When the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act was passed by Congress in 1996, among its main goals was expelling and stiffening penalties against aliens who overstay visa allowances and improving security against illegal immigration on the borders and internally. While the law achieved some its objectives, it also spawned a population of immigrants, green-card holding “lawful permanent residents,” who could be more easily deported.
Key reason for this was a provision in the law that greatly expanded the list of crimes that qualified as “aggravated felonies” that would make aliens deportable. When the category of “aggravated felonies” was first added to immigration law in 1988, it encompassed only murder and trafficking in drugs or firearms. Those crimes along with a number of other violent and sex crimes remain as deportable offenses. But the 1996 law also added dozens of lesser offenses. These can include forgery, burglary, tax evasion, domestic abuse and any attempt to commit an aggravated felony. A number of crimes make aliens deportable if the sentence is a year or more, regardless of time served or whether the sentence was suspended. It even includes crimes that are misdemeanors in some states.
The legislation also reduced leeway for judges to consider providing relief. Issues such as immigration status, time lived in the U.S., existence of family who are citizens, ties to the community, or service to the U.S., including military, are not considered.
When immigrants are arrested, they first go through the U.S. legal system. Here is where their alien status puts them at risk. Most attorneys who practice criminal defense work don’t have that knowledge of immigration law and will take a plea instead of going to trial. That will put a person in the system, and often lead to deportation proceedings. Immigrants first serve their U.S. sentence before immigration proceedings and often opt for the shortest time served without understanding the implications of their sentence. Always consult an experienced Immigration Attorney before taking any plea deals.