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What is an "Aggravated Felony" and How Can it Impact My Immigration Case?

All criminal activity can have a major impact on your immigration case, but none more so than aggravated felonies. Aggravated felonies are a broad category of crimes. When they were first established by the Immigration and Nationality Act in 1988 they only included murder and drug or weapons trafficking. The types of crimes that qualify as an aggravated felony have subsequently been greatly expanded.

Examples of aggravated felony include, but is not limited to:

  • Rape

  • Sexual abuse of a minor

  • Money laundering in excess of $10,000

  • Arson or explosives related crimes

  • Numerous weapons charges (but not all)

  • Numerous offenses that result in a prison sentence of at least one year

  • Attempt or conspiracy to commit any aggravated felony

Consequences of an Aggravated Felony

US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) states that anyone convicted of an aggravated felony after November 29, 1990 is permanently barred from demonstrating good moral character for the purpose of naturalization. This means, if you committed an aggravated felony in the past 25 years, or if you commit one at any time in the future, you will never be allowed to become a US citizen. Anyone who committed an aggravated felony prior to November 29, 1990 will be considered by USCIS officers on a case-by-case basis depending on the severity and nature of the crime. An aggravated felony may have major implications for other types of immigration cases as well, such as an application for asylum, legal permanent resident status, or cancellation of removal.

Even if you already have a green card, an aggravated felony could result in your deportation from the country. Anyone removed from the US due to their conviction of an aggravated felony cannot reenter the country for any reason for a period of 20 years without being pardoned or paroled by the government.

Aggravated Felony Due to a Year-Long Sentence

In cases where the crime is considered an aggravated felony because the sentence was one year or more, the person in question does not have to actually serve a full year in prison for the crime to still qualify as an aggravated felony. Even if the entire sentence is suspended, if you are convicted of a crime that carries a sentence of one year or more then you have committed an aggravated felony with regard to your immigration status. Normal penalties for illegal reentry after deportation result in a maximum prison sentence of two years, but if you were deported due to an aggravated felony on your record and you illegally reenter the United States then you could face a sentence of up to 20 years in federal prison. Clearly, the implications of an aggravated felony on immigration status are incredibly dire, and these crimes are to be avoided at all costs.

Meaning of "Good Moral Character"

According to the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS): "GMC means character which measures up to the standards of average citizens of the community in which the applicant resides." That's still a pretty broad definition, but in general, the most important aspects of maintaining good moral character are avoiding any and all criminal activity and fulfilling one's obligations under the law. But when does good moral character actually come into play in the immigration process?

How It Can Impact My Immigration Case

There are a number of situations that require an application to demonstrate GMC. If you are a legal permanent resident of the United States and you are interested in becoming a citizen, you will have to prove that you have been a person of good moral character for up to 5 years prior to your application for citizenship.

On the flip side, if you are facing deportation and you want to qualify for a cancellation of removal, you will also have to prove your GMC. Additionally, if you are in removal proceedings and you wish to seek Voluntary Departure, meaning you agree to leave the country on your own by a specified date in the future, you will need to show good moral character as well.

Victims of abuse who are applying for a U-visa or for a visa through the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), must demonstrate that they themselves are in fact persons of good moral character. Whatever the case may be, a USCIS officer will make a determination about your good moral character by analyzing your record and analyzing statements made in your application and any oral interviews. Good moral character is determined on a case-by-case basis, but criminal activity is often the biggest disqualifier.

It is in your best interests to avoid all crimes, but be aware that if a great deal of time has passed since your transgressions or if your offenses were minor, this may not disqualify you as a person of good moral character.

Have Questions? Contact Skilled Immigration Lawyers Today.

The discretionary nature of good moral character means it is important you utilize an immigration lawyer who can help present your case in the best light possible. If you have an immigration case that may be affected by an aggravated felony or have an immigration decision or application that requires you to demonstrate good moral character, please call Landerholm Immigration at (510) 756-4468 and our Oakland immigration attorneys can fight to help you achieve your American dream.

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