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Immigration and Criminal Law in Texas

In the United States, several factors are considered and may have an impact on an immigrant’s chances of successfully immigrating to the US and obtaining the necessary permits to reside permanently in Texas. One such factors is the immigrant’s criminal record or involvement in a crime. Besides the possibility of a jail term and permanent criminal records, immigrants risk getting deported if found guilty of a crime. Depending on the severity of the crime, a convicted immigrant may be barred from reentering the country. 

Who Can Get Deported from the United States?

Deportation refers to the process of removing an immigrant or foreign national from the United States for violating immigration laws, their visa conditions, or other requirements associated with their admission into the country. In most cases, deported immigrants are transported back to their country of origin, and any foreign national in the United States can get deported. This includes both immigrants who enter the country illegally and those with permanent residence permits. 

However, the process for deportation typically varies and depends on whether the immigrant is unlawfully or lawfully within the country. For immigrants unlawfully in the country, the deportation process is usually swift and may be done without an immigration judge reviewing the immigrant’s case. This is usually done through an expedited removal process. On the other hand, before an immigrant with proper travel documents or a permanent residence permit can face deportation, they must have committed certain criminal offenses, violated immigration laws, or visa conditions. Also, the circumstances surrounding the offense or violation committed, their immigration records, and their behavior are considerations that will influence whether or not they get deported. 

What Crimes Can Get a Person Deported from the U.S.?

As an immigrant in the United States, it is generally advisable to avoid criminal activity. A criminal record may negatively impact completing immigration processes and even lead to deportation. Criminal offenses likely to result in deportation are mostly aggravated felonies or crimes bordering on moral depravity. However, with respect to immigration processes, the classification of aggravated felonies is not state-specific. Crimes considered a misdemeanor in certain states might be regarded as aggravated felonies that warrant deportation. Nonetheless, examples of some aggravated felonies include:

  • Firearm-related offenses;
  • Murder;
  • Rape;
  • Domestic violence;
  • Fraud;
  • Drug-related offenses;
  • Sexually abusing a minor;
  • Document forgery, especially when it relates to immigration documents; 
  • Human trafficking; and 
  • Alien smuggling, amongst other offenses.

When facing criminal charges, it is important to speak with a criminal defense attorney and discuss the possibility of the criminal charges affecting the individual’s immigration status or leading to deportation. It is important to speak with an immigration attorney when facing immigration proceedings stemming from a criminal conviction or charges. Immigration and criminal defense attorneys work to protect the rights and liberties of their clients.  More importantly, they try to foresee possible adverse outcomes, so they can make a plan in advance to prevent or mitigate the impact on their client’s freedom and immigration status.

What Happens to My Immigration if I Enter a no Contest to a Criminal Charge?

A no-contest plea is a type of plea whereby a defendant does not expressly admit guilt to a criminal charge but accepts any court-ordered punishment. The effect of a no-contest plea is that a defendant relinquishes their right to a trial and permits the court to treat them as though they were guilty. However, per United States immigration laws, a person can be deemed to have been convicted, even if there was no trial or formal sentencing. It would suffice as a conviction if the person had to serve a court-ordered punishment relating to a criminal allegation. Therefore, for immigration-related purposes, a person who makes a no-contest plea and serves any form of punishment or penalty imposed by the court may be viewed as a convict. This “conviction” stays on the immigrant’s record, notwithstanding that it is later withdrawn, and it carries the same weight as though the immigrant was found guilty by a judge or jury after a formal trial. 

However, there are instances when a criminal conviction can be removed from an immigrant’s records, and this includes when a court order vacates the conviction on constitutional grounds. Essentially, even though vacating a criminal conviction will ordinarily remove it from the convict’s criminal records, it still stays on their immigration records unless the conviction was vacated because it was unconstitutional. An immigrant facing deportation based on a conviction later vacated on constitutional grounds can request the termination of the deportation process and the removal of the conviction from their immigration records. However, where the conviction was vacated on other grounds, it may stay on the immigrant’s record and remain a valid basis for deportation. 

Would I Still Be Deported if My Crime Was Pardoned or Expunged?

A criminal pardon refers to the use of executive powers to relieve a convicted person of the consequences or punishments associated with their conviction. A pardon is usually granted by the President of the United States or the governor of a state for federal and state offenses, respectively. A convict who receives pardon is no longer deemed a convict, and the conviction is removed from their records, including criminal and immigration records. Therefore, an immigrant cannot be deported based on a crime for which they have received a pardon. 

On the other hand, expungement refers to a situation whereby a person’s criminal record or conviction is sealed or destroyed. A crime may be expunged for several reasons, including situations whereby a convict maintains good behavior or completes court-ordered restitution. However, while an expunged crime is usually taken off an immigrant’s criminal record, it stays on their immigration record. Essentially, although an immigrant is not required to disclose any expunged criminal history to anyone, such as employers or admission boards, they must disclose such history to immigration officials upon request. Therefore, an expunged criminal record remains a valid factor an immigration official can consider when deciding whether to commence a deportation process against an immigrant.

Can I Be Deported from the  U.S. Unlawfully Without a Hearing?

Anyone who enters the United States unlawfully can get deported without a hearing. This is done through an expedited removal process. However, where an unlawful immigrant is seeking asylum, they may be further referred to an asylum officer who conducts a “credible fear screening” to determine the credibility of the immigrant’s fears. When conducting this screening, an asylum officer generally tries to determine if the immigrant has been or may be subjected to persecution for certain views, beliefs, or ways of life in their country of origin. If the asylum officer finds that the immigrant has no reasonable fear of apprehension, the immigrant will get deported. Conversely, if the asylum officer finds there is a reasonable fear of persecution, the immigrant may be granted asylum. An immigrant granted asylum can legally stay in the United States, obtain a work permit, and apply for a permanent residence permit.

Can a Person with a Felony Conviction Return to the U.S. After Being Deported?

As provided under §1182 of the United States Immigration and Nationality Act, an immigrant with a felony conviction that is deported from the United States is barred from entering the country for at least ten years. This time limit is further extended to 20 years if the deportee was convicted of an aggravated felony offense. Therefore, a person with a felony conviction can return to the United States after being deported, but such a person must wait for at least ten years after their deportation before attempting to return. Nevertheless, one way to attempt re-entering the country before the end of the 10-year limit is to first obtain the Attorney General of the United States' consent. 

Attempting to enter the United States before the expiration of the 10-year limit or 20-year limit for those convicted of an aggravated felony is an offense that attracts fines, possible jail term, or both. Affected persons should speak with a qualified  Texas immigration lawyer on the implication of a conviction on their chances of reentry into the United States.

I’m Worried About Deportation. How Can a Texas Immigration Attorney Help Me?

When confronted with fear or risk of deportation, it is crucial to engage a qualified Texas immigration attorney. In most cases, a deportation process, which may include court hearings, interviews, and investigations, can be complex. However, with a Texas immigration lawyer, it is easier to navigate the process and possibly terminate any deportation proceedings. Particularly, an immigration attorney can help in the following ways:

  • Ensure their client’s rights are protected;
  • Guide their clients through any preliminary stages of a deportation process;
  • Advise their clients on available options to legally avoid deportation;
  • Where an immigrant is facing a criminal charge, an immigration attorney can advise them on the possible effect of a conviction on their immigration record and ethical ways to fight the charge;
  • Assist their clients in complying with immigration requirements;
  • Represent their client in fighting any unconstitutional deportation process and come up with possible deportation defenses; and
  • Protect their clients from immigration fraud, amongst other things.