If a foreign resident in the United States is convicted of a “crime of moral turpitude” or an “aggravated felony” under U.S. immigration law, they could lose their right to remain in the country and will face removal. It might be tempting to take a guilty plea to try to avoid removal. However, for immigration law purposes, a guilty plea is considered a conviction that could result in removal.
What constitutes a conviction?
A conviction of a crime of moral turpitude or an aggravated felony will result in removal, but what is a conviction to begin with?
Of course, being found guilty at trial is a conviction. But taking a plea deal or even entering a no-contest plea are also considered convictions for immigration purposes if the plea resulted in some sort of punitive measures.
Even if your conviction is later expunged under state law, it is still considered a conviction for federal immigration purposes and you still risk being removed from the U.S.
It might be tempting, of course, to take a plea deal to receive a lighter sentence or reduced charges. But if you are a foreign resident, doing so will constitute a conviction that could lead to removal.
Note that if the charges against you are dropped or you are found not guilty at trial you are likely safe — these are generally not convictions.
Removal proceedings are serious. If you are deported, it could be many years before you can legally re-enter the United States. This could mean you are separated from your family for a long time or are returned to a nation that you found intolerable or even dangerous to live in.
If you are a foreign resident who commits a crime in the United States you will want to tread carefully when weighing plea options, as taking a plea deal might reduce your sentence but get you kicked out of the country.