How Is Immigration Court Different from Criminal Court?

Immigration Court Is an Administrative Court

Jeanne: Yes, and it could be a criminal arrest, but it also could just be being picked up for violating the immigration laws. When we go to immigration court, most people think that the court is just like criminal court. Immigration court is an administrative court. If somebody’s in detention, it is not punitive. It is not punishment. If they’re in detention, it’s because the enforcement officials want to make sure you stay where you are, so that they can take you to court.

Being Detained to Appear in Immigration Court Is Not a Punitive Action but Some Criminal Offenses Are Not Eligible for Bond

There are some offenses that you can run afoul of criminally that make you so that you can’t be bonded out. You have to be detained until you see the immigration court judge. More people need to know more about that, because there are some things that are simple.

It’s been declared by the immigration system to be an aggravated felony. It might not even be a felony, but you find yourself behind bars in detention. A client may say, “Okay, well, get me a bond,” and I then have to say, “You’re not eligible for a bond.” That’s for people who are here illegally and people who already have their green card and now have run afoul of some criminal law.

Though Entering This Country Illegally Is a Crime, Many Individuals Do Not Receive a Criminal Conviction if Caught by Law Enforcement Officials

Now, entering the country illegally is in fact a crime, but the vast majority of times, if individuals are picked up by local law enforcement, they get turned over to ICE or Border Patrol. The vast majority of times, they go through an administrative process, and they don’t actually receive a criminal conviction for the illegal entry.

There Are Some District Attorneys Who Will Prosecute on a State and Federal Level

Now, there are certain areas where US attorneys are trying to make a name for themselves and they are filing criminal, federal criminal charges on every generic illegal entrant. However, in most places, the prosecution is directed at a repeat offender or someone who was caught being a drug mule. Then they’ll go after them for not only the drugs but for the illegal entry as well.

A Common Immigration Scenario Involves an Individual Being Involved in a Police Stop for a Traffic Infraction

The vast majority of times, a person who entered the country illegally will undergo this scenario. He or she is pulled over by the police. They don’t have a license. The sheriff realizes that they’re illegal. He’s not going to do anything about it. He just turns them over to ICE, and ICE puts them in administrative proceedings.

The Local Law Enforcement Will Usually Turn These Individuals over to ICE and They Are Detained

Immigration proceeding do involve a judge, but the judge can’t sentence them to any kind of time. If they are detained, it is a precursor to the hearing. It is not punitive in nature but that rarely matters to you when you’re behind bars.

Interviewer: I’m sure those are the most time-sensitive upsetting situations. Before we go deeper into any one area, are there any other major areas in immigration law?

Jeanne: Yes, and that’s the one that I wanted to go into today, but I’ll give you the thumbnail sketch first. When we hear the people in Washington, D.C. talk about immigration, the number one fact is that they don’t know what they’re talking about most of the time.

Individuals Classified as Permanent Citizens May Obtain Citizenship

Depending on which constituents they are beholden to, they’re talking about, “Oh, the pathway to citizenship,” and the like. No one goes from being an illegal to citizen like that. There’s this interim level called being a permanent resident. That’s when you are considered legal.

Some Visas, Such as Work Visas, Offer Legal Residence in This Country for the Duration of the Visa

There are other ways of being in the United States without being a permanent resident. You could have entered with a visitor’s visa or a school visa, or like ball players, some people have a special type of work visa. The gold standard that everybody wants is to get the permanent resident status. You’re a permanent resident, and then you go on to become a citizen.

Attorney Morales Is Passionate about Assisting Her Clients in Their Endeavors to become United States Citizens

Now, that’s an area of law that is exciting to me, because I’m in love with my country. I am a military veteran. I’ve retired after nearly 30 years from the Coast Guard, and I’m a cheerleader for the United States. I’m perfectly happy if you want to come to the United States, but I don’t think you should want to stop at permanent resident. I think you should want to go for the real gold standard, which is becoming a citizen.