What You Don’t Know About Criminal Immigration Can Hurt You

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By: Bill Henry
PublishedAug 11, 2022
5 minute read

Non-citizens building a life in the United States have never had it easy. A new life in the U.S. is fraught with challenges you don’t always see coming. If you get in trouble with police, it’s important to know where you stand legally as an immigrant and as someone with a right to due process. The intersection of immigration law and criminal law is sometimes referred to a crimmigration. And what you don’t know about criminal immigration can hurt you.

Don’t Face Your Criminal Immigration Problems Alone

If you’re a non-citizen accused of breaking the law, then you have to defend your rights both as a criminal defendant and an immigrant. Your best chance at maintaining the life you’re trying to build in this country is with a Colorado criminal immigration attorney. Call 303-688-0944 for your case assessment, o si gustarÍa hablar con nosotros en español, por favor llámenos al 720-359-2442.

criminal immigration

What is ‘Crimmigration?’ 

Crimmigration is legal shorthand for ‘criminal immigration.’ It refers to situations where non-citizens are charged with crimes that could impact their immigration status.

Did You Know  … 

… that the Criminal Justice System and Immigration Courts are Separate? 

It’s true. If you get charged with a crime, you are entitled to due process in the U.S. criminal justice system. This means you have the right to:

  • have an attorney
  • remain silent and not incriminate yourself
  • get a free phone call if you’re arrested
  • have your attorney with you if you’re being questioned
  • post bail (for most offenses) and go free while you prepare for your trial

But guess what? These rights do not exist in civil matters. Immigration issues are considered civil matters.

Why Immigration Courts are Different

Immigration judges hand down administrative decisions such as whether to:

  • grant a refugee asylum,
  • reconsider a denied citizenship application, or
  • remove a non-citizen resident from the United States.

Unfortunately, what the U.S. government considers an “administrative” action can hit as hard as a lifelong prison sentence to an immigrant trying to build a life here.

Entering a Plea? Beware.

While criminal justice and immigration are separate processes, they are legal areas that can overlap. This is why even a satisfactory plea deal to avoid severe punishment on the criminal side can lead to harsh consequences on the immigration side, such as:

  • denial of benefits or citizenship
  • inability to re-enter the U.S. after going abroad
  • deportation proceedings

This is why having a crimmigration attorney is so important. An attorney who is equally experienced in criminal law and immigration law has the ability to defend you both ways and achieve immigration-neutral results.

Immigration-neutral results are pleas that allow the non-citizen defendant to avoid facing immigration proceedings or penalties.

Did You Know … 

… that Defense Attorneys Must Warn You About Plea Deals? 

In 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Padilla v. Kentucky, 559 U.S. 356 that criminal defense lawyers are obligated to advise their non-citizen clients about the immigration consequences of guilty pleas.

Before then, defense attorneys did not have to tell you that the “sweet plea deal” for a lighter criminal sentence still teed you up for maximum immigration penalties, including deportation.

Now, immigrant clients must be fully advised of the possibility of deportation before entering a guilty plea.

Did You Know … 

… that People with Attorneys Fare Much Better in Immigration Court? 

According to a six-year-long study by the American Immigration Council, immigrants who had their own lawyers …

  • were four times more likely to get released from ICE detention after a custody hearing.
  • were twice as likely as unrepresented immigrants to obtain the relief they sought at immigration court while in detention.
  • were five times more likely to obtain the relief they asked for in immigration court if they weren’t in detention.

Remember: Since immigration court is not under the umbrella of Sixth Amendment protections for criminal defendants, you must hire your own attorney. The immigration system will not give you one for free.

Get the Right Attorney for the Job 

If you decide not to take a plea, you sure don’t want just any immigration attorney defending you in criminal court. With the stakes that high, you need an actual trial attorney.

By the same logic, you don’t want a criminal defense trial attorney standing next to you in front of an immigration court judge. The rules of evidence that are so important in a regular court of law don’t apply to immigration.

Get the best of both defenses with a Colorado criminal immigration attorney.

Did You Know … 

… that Minor Criminal Offenses Can Cause Major Immigration Problems? 

You probably do know this. Most immigrants in the U.S. have heard the horror stories, and most of the stories are true. If you’re a non-citizen, and especially if you have no legal status while residing in the U.S., there is no such thing as a minor offense.

Driving Under the Influence 

You can be deported for driving under the influence, even if you’re a lawful permanent resident, and especially if it’s not your first DUI conviction.

You can also be charged for driving under the influence of marijuana, even in Colorado where it is legal for adults to smoke weed. It’s not legal to smoke pot and then drive impaired.

Marijuana Possession 

Possession of fewer than 30 grams of marijuana — slightly more than an ounce — is allowable as a first-time federal offense. But any more than that looks like an intent to distribute and will be considered both a crime and a deportable offense.


Because all varieties of theft fall under the category of a ‘Crime of Moral Turpitude’ (CIMT), even a petty shoplifting crime can unravel the life you’re trying to build in America.

Shoplifting is an easy crime to plead down as a criminal case, especially if it’s a rare or first-time offense. But that won’t count in immigration court — unless you have an attorney’s help.

If you get charged with shoplifting or petty theft within five years of being admitted to the U.S., and the original penalty is at least one year in jail, that’s a deportable offense. And so are the following:

  • filing a false tax return
  • gambling
  • document fraud
  • witness tampering
  • failure to appear in court
  • perjury
  • obstruction of justice

Did You Know … 

… that Three- and 10-Year Mandatory Bars Have Been Reformed? 

It’s true. So let’s finish with a bit of good news.

In 1996, the U.S. government decided to crack down on non-citizens who stayed in the country too long. So it established something called mandatory bars to re-entry as a deterrent. At long last, this once-harsh policy has been softened a bit.

What are Mandatory Bars?

Mandatory bars are punitive measures used to prevent known offenders from having access to a benefit or place for a certain length of time. These bars once prohibited anyone who had ever remained in the U.S. illegally from being allowed to come back and apply for legal status for a certain number of years.

Whether they entered the country unlawfully in the first place or overstayed a visa, these immigrants were asked to leave, then hit with mandatory bars that kept them from entering the U.S. legally. The banishment lasted three years for anyone who remained illegally in the country for at least six months but less than a year. It lasted 10 years for any non-citizen who maintained an unlawful presence for longer than 12 months.

USCIS Rethinks the Policy 

In June of 2022, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service decided the Mandatory Bar policy, as it had existed from 1996 to 2022, was unnecessarily harsh.

Now immigrants who would have had to remain for three or 10 years outside the U.S. can wait out the punishment inside the country. All they need is a sponsoring relative, spouse, or employer. They can now re-enter the U.S. on a legal visa.

They must still wait either three or 10 years, depending on the length of their sentence, before gaining the ability to apply for naturalization or adjustment of immigration status.

Speak to a Criminal Immigration Attorney Today 

If you find yourself under arrest and facing charges, remember that you have a right to remain silent. Use that right. Get a Colorado criminal immigration attorney beside you before talking to police, especially before admitting any wrongdoing or entering a plea.

If you or someone close to you is facing criminal charges, call 303-688-0944 for your case assessment. si gustarÍa hablar con nosotros en español, por favor llámenos al 720-359-2442.

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