Whether you are currently undocumented for any reason, are a legal resident in New York or are pursuing U.S. citizenship, a criminal charge or conviction could jeopardize your immigration.
Whether or not you face deportation depends on the type of crime, whether you receive a conviction and your current immigration status.
As the Immigrant Rights and Services Manual explains, U.S. law allows the government to deport you at any time if you are an undocumented immigrant or if you have a conviction for a “crime of moral turpitude.” This means that until you become a U.S. citizen — even if you are a lawful resident — the federal government may deport you for certain criminal convictions. This risk applies even if the government discovers a crime from the distant past; the severity of the crime and whether you served jail time will not matter.
This may include lawful residents whose application for citizenship draws attention to a prior conviction. And if you are an undocumented immigrant, you risk deportation anytime the government discovers your presence — even if you never face charges or receive a conviction for an alleged crime.
Crimes involving moral turpitude
CIMTs are certain types of crimes that the federal government considers reflective of bad moral character for one reason or another. These include a broad spectrum of crimes including most offenses involving fraud, theft, assault, weapons, drug possession, domestic violence or sex crimes. Certain immigration crimes may also qualify.
CIMTs put lawful residents and hopeful immigrants at risk of deportation.
If you find your immigration or residency threatened, you may still have recourse. One of the more common defenses is to argue that you did not receive proper legal advice that your crime could jeopardize your residence or immigration status. You may be able to challenge a conviction later, even if you plead guilty.
You may also be able to request a pardon from the New York Governor. A pardon for your conviction can help clear your name for immigration purposes, but know that pardons may not protect you from all immigration consequences. Any person who receives a criminal conviction in New York state can apply for a gubernatorial pardon.