Generally speaking, immigrants, both legal and illegal, have the same rights as U.S. citizens afforded to them by the legal system in criminal cases. They have the right to competent representation, the right to not incriminate themselves, and the right to face their accuser. In this sense, representing immigrants in criminal cases is the same as representing citizens.

Immigrants do, however, have special rights and concerns that must be addressed by a criminal attorney. The following are important issues and rights that must be addressed by the defense attorney representing legal or illegal immigrants.

  • The Sixth Amendment requires your defense attorney to explain the potential consequences of a conviction or trial strategy on your immigration status. You should be informed every step of the way whether a particular action could get you deported or otherwise affect your immigration status.
  • Whether or not a crime could lead to a revocation of your visa depends on the moral turpitude of the crime. “Moral turpitude” is not easy to define under federal statutes, but generally it is considered to be crimes that involve “fraud, larceny, and intent to harm persons or things.” Usually convictions for any theft, serious violent crimes, sexual assaults, and aggravated DUI charges would fall into this category.
  • If you are a permanent resident, you can still be deported if a convicted of a crime of moral turpitude within the first five years of residency in the U.S. or any two before becoming naturalized.
  • Illegal immigrants are not the only ones who face deportation if convicted of certain crimes. Legal immigrants and even permanent residents and green-card holders can be removed if convicted of particular crimes. Even if your children are citizens or your spouse is naturalized, you could face expulsion from the country.
  • Even if you are in the U.S. illegally, you will not automatically face deportation if arrested for a crime. Certain criminal convictions will make you ineligible for any waivers or other applications for citizenship / legal status, but if your defense attorney fights to make sure these convictions are not on your record, you still have a chance to stay.
  • In Pennsylvania, misdemeanors can affect your immigration status. Actually, many misdemeanor convictions under Pennsylvania law could be classified as “aggravated felonies” under immigration law despite the fact that they legally are not “aggravated” or actual felonies.
  • If your sentence is less than a year or if it is suspended, you do not always avoid immigration consequences. Generally, crimes with less than a year of jail time are considered unimportant from an immigration standpoint.

Because immigration consequences can be complicated and quite severe if you are convicted, you need to have an experienced Philadelphia criminal attorney on your side when facing any criminal charges. You have rights, even if you are in the country illegally. Do not let law enforcement convince you otherwise. If you are arrested for any criminal offense in Pennsylvania, contact Fienman Defense today for a free consultation on your case and start building a defense that will best protect your immigration status.

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