Driving While Intoxicated (DWI) and other traffic offenses have unique consequences for immigrants in the United States whether they have been lawfully admitted or not. While all crimes may be considered by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in removal proceedings, certain crimes carry more weight. Crimes involving moral turpitude (CIMT) may render an alien inadmissible or deportable depending on their status. DWI offenses may also lead undocumented immigrants to receive higher priority for removal proceedings.
The Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) has defined crimes involving moral turpitude as conduct that is inherently base, vile, or depraved, contrary to the accepted rules of morality and the duties owed other persons, either individually or to society in general. Crimes involving moral turpitude require an element of intent that is absent from ordinary DWI cases. Intent for CIMT must be at least recklessness (knowingly endangering another’s health or safety). However, the addition of an aggravating factor such as driving with a suspended license or with a child in the car or the commission of an additional crime such as using illegal drugs is usually enough to trigger a CIMT. (It should be noted that illegal use of a controlled substance is another, separate, ground for inadmissibility, see 8 USC 1227(a)(2)(B)(i) and 8 U.S.C. § 1182(a)(2)(A)(i)(II))
Certain traffic convictions such as Driving While Intoxicated may also lead to higher priority by DHS with regards to apprehension, detention and removal of undocumented immigrants. Because of the high volume of undocumented immigrants in the United States, DHS has created a priority system designed to streamline removal and prioritize the removal of aliens that pose a “threat to national security, border security and public safety”.
An offense classified as a felony in the convicting state may result in an undocumented alien becoming classified as Priority 1 for removal. In North Carolina, habitual DWI offenders or a DWI offender paired with other aggravating circumstances may be convicted of a felony. Further, Driving Under the Influence is considered a “significant misdemeanor” for purposes of Priority 2 removal. Other offenses resulting in a sentence of time in custody of ninety days or more (not a suspended sentence) may also be classified as “significant misdemeanors”. Aliens convicted of three or more misdemeanor offenses, other than minor traffic offenses, if the offenses arise from separate incidents, may also find themselves classified as Priority 2.
Unfortunately, some criminal attorneys do not realize that there are significant repercussions for immigrants with convictions and consequently push for standard plea agreements that result in a “conviction” by immigration standards. Criminal convictions have the potential to prevent admissibility to the United States and may even lead to removal proceedings and a ban on the ability to return to the U.S. Because of the complex nexus between criminal conduct and immigration, it is important to find an attorney who is educated about the intricate laws of immigration to help guide you through the process after any charge, from minor to significant. The attorneys and staff at Gorman Law Firm, PLLC understand the intricacies of criminal convictions and immigration. We can help you find the best path to reduce the damage of convictions while protecting your rights and interests as a non-U.S. citizen.