Prior Convictions and Crimes of Moral Turpitude

Interviewer: Wow. Okay. On the other hand, what if someone falls in love or they want to get married to someone from another country, but that person may have felony charges or may even be a sex offender? Would that come into play ever or be something that’s considered?

Jeanne Morales: Yes. You may end up not being able to bring them. Sex offenders are high on the list of bad things no matter where you are. Any kind of felonious behavior such as murder, kidnapping, and things along that nature, are bad things. There is another category of crimes that people misunderstand and can really get you into trouble with immigration. These are called crimes involving moral turpitude. This is a very technical term. Different countries have different rules and sometimes things that are illegal in one country are not illegal in another country. Crimes involving moral turpitude are basically wrong regardless of where you come from or what your education level is. These are crimes that everybody knows are wrong. High on the list are theft crimes. There is a reason that I bring that up. A lot of times I’m dealing with someone who has a shoplifting charge, even as a juvenile, and they believe it is no big deal. They have put it behind them but it doesn’t matter if they have kept themselves clean since that charge. A simple shoplifting charge is a crime involving moral turpitude and that can get you into a lot of trouble in immigration.

We get an awful lot of people who are long-term permanent residents, who have been in this country 20 to 30 plus years and who have an old conviction that is maybe 20 or 30 years old. They’ve never had a problem with it because it was back in the 80s or early 90s, and it’s never ever come up. Maybe it was youthful indiscretion and, for the most part, they have forgotten about it. With the recent electronic linking of data bases, sometimes those people will get a knock on the door and are arrested.  Next, they are put in line to be deported based on something that happened 30 years ago. Anybody who has any kind of suspicions that there’s something like that in their past, probably should check with an immigration attorney before they get that knock at the door.

I can’t stress this enough. Everyone, whether you are a citizen or non-citizen, needs to follow the law and not get arrested. The sooner you convert that permanent resident card into a naturalization certificate the better because we don’t deport US citizens. If you commit a crime, which you should avoid doing, and you have to do the time, when you get out of jail we won’t deport you because you’re a citizen. You play for our team now. If you only have a green card, that’s not always the case.

Interviewer: Wow. Do you have any cases that you see as a personal victory or one case that really stands out? If so, can you share that with us?

Success Stories

Jeanne Morales: We do an awful lot of routine work here like if somebody gets married and they want to put in for their spouse. We also have people who assist others in navigating the complex federal bureaucracy and filing forms.

The ones that are most personally gratifying are often times someone who already has a green card. Maybe they’re not documented but they’re in the United States and they’ve been picked up by immigration. Usually it has something to do with some kind of criminal act. For these cases, we use a variety of techniques. We get them back out and out of immigration court and they’re allowed to stay in the United States. Sometimes it’s tough. If you have a green card and you have a certain crime on your record, we know eventually you’re going to get picked up for it. Some of them you’re not going to be eligible for bond and you’re going to have to sit in detention.

We had one case where the guy knew immigration was looking for him; he was a green-card holder. When he came to see me and I saw his criminal past, I said, “This is going to be one where you’re going to have to stay in detention the entire time.” If we get ready for it, we can minimize the amount of time. Anything I do in immigration involves a lot of paperwork and a lot of gathering records on your part. We need to gather birth certificates, marriages certificates, and things like that. So, this individual was a green-card holder and he knew that immigration was looking for him. Once he talked with me, he learned that he would be ineligible for a bond and would have to stay in detention. He brought everything to me and we got all the paperwork done. We then went down and he turned himself in. The minute he turned himself in, we were able to file a flood of paperwork. This was something that could have taken close to a year and he was out in three months.

The minute he heard somebody was after him, he came in and saw me. I was able to determine what he needed ahead of time. He went and got all the paperwork, and I’m talking about a large package of paperwork. We filled out all the forms ahead of time. The minute he was processed by the Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, I was already at the courthouse filing the paperwork to speed up the case. Sometimes the judges say they can’t set a hearing because they don’t have or you haven’t submitted all the paperwork. We filed everything on that first day and he was out in three months. This normally probably could have been up to a year. Not of jail time, of detention, but that distinction is kind of lost on you when you’re behind bars.

Interviewer: Yeah. Wow. That is an amazing story! What about individuals who are qualified for D.A.C.A? Am I saying that right?