VIDEO: When criminal law and immigration law collide

What does an immigrant need to know if they’ve come into contact with law enforcement? Hi, I’m Jim Hacking, immigration attorney here in St. Louis Missouri. You know, we don’t do a lot of criminal law here at the Hacking Law Practice, but I was in criminal court yesterday and I was watching a judge take a series of guilty pleas to various misdemeanors. In this case, it was a case that I was assigned to by the court, so I had to appear and I didn’t work out a favorable result for my client. While I was sitting there, it occurred to me that many times, immigrants find themselves in those same situations. They can be misdemeanors or felonies, and one of the main mistakes that people make, we talk about this all the time, is when an immigrant comes into contact with law enforcement, what should they do?

The first thing they should do is call an immigration attorney. The second thing they should do is call a criminal defense attorney, and here’s why: the law is fundamentally different for immigrants who get into trouble with the law than it is for people who are US citizens. If you’re not a US citizen, you do not have the same protection as everybody else, and there are many crimes that while they would not cause serious consequences to a non-immigrant, that is if the person’s a citizen, they’re going to not get into much trouble, for non-citizens, for immigrants, they can cause huge problems.

What am I talking about? One of the things we hear a lot of at our office is an immigrant who has found themselves in trouble with the law, and they get a criminal defense attorney or no criminal defense attorney at all and they think that because the laws are such that there’s no jail time as a result of this particular criminal activity, that means everything’s going to be okay. The problem is that the Immigration Service and the Department of Homeland Security treat many convictions differently than they do for regular citizens, in that you can have a situation where you plead guilty, you don’t get any jail time, and in fact, the judge enters what’s called the suspended imposition of sentence or gives some modified relief where you’re sentenced, but you don’t have to immediately go to jail. You’re put on probation, and in those situations, it’s great from a jail and state law standpoint, but from an immigration standpoint, it can be a conviction, and that conviction can render you deportable.

That’s true even if you have your green card. I can’t stress it enough. If you’re not a US citizen, you’re not like everybody else, and you are subject to deportation if you entered guilty pleas on certain crimes. To quote Donald Rumsfeld, the former Secretary of Defense, “You don’t know what you don’t know.”, and that’s something that’s very, very true. Many criminal defense attorneys find themselves jammed up because they have entered their client into a plea that renders them deportable and the criminal defense attorney never even knew it.

We take each one of these situations from scratch. The law is so complicated that we don’t ever give off-the-cuff recommendations as to the immigration consequences of a plea. It’s so complex that we always start at the very beginning. You have to look at the statute that the person is charged with. You have to look at the Immigration and Nationality Act, which are the laws and regulations that govern these types of convictions, and you have to do a walkthrough of each of the little wrongs of each of the statutes to see if in this particular case, the person’s going to be rendered deportable or subject to being placed in deportation proceedings.

One thing you need to keep in mind is that ICE will put people into deportation proceedings even if there’s a way for them to get out, so you don’t want to ever trigger that. You don’t ever want to make the mistake of just entering into a guilty plea, so if you’re talking to a criminal defense attorney or if you’ve been charged and you’re hearing things like probation, no problem, suspended sentence, these are the kind of buzzwords that you need to say to yourself, “Woah, that immigration attorney Jim Hacking told me once on a video that if I start hearing those kinds of words, that I really need to be careful.”

We have a lot of friends in the criminal defense bar, and we are happy to sit down and consult with them. The smart ones always call us or another immigration attorney to make sure that their client is protected. Every attorney has a duty to protect their client from immigration consequences and we’ve seen time and time again where that just hasn’t happened. You want to talk to an immigration attorney who’s experienced in deportation, who can analyze the law and provide you with an analysis of what exactly your situation is.

If you find yourself in such a situation, or if you have a loved one who’s sitting in immigration jail or criminal jail, and you’re wondering what’s going to happen to them, I want you to pick up the phone and give us a call, (314) 961-8200 or you can email me for more information, jim@hackinglawpractice.com. Thanks.