Over the past 10 years, attorneys who defend immigrants in deportation and removal proceedings have faced several obstacles.
As a result of changes to immigration law in the mid 1990s, immigration lawyers have confronted the following:
- Transformation of minor, non-violent convictions in state court into serious, aggravated felonies at immigration court
- Elimination of discretion for immigration judges in determining if a criminal offense warrants taking away an immigrant’s permanent resident status
- Addition of convictions which took place 10, 20, 30 years ago, long before the 1990 changes, as grounds to deport immigrants
“My wife does not have immigration papers,” the frantic caller noted, “and I’m worried she might be deported.”
The caller, a U. S. citizen living in Phoenix, was responding to reports about a new law for immigrants who live in Arizona.
His worries are not uncommon.
As a San Diego immigration lawyer, I have seen how criminal convictions can shatter the dreams and hopes of immigrant families.
Many times the criminal offenses were minor, non-violent offenses.
Under immigration law, even such low level wrongdoings can result in deportation, the harshest of immigration punishments.
When criminal offenses are deemed minor under state law, they are classified as misdemeanors. Most immigrant defendants assume such convictions will not bar them from living in the United States.
Their perceptions are not unreasonable.
Yet, under immigration law, many of these convictions are considered immigration felonies.