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I’m an Immigrant. How Will a Florida Arrest Impact My Residency Status?

If you’re a non-U.S. citizen living in the U.S., it’s important to understand how a Florida arrest could impact your residency status. Immigrants who are arrested in Florida must understand that they are likely to face unique and substantial consequences that don’t apply to citizens.

As our Fort Lauderdale criminal defense lawyers can explain, any criminal conviction has the potential to impact your lawful status - and might even trigger automatic deportation proceedings. Your criminal defense lawyer has an obligation to explain the potential impacts of conviction on your immigration status.

Understand that even if you are facing a criminal charge for which conviction could mean deportation, you aren’t necessarily entitled to a free lawyer. From American television and cinema, you may be familiar with that oft-read Miranda Rights line that about, “You have the right to an attorney. If you can’t afford an attorney, one will be appointed to you.” What not everyone realizes is that this only applies to offenses where one is facing possible incarceration. But there are offenses for which you don’t face incarceration, but could still very well be deported.

It’s well established that non-U.S. citizen immigrants tend to be sorely underrepresented in terms of legal counsel in criminal proceedings. Those who are represented by a criminal defense lawyer tend to fare far better - both in the criminal case and any subsequent immigration proceedings.

What’s more, immigrants facing criminal charges in Florida need to understand that for purposes of immigration consequences, not all “convictions” are called exactly that. For example, sometimes charges are dismissed under terms like “adjudication withheld” or “conditional discharge.” But these are actually “convictions” where the immigration courts are concerned. This is why immigrants must be precise with their legal strategy - even when answering for relatively minor offenses.
Deportable Offenses

Under certain conditions, any non-U.S. citizen - even those with lawful residency status - can be deported. Criminal convictions for certain offenses are one such condition.

Per INA § 237(a)(2) sections A-F, there are five major categories of deportable offenses. While most non-citizens do have the right - constitutionally - to challenge any deportation proceedings in immigration court, conviction for a crime in these categories may disqualify a person from halting their removal from the United States.

These categories include:
  • Crimes Involving Moral Turpitude. This classification is a little tricky because the statutory definition isn’t clear cut. Essentially, these are offenses that involve corruption of the social contract. You have failed a basic duty that every member of a society owes to the others. Florida courts have held that crimes of moral turpitude can include offenses that violate community standards for good morals and honesty. Examples include fraud, offense, assault, battery, rape, repeated DUIs, etc. A single conviction for a crime of moral turpitude may not be enough to trigger deportation of a lawful, non-U.S. citizen resident, unless that offense is a felony for which one is facing 1+ year in prison. However, conviction on two or more crimes of moral turpitude - even if they are lesser offenses - can be enough to initiate deportation proceedings.
  • Aggravated Felonies. This term means something a little different for immigration than it does under Florida criminal law. For immigration purposes, an offense doesn’t necessarily have to be classified as a felony under state law, and the aggravating factors that would otherwise make it a felony (involving a firearm, resulting in serious injury, repeat offenses, etc.) don’t necessarily need to be present. The list of aggravated felonies is set by Congress. Almost always considered aggravated felonies will be crimes related to kidnapping and human trafficking, child pornography or sexual abuse, drug trafficking, murder or rape of a minor, treason or disclosure of classified information, and operating a business of prostitution. Offenses that *might* be considered aggravated felonies include forgery/counterfeiting, perjury, burglary/receipt of stolen property, fraud, money laundering, and crimes of violence.
  • Crimes of Domestic Violence, Stalking, Child Abuse, or Violation of a Protection Order. Even when such offenses are prosecuted as misdemeanors, they may be grounds for deportation.
  • Controlled Substances Offenses. Drug crimes that can result in inadmissibility to the U.S. or deportation from it include most drug possession and paraphernalia offenses, being under the influence, or transportation of drugs for personal use. In some federal circuits, simply offering to commit a drug offense is enough to trigger deportation proceedings.
  • Certain Firearm Offenses. This can include any state or federal conviction for buying, selling, offering to sell, exchanging, using, owning, possessing, or carrying a firearm in violation of state law.
For several of these categories, there are no exceptions - conviction is almost certainly going to mean deportation. However, there can be a slight bit of leeway with respect to drug and firearm offenses. For instance, if you’re caught in simple possession of a small amount of marijuana, that may not be a deportable crime.

The important thing - if at all possible - is to prevent a criminal conviction in the first place. This is why having an experienced Fort Lauderdale criminal defense lawyer is so important.

If you have been arrested in South Florida, call The Ansara Law Firm in Fort Lauderdale today for your free initial consultation at (954) 761-4011.
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