D. Some Examples of How Convictions Affect Immigration Status
Here are some examples that international clients can encounter. As you see in the examples, it is crucial to select competent defense counsel to best protect a client’s interest. Please note the names below are fictitious and events described are a compilation of various experiences intended for purposes of illustration.
Case 1: Jose from Spain
Jose, a Spanish citizen, green card holder in the U.S., has been living in Newark, New Jersey for over 20 years. He supports his family in the U.S. with a restaurant business. One time, he used marijuana with some friends. But the police found his group and everyone including Jose was arrested and charged with drug possession. Jose hired a criminal attorney and it seemed that the case was solved. Unfortunately, his attorney was not aware of the consequences of criminal conviction on his immigration status. The attorney treated Jose just like his American clients and told Jose that he was proud because he did a great job. Three years later, Jose decided to visit his family in Spain. When he returned to Newark Airport, Jose could not pass customs. His criminal record popped up at the airport computer system and the immigration officer denied entry to the U.S. He had to fly directly back to Spain. He could not come back to the U.S. forever.
should have done
Jose should have known the consequences of a criminal conviction on his immigration status and retained a criminal attorney that works with an immigration attorney. Although there is no guarantee of a successful outcome, Jose should have explored his options with his attorney to protect his future life in the U.S.
Case 2: Miki from Japan
Miki, a Japanese citizen, was a student at a university in New Jersey with an F-1 visa. She once shoplifted a piece of jewelry at the shopping mall. The manager found out and the police came. She was charged with shoplifting. Since she was not aware of the legal system in America, she went to court by herself. She was told that she could apply for a public defender, so she did. After a trial, Miki was convicted for shoplifting. One year later when Miki graduated from university, she was offered a position with a corporation in America. Her employer was willing to sponsor her work visa. When she applied for an H1-B visa, her application was denied due to her prior conviction. Miki had to give up her dream to work in America.
What Miki should have done
Miki should have investigated and studied about her immigration issue a little more rather than just following what other people said. Miki should have consulted a criminal attorney who understands criminal consequences for international clients.
Case 3: Dr. Lee from South Korea
Dr. Lee, a Korean citizen, green card holder in the U.S., has been running his medical practice as an internist for more than 25 years in New Jersey. Just like other doctors, Dr. Lee was feeling financial pressures from introduction of HMOs. He was not earning the income that he thought he should be earning. Having some Medicare patients in his practice, Dr. Lee falsely filled out Medicare reimbursement forms for reimbursement for services that he never provided. Later, he was charged with multiple Federal criminal charges including Medicare insurance fraud. Through his network, he found a criminal attorney who has experience in defending Federal criminal cases. But unfortunately, this attorney did not know anything about immigration law. Dr. Lee was satisfied with the result simply because he did not have to go to prison.
Six months later after being convicted, Dr. Lee was interviewed by an Immigration officer for his application for obtaining US citizenship. During the interview, Dr. Lee was asked whether he had any criminal conviction. Dr. Lee honestly answered that he was convicted for a Federal crime recently. After the interview, Dr. Lee received a letter from ICE that his application was denied.
What Dr. Lee should have done
Dr. Lee should have known the consequences of a criminal conviction on his immigration status and retained a criminal attorney that works with an immigration attorney. His consequences may not be limited just a denial of his citizenship application. Although protecting his immigration status from a Federal crime is difficult, there might have been some options that Dr. Lee could explore with an immigration attorney before it was too late.
Case 4: Nila from India
Nila, an Indian citizen, works as a computer engineer with an L-1 visa. Feeling stressed from working in a foreign country, Nila had a huge argument with his wife the other day. The argument lasted for a while and both of them became so upset and excited. In order to calm his wife, Nila slapped her face a few times.
One of their neighbors heard them and called the police. The police came to their house and told them to explain what happened. So Nila told them everything honestly. After that, he was arrested for assault and Domestic Violence (DV) against his wife.
Nila retained a criminal attorney referred by a friend. Nila thought that he had a great result. About a year later, Nila’s employer was willing to sponsor his permanent residency. When Nila consulted his immigration attorney to complete the application, his immigration attorney advised him to do something about his prior. Nila realized that his option was to go back to the same court and apply for reopening the case.
What Nila should have done
He should have been represented by a criminal attorney that is aware of the immigration issue in the first place. Although Post Conviction Relief (PCR) is one of the options for Nila, it can be very difficult to have granted especially when the conviction gets too old.