There are many immigrants in the United States. Some of them are illegally staying in the country. It’s a fair assumption that a good portion of them are interested in a green card and even naturalization. Illegal immigration already has detention and deportation as an automatic consequence. Add a criminal offense to the picture and the illegal immigrant moves up the priority list of immigration officials from different federal law enforcement agencies such as the Department of Homeland Security and the Immigration and Customs Enforcement. A criminal record understandably doesn’t help the cause. Something like a DWI can have a devastating impact on an immigrant’s future and hopes in the US.

DWI/DUI for Immigrants

Driving While Intoxicated (DWI) or Driving under the Influence (DUI) and other traffic-related offenses have different consequences for immigrants in North Carolina, no matter their immigration status. The Department of Homeland Security considers all crimes in removal proceedings, there are certain crimes that bear graver punishments. Understandably, crimes involving moral turpitude usually render an individual of different nationality inadmissible or worthy of deportation, whether they have legal status or not. DWI criminal charges could also cause undocumented immigrants to move up the list for deportation proceedings.

Crimes Involving Moral Turpitude

What are crimes involving moral turpitude (CIMT)? The Board of Immigration Appeals defines them as behavior that is inherently vile, base, or depraved, very much irreconcilable with the accepted moral norms and obligations to other persons, either individually or collectively to the society in general. CIMT involves the element of intent, which is typically absent in DWI cases. At the very least, reckless behavior is knowingly endangering other people’s safety or wellbeing would qualify as intent for CIMT. The presence of an aggravating factor would usually be sufficient to categorize it as a CIMT. Sample scenarios include:

  • Driving with a suspended license.
  • Driving with a child in a motor vehicle.
  • Committing an additional, separate crime, such as illegally using a controlled substance.

DHS Priority List

There are traffic convictions, including DWI, that may lead to being prioritized by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in terms of arrests, detention, and deportations in relation to illegal immigrants. Considering the number of illegal aliens in the United States, the DHS has implemented a system that streamlines removal, prioritizing foreign nationals who pose a threat to public safety, border security, and national security.

Misdemeanor or Felony?

A felony offense may result in an undocumented immigrant getting Priority 1 classification for removal. In the state of North Carolina, repeat DWI offenders and DWI offenders with additional aggravating circumstances are charged with a felony. Also, DUI charges qualify as significant misdemeanors deserving of Priority 2 classification for removal. Other offenses that warrant a sentence, not suspended, of 90 days or more of imprisonment or jail time also qualify as significant misdemeanors. An immigrant convicted of three or more misdemeanors besides minor traffic charges may also be classified Priority 2 if the offenses involve separate incidents.

Contact a North Carolina Immigration Attorney for Help

It’s possible for an ordinary criminal defense lawyer or DUI attorney to not realize the different consequences for immigrants with convictions and advise standard plea agreements resulting in the offender being convicted by immigration standards. Unfortunately, criminal convictions could prevent admissibility to the country and could even result in removal as well as in a ban on returning to the US.

Compounding criminal law with immigration law leads to very special cases. It is important to find a lawyer that is knowledgeable in immigration policies in order to avoid repercussions that specifically apply to immigrants. An immigration lawyer provides legal services leading the defendant to the path that protects immigrant rights and serves an immigrant’s best interests.

If you’re an immigrant in need of legal representation in a DUI or any other criminal case, call us at Diener Law and speak with an immigration attorney who understands the intricate web associating criminal convictions with US immigration laws.