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Immigration and It's Use of the Term "Aggravated Felony"

Posted by Matthew Green | Apr 22, 2014 | 0 Comments

When immigrants are charged with a crime, one of the harshest categories is that of “aggravated felonies.” The term is used in immigration law and the offense carries some severe consequences. This classification is misleading because for a crime to fit in this category, it it is not a requirement for the offense to be either “aggravated” or a “felony.” This is to say that there are some nonviolent, minor offenses that are classified in this category.

It is very important to understand that, no matter one's immigration status, a non-citizen will be prohibited from getting various forms of relief after having been convicted of an aggravated felony. This relief includes deferring deportation and being granted asylum.

So, if the crime does not need to be “aggravated” or a “felony,” what does it take in order for an offense to be considered an “aggravated felony?” According to federal immigration law, it is “any crime that Congress decides to label as such.” Obviously, this ambiguous statement allows for a broad interpretation. However, it wasn't always this way.

When it was first implemented in 1988, the “aggravated felony” classification referred to only murder, federal drug trafficking, and illicit trafficking of certain firearms and destructive devices. Over the last 25 years, more crimes have been added to the classification, but no offenses have been removed. There are currently more than 30 crimes that are considered to be “aggravated felonies.” The more curious offenses include failing to appear in court and filing a false tax return.

Here's another question: what happens if the crime was committed before it was considered to be an “aggravated felony?” In most situations, the court will determine that a non-citizen is still eligible for deportation even if the crime was committed before it was thought to be an “aggravated felony.” This is true even if the crime was not classified as such at the time of conviction. This means that when a new offense is added to the “aggravated felonies” category, all “lawfully present immigrants who have previously been convicted of such crimes become immediately deportable.”

In addition to deportation, there are additional penalties for those who are convicted of an “aggravated felony.” Here is a list of some of the consequences an immigrant may expect to incur after being charged and convicted:

  • Mandatory unreviewable detention following release from criminal custody
  • Ineligibility for asylum
  • Ineligibility for cancellation of removal
  • Ineligibility for certain waivers of inadmissibility
  • Ineligibility for voluntary departure
  • Permanent inadmissibility following departure from the United States
  • Enhanced penalties for unlawfully reentering the United States

While “aggravated felonies” can lead to some pretty tough consequences, there are other situations that can also lead to deportation proceedings. An immigrant may face removal proceedings after committing a crime involving “moral turpitude.” The concept of “moral turpitude” is yet another broad term. It generally includes crimes considered to be “aggravated felonies,” but is not limited to those. Crimes of “moral turpitude” have been defined as those that are considered contrary to community standards of justice, honesty, or good morals.

As you can see, the government has broad discretion when it comes to charging someone with a deportable offense. If you have been arrested for violating immigration law, contact a local and experienced defense attorney who can help you throughout the process.

About the Author

Matthew Green

Managing Partner. Green | Evans-Schroeder (formerly Law Offices of Matthew H. Green) focuses on the aggressive defense of immigrants. A native of Arizona, Mr. Green understands the difficulties that immigrants and families of immigrants face when a loved one is charged with a crime. He knows how frightening it can be for some...


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