By Atty. Ben Loveman
It has been a predictably scary time for undocumented immigrants in the United States ever since President Donald Trump was elected. What was not generally foreseen though was how President Trump’s deportation force would target long-time lawful permanent residents (green card holders) and even citizens of the United States. Because of this most recent development, those with even decades-old criminal records or old immigration violations should find a reputable immigration attorney to see if proactive action can be taken to ensure their status is not at jeopardy.
The new enforcement efforts include the use of criminal databases and increased immigration enforcement personnel to locate persons with old criminal histories or possible immigration violations that might make them subject to deportation from the United States. Recent news reports from across the country have revealed that all immigrants, including veterans of the U.S. armed forces, are potential targets for deportation.
These new enforcement measures are unlikely to stop in the near future. Thankfully, there are steps that people can take to ensure their safety aside from simply staying out of trouble and keeping a low profile. People who fear that they may be ineligible for U.S. citizenship, or even deported, due to an old criminal conviction should immediately consult an immigration attorney. A knowledgeable attorney will be able to determine the true impact of the conviction and to see if there might be a post-conviction remedy to remove or reduce the conviction before they are confronted by immigration officials. Similarly, people with old immigration violations can also be proactive and have an expert evaluate the seriousness of any potential or perceived violation and determine if a remedy exists.
There was a major change recently in the penal code in California that opened new avenues for pursuing post-conviction relief where none previously existed. The elimination of a conviction might mean becoming eligible for U.S. citizenship, or at least eliminating the possibility of deportation. This important change is the addition of a new penal code section allowing the right to contest and potentially vacate a conviction at any time based on a prejudicial error affecting the defendant’s right to understand and consider the immigration consequences before entering a guilty plea. Former law only allowed challenges while a person remained in custody and thus severely restricted the ability to bring such challenges, especially since many people only learn of the severe immigration consequences of their conviction either directly after completing their sentence or many years after the fact.
Criminal convictions for offenses may have major immigration consequences. Convictions for offenses such as drug possession or sale, theft, shoplifting, or assault can lead to permanent bars to U.S. citizenship, permanent resident status, or relief from deportation. For instance, the Immigration and Nationality Act states that a person who has been convicted of an “aggravated felony” is forever barred from becoming a naturalized U.S. citizen or from being granted Cancellation of Removal for Permanent Residents. An “aggravated felony” conviction also subjects a person in the United States to deportation proceedings, with little defense from removal.
Despite the severe immigration consequences that result from these type of convictions, many people, including many criminal defense attorneys and judges, are often unaware of the consequences. The result is that people enter guilty pleas to an offense that they may think is minor (whether to avoid exposure to more serious charges, to save the cost or time of fighting the charges, etc.), only to later tragically learn that they are forever barred from U.S. citizenship, are subject to being deported, or other harsh immigration consequences.
The fact that even relatively minor offense can cause a person to be deported, likely means that there many lawful permanent residents in the U.S. who are subject to deportation proceedings without them even knowing it. These people are therefore at risk of having their lives destroyed if the government elects to use its vast resources to single them out for punishment.
If you or a loved one are possibly one of these people at risk, you should immediately consult with an immigration attorney. They can determine how serious the conviction actually is from an immigration perspective and determine if any proactive steps can be taken to remove the threat before immigration officials come knocking. The same can be said for those with old immigration violations. The time to address these problems is before a real problem develops.
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REEVES IMMIGRATION LAW GROUP is one of the oldest, largest and most experienced immigration firms in the United States with offices in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Las Vegas, Manila and China.
For more Information please call (800) 795- 8009 or visit www.rreeves.com.
Telephone: (800) 795-8009
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The analysis and suggestions offered in this column do not create a lawyer-client relationship and are not a substitute for the personalized representation that is essential to every case.