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Immigration Consequences of CriminalActivitySarah Herman PeckLegislative AttorneyHillel R. SmithLegislative AttorneyApril 5, 2018Congressional Research Service7-5700www.crs.govR45151

Immigration Consequences of Criminal ActivitySummaryCongress’s power to create rules governing the admission of non-U.S. nationals (aliens) has longbeen viewed as plenary. In the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), as amended, Congress hasspecified grounds for the exclusion or removal of aliens, including on account of criminalactivity. Some criminal offenses, when committed by an alien who is present in the United States,may render that alien subject to removal from the country. And certain criminal offenses maypreclude an alien outside the United States from being either admitted into the country orpermitted to reenter following an initial departure. Further, criminal conduct may disqualify analien from certain forms of relief from removal or prevent the alien from becoming a U.S. citizen.In some cases, the INA directly identifies particular offenses that carry immigrationconsequences; in other cases, federal immigration law provides that a general category of crimes,such as “crimes involving moral turpitude” or an offense defined by the INA as an “aggravatedfelony,” may render an alien ineligible for certain benefits and privileges under immigration law.The INA distinguishes between the treatment of aliens who have been lawfully admitted into theUnited States and those who are either seeking admission into the country or are physicallypresent in the country without having been lawfully admitted. Aliens who have been lawfullyadmitted into the country may be removed if they engage in conduct that renders themdeportable, whereas aliens who have not been legally admitted into the United States—includingboth aliens seeking initial entry into the United States as well as those who are physically presentin the country but were never lawfully admitted—may be excluded or removed from the countryif they have engaged in conduct rendering them inadmissible. Although the INA designatescertain criminal activities and categories of criminal activities as grounds for inadmissibility ordeportation, the respective grounds are not identical. Moreover, a conviction for a designatedcrime is not always required for an alien to be disqualified on criminal grounds from admissioninto the United States. But for nearly all criminal grounds for deportation, a “conviction” (asdefined by the INA) for the underlying offense is necessary. Additionally, although certaincriminal conduct may disqualify an alien from various immigration-related benefits or forms ofrelief, the scope of disqualifying conduct varies depending on the particular benefit or form ofrelief at issue.This report identifies the major criminal grounds that may bar an alien from being admitted intothe United States or render an alien within the country removable. The report also discussesadditional immigration consequences of criminal activity, including those that make an alienineligible for certain relief from removal, including cancellation of removal, voluntary departure,withholding of removal, and asylum. The report also addresses the criminal grounds that renderan alien ineligible to adjust to lawful permanent resident (LPR) status, as well as those groundsbarring LPRs from naturalizing as U.S. citizens. The report also discusses the scope of severalgeneral criminal categories referenced by the INA, including “crimes involving moral turpitude,”“aggravated felonies,” and “crimes of violence.”Congressional Research Service

Immigration Consequences of Criminal ActivityContentsAdministration of Immigration Laws . 2Criminal Grounds for Inadmissibility and Deportation . 4Criminal Grounds of Inadmissibility Under INA § 212(a)(2) . 5Criminal Grounds of Deportability Under INA § 237(a)(2) . 7Crime Involving Moral Turpitude . 8Aggravated Felony . 10Crimes Affecting “Good Moral Character” . 12Relief from Removal and Obtaining Certain Immigration Benefits . 13Waiver for Criminal Inadmissibility Grounds . 13Aliens Seeking Admission as LPRs . 13Aliens Seeking Admission as Nonimmigrants . 15Cancellation of Removal . 15Voluntary Departure . 17Withholding of Removal . 18Convention Against Torture . 19Asylum . 19Refugee Status . 20Adjustment of Status . 21Temporary Protected Status . 22Naturalization: Impact of Criminal Activity . 22The Intersection of Criminal Law and Immigration: Select Legal Issues . 23The Duty to Inform about Immigration Consequences from a Criminal Conviction . 23What Constitutes a Conviction? . 24Approaches to Determine Whether a Criminal Conviction Triggers ImmigrationConsequences . 26Interpreting the INA Predicate Offense . 28Issues for Congress . 30TablesTable 1. Criminal Grounds of Inadmissibility Under INA § 212(a)(2) . 5Table 2. Criminal Grounds of Deportation Under INA § 237(a)(2) . 7Table 3. Aggravated Felony Offenses Under INA § 101(a)(43)(F) . 10Table 4. Criminal Bars to Good Moral Character . 12ContactsAuthor Contact Information . 31Congressional Research Service

Immigration Consequences of Criminal Activityongress’s power to establish rules for the admission of non-U.S. nationals (aliens1) haslong been viewed as plenary.2 In the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), as amended,3Congress has specified various grounds for the exclusion or removal of aliens, includinggrounds related to the commission of criminal conduct.4 Some criminal offenses committed by analien who is present in the United States may render that alien subject to removal from thecountry.5 And certain offenses may preclude an alien outside the United States from either beingadmitted into the country or permitted to reenter following an initial departure.6 Further,committing certain crimes may disqualify an alien from many forms of relief from removal,7prevent an alien from adjusting to lawful permanent resident (LPR) status,8 or bar an LPR fromnaturalizing as a U.S. citizen.9CThis report provides an overview of the major immigration consequences of criminal activity. Thereport begins by briefly discussing the laws governing the immigration consequences of criminalconduct and the government entities charged with administering U.S. immigration laws. Next, thereport enumerates specific crimes and categories of crimes that may render an alien inadmissibleor deportable. Then, the report discusses the potential impact criminal activity may have for analien’s eligibility to obtain various forms of relief from removal or exclusion, including reliefthrough a waiver of application of certain grounds for removal, cancellation of removal,voluntary departure, asylum, or withholding of removal. Next, the report discusses criminalactivity affecting an alien’s ability to adjust to LPR status or naturalize as a U.S. citizen. Finally,the report examines select legal issues related to the intersection of criminal law and immigration,including the responsibilities of criminal defense attorneys representing alien defendants, as wellas judicial interpretation of particular INA provisions that may render aliens who have beenconvicted of certain crimes removable.1The Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) uses the term “alien” to describe “any person not a citizen or national ofthe United States.” 8 U.S.C. § 1101(a)(3).2See, e.g., Kleindienst v. Mandel, 408 U.S. 753, 769-70 (1972) (“[P]lenary congressional power to make policies andrules for exclusion of aliens has long been firmly established.”); Boutilier v. INS, 387 U.S. 118, 123 (1967) (“It haslong been held that the Congress has plenary power to make rules for the admission of aliens and to exclude those whopossess those characteristics which Congress has forbidden.”). But see Zadvydas v. Davis, 533 U.S. 678, 695 (2001)(noting that Congress’s plenary power in enacting immigration laws “is subject to important constitutionallimitations”). See generally CRS Report R44969, Overview of the Federal Government’s Power to Exclude Aliens, byBen Harrington (discussing the scope of congressional authority over immigration).3See 8 U.S.C. § 1101, et seq.4See id. §§ 1182(a)(2), 1227(a)(2).5See, e.g., id. § 1227(a)(2).6See, e.g., id. § 1182(a)(2), (a)(9) (criminal grounds for inadmissibility, including for aliens previously removed onaccount of committing an aggravated felony); see also id. § 1101(a)(13)(C) (providing that an alien with lawfulpermanent resident status who departs from the United States and thereafter seeks to return shall not be considered anapplicant for admission except in certain cases, including when the alien has committed conduct falling under thecriminal grounds for inadmissibility or engaged in illegal activity after departing the United States).7See, e.g., id. §§ 1158(b)(2), 1182(h)(2), 1229b(a), 1229c(b)(1).8See, e.g., id. § 1255. An LPR is authorized to live permanently in the United States and may obtain many benefitsunavailable to other categories of aliens. See Dep’t of Homeland Security, Lawful Permanent Residents awful-permanent-residents (last visited Mar. 27, 2018).9See, e.g., 8 U.S.C. §§ 1101(f), 1427(a).Congressional Research Service1

Immigration Consequences of Criminal ActivityAdministration of Immigration LawsThe INA primarily governs the administration of U.S. immigration laws.10 Originally enacted in1952, the INA unified the country’s immigration laws under one umbrella framework.11 Anumber of federal agencies possess distinct responsibilities relating to the administration of thecountry’s immigration laws, including the Department of Justice, the State Department, and,following the enactment of the Homeland Security Act of 2002, the Department of HomelandSecurity (DHS).Before Congress enacted the Homeland Security Act most U.S. immigration laws—particularlyas they related to enforcement activities and providing relief or services to aliens within theUnited States—were primarily administered by the Attorney General, who largely delegated hispower to two agencies within the Department of Justice (DOJ): the Immigration andNaturalization Service (INS), which carried out enforcement and service activities, and theExecutive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR), which carried out adjudication activities.12The Homeland Security Act, as relevant here, dismantled the INS, created DHS, and transferredmany of the Attorney General’s immigration administration responsibilities to the DHSSecretary.13 Thus, the DHS Secretary is now “charged with the administration and enforcement of[the INA] and all other laws relating to the immigration and naturalization of aliens, exceptinsofar as this chapter or such laws relate to the powers, functions, and duties conferred upon thePresident, Attorney General” and other executive officers.14Three components of DHS—Customs and Border Protection (CBP), Immigration and CustomsEnforcement (ICE), and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS)—carry out themajor functions of the former INS.15 In particular, ICE is the primary investigative arm ofimmigration enforcement within the United States.16 When ICE determines that an alien locatedwithin the U.S. interior has violated the immigration laws—for example, by committing certaincrimes—DHS typically apprehends the alien and initiates removal proceedings against himbefore an immigration judge (IJ) within DOJ’s EOIR.17 CBP, on the other hand, is authorized toenforce immigration laws at the border, which involves responsibilities including the inspection10P.L. 107-296, 116 Stat. 2135 (2002).See generally USCIS History Office & Library (2012), Overview of INS History, at 9, available for download ion-service; USCIS,Immigration & Nationality Act, lity-act (last visited Feb. 13,2018).12Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1952, Pub. L. No. 82-414, 66 Stat. 163, § 103 (June 27, 1952) (charging theAttorney General with administering and enforcing the INA and “all other laws relating to the immigration andnaturalization of aliens, except insofar as this Act or such laws relate to the powers, functions, and duties conferredupon the President, the Secretary of State, the officers of the Department of State, or diplomatic or consular officers”).13USCIS History Office & Library, supra note 11, at 11. Other agencies in addition to the DHS, the DOJ, and the StateDepartment play a role in immigration administration. For example, the Department of Health and Human Services isresponsible for housing and caring for unaccompanied alien children, 8 U.S.C. § 1232(b)(1), and the Department ofLabor provides labor certification to employers seeking to sponsor foreign nationals to work in the United States, id. §1182(a)(5)(A); 20 C.F.R. § 656.148 U.S.C. § 1103(a)(1); see also 8 C.F.R. § 2.1.15GORDON & MAILMAN, ET AL., IMMIGRATION LAW & PROCEDURE, § 1.02, Scope, Agencies, and Sources.168 C.F.R. § 100.1.178 U.S.C. §§ 1229(a), 1229a(b)(4)(A).11Congressional Research Service2

Immigration Consequences of Criminal Activityand admission of aliens seeking entry into the United States and the expedited removal of certaininadmissible aliens apprehended at or near the border while seeking entry to the United States.18DHS, through USCIS, also plays a role in determining eligibility and approving applications forcertain forms of relief and immigration benefits (e.g., granting asylum, adjusting status, ornaturalizing).19Despite the transfer of most enforcement functions to DHS, removal proceedings are primarilyconducted by EOIR within DOJ.20 During those proceedings, an IJ typically assesses an alien’sremovability and eligibility for relief from removal.21 At the removal hearing—a civilproceeding22—aliens generally have a right to legal counsel at their own expense.23An IJ makesan initial removability determination, which may be appealed to the Board of ImmigrationAppeals (BIA), the highest administrative body charged with interpreting and applying federalimmigration laws.24 (The Attorney General is vested with discretion to review those appeals aswell.25) Additionally, as was the case before enactment of the Homeland Security Act, AttorneyGeneral rulings “with respect to all questions of law shall be controlling.”26Federal circuit courts of appeals have exclusive jurisdiction to adjudicate petitions for review offinal removal orders issued in proceedings before EOIR.27 However, the INA limits what issuesthe appellate courts may review. For instance, the INA limits federal courts’ jurisdiction overcases involving an alien ordered removed based on certain criminal activity, unless the alienraises a constitutional claim or question of law (e.g., whether particular conduct an alien allegedlycommitted is of the type of conduct covered by a particular removal ground in the INA).28Another executive branch agency, the State Department, takes the lead role in processing thevisas that aliens must generally obtain (with notable exceptions29) to travel to, and be admitted18See id. § 1225(b)(1)(A) (authorizing expedited removal of certain aliens at or near the border); 8 C.F.R. § 235.3(b)(regulations implementing expedited removal procedures); 6 U.S.C. § 211(setting forth CBP’s functions).19See 6 U.S.C. § 271(b) (describing USCIS’s adjudicatory functions); 8 C.F.R. § 100.1 (delegating authority toUSCIS).20P.L. 107-296, 116 Stat. 2135, § 1102; 8 C.F.R. § 1003.21See 8 C.F.R. § 1003.9-1003.10.22See, e.g., Arizona v. United States, 567 U.S. 387, 396 (2012) (“Removal is a civil, not criminal matter.”).23See 8 U.S.C. § 1229(a)(1)(E).248 C.F.R. §§ 1003.1-1003.8.25Id. § 1003.1(h).268 U.S.C. § 1103(a)(1).27Id. § 1252(a)(5). In addition, federal district courts have jurisdiction to review habeas corpus petitions by alienschallenging the legality of their detention pending their removal. See 28 U.S.C. § 2241 (authorizing federal courts togrant writs of habeas corpus to prisoners in federal custody); INS v. St. Cyr, 533 U.S. 289, 305 (2001) (“The writ ofhabeas corpus has always been available to review the legality of Executive detention.”); Leonardo v. Crawford, 646F.3d 1157, 1160 (9th Cir. 2011) (providing that aliens held in custody may file habeas corpus petitions in federal districtcourt).288 U.S.C. §§ 1252(a)(2)(C), (D); see Estrada-Ramos v. Holder, 611 F.3d 318, 321 (7th Cir. 2010) (“We lackjurisdiction to review removal orders of aliens removable under [INA] § 242(a)(2)(C) unless there is a validconstitutional claim or question of law.”) (citing Zamora–Mallari v. Mukasey, 514 F.3d 679, 693–94 (7th Cir.2008));James v. Mukasey, 522 F.3d 250, 253 (2d Cir. 2008) (“[W]e lack jurisdiction to review any final order of removalagainst an alien who is deportable because he or she was convicted of an aggravated felony, save for constitutionalclaims and questions of law.”) (citing 8 U.S.C. § 1252(a)(2)(C)).29See id. §§ 1181, 1184; What is a U.S. Visa, U.S. DEP’T OF STATE, BUREAU OF CONSULAR /us-visas.html (last visited Feb, 13, 2018). One notable exception to this generalrequirement is for persons travelling to the United States under the Visa Waiver Program. For more information on that(continued.)Congressional Research Service3

Immigration Consequences of Criminal Activityinto, the United States.30 Immigrant visas are granted to aliens seeking lawful permanentresidency in the United States, whereas nonimmigrant visas are issued to aliens seekingtemporary admission into the United States.31 In both cases, the alien seeking a visa must submitsupporting documentation to, and interview with, a consular official32 who generally must belocated in the country where the alien resides.33 Eligibility for a particular visa depends onspecified criteria set forth in the INA.34 And, as will be discussed in further detail below, certaincriminal activity may render an alien ineligible to obtain a visa to enter the United States.Criminal Grounds for Inadmissibility andDeportationAliens who commit certain crimes may be ineligible to enter or remain in the United States. Theterm “inadmissible” is used to describe aliens who are generally ineligible to receive visas orotherwise be lawfully admitted into the United States.35 “Deportable” refers to aliens who havebeen lawfully admitted to the United States, but have engaged in proscribed activities that renderthem removable from the country.36(.continued)program, under which citizens and nationals of 37 countries and Taiwan typically are not obligated to obtain a visa tovisit the United States for business or tourism for 90 days or less, see Visa Waiver Program, U.S. DEP’T OF STATE,BUREAU OF CONSULAR AFFAIRS, s/tourism-visit/visa-waiverprogram.html (last visited Feb. 13, 2018); see generally CRS Report RL32221, Visa Waiver Program, by Jill H.Wilson. Another exception is for Canadian and Bermudan citizens, who do not need a visa for temporary travel to theUnited States for most purposes. See U.S. VISAS, Citizens of Canada & Bermuda, l (last visited Feb. 13, 2018).30See 8 U.S.C. § 1104(c) (creating a Visa Office within the State Department).31See id. § 1202; Immigrant Visas vs. Nonimmigrant Visas, U.S. CUSTOMS & BORDER PROT., https://help.cbp.gov/app/answers/detail/a id/72/ /immigrant-visas-vs.-nonimmigrant-visas (last visited Feb. 13, 2018). See also supra note 29(describing some exceptions to visa requirements).32A consular official is “any consular, diplomatic, or other officer or employee of the United States” who issuesimmigrant or nonimmigrant visas to aliens overseas or determines nationality of aliens. 8 U.S.C. § 1101(a)(9).33See id. § 1202; The Immigrant Visa Process, U.S. DEP’T OF STATE, BUREAU OF CONSULAR mmigrate/immigrant-process.html (last visited Feb. 13, 2018); Tourism & Visit,U.S. DEP’T OF STATE, BUREAU OF CONSULAR AFFAIRS, s/tourismvisit.html (last visited Feb. 13, 2018); Business, U.S. DEP’T OF STATE, BUREAU OF CONSULAR /us-visas/business.html (last visited Feb. 13, 2018); Employment, U.S. DEP’T OFSTATE, BUREAU OF CONSULAR AFFAIRS, s/employment.html (last visitedFeb. 13, 2018); Study & Exchange, U.S. DEP’T OF STATE, BUREAU OF CONSULAR AFFAIRS, s/study.html (last visited Feb. 13, 2018). In some circumstances, however, an alien may submita visa application in a country where he is not a resident if he is physically present there and the consular office hasagreed to accept the alien’s application. See 22 C.F.R. §§ 41.101(a)(1)(ii), 42.61(a).34See, e.g., 8 U.S.C. §§ 1101(a)(15), (a)(20), 1182.35Id. § 1182(a).36Id. § 1227(a). Additionally, an alien may be deportable on the ground that he was inadmissible at the time he enteredthe United States or adjusted status. Id. § 1227(a)(1)(A).Congressional Research Service4

Immigration Consequences of Criminal ActivityCriminal Grounds of Inadmissibility Under INA § 212(a)(2)The criminal grounds for inadmissibility are primarily set forth in INA § 212(a)(2).37 The criminalgrounds are a mix of specific crimes and categories of crimes with varying levels of proofrequired for the crime to render an alien inadmissible.38Table 1. Criminal Grounds of Inadmissibility Under INA § 212(a)(2)Ground of InadmissibilityCovered AliensExceptionsCrimes involving moral turpitudeAn alien who has been convicted of,admitted to having committed, oradmitted to committing acts thatconstitute the essential elements of a“crime involving moral turpitude,”unless the crime was a purelypolitical offense (or an attempt orconspiracy to commit such a crime)Does not apply to an alien whocommitted only one crime if (1) thecrime was committed when the alienwas under eighteen and the crimewas committed (and the alienreleased from confinement) morethan five years before applying foradmission; or (2) the maximumpenalty for the crime of convictiondoes not exceed imprisonment formore than one year and the alienwas sentenced to no more than sixmonths’ imprisonment.Controlled substance offensesAn alien who has been convicted of,admitted to having committed, oradmitted to committing acts thatconstitute the essential elements of aviolation of any federal, state, orforeign controlled substance law (oran attempt or conspiracy to commitsuch a crime)NoneMultiple criminal convictionsAn alien who has been convicted oftwo or more offenses for which theaggregate sentences were five ormore years of confinementNoneDrug traffickingAn alien who immigration authoritiesknow, or have reason to believe, hasbeen involved in drug trafficking(includes alien’s spouse, son, ordaughter if they have, within theprevious five years, obtained anyfinancial or other benefit from thedrug trafficking activity and knew orreasonably should have known thatthe financial or other benefitresulted from such activity)None37Id. § 1182(a)(2). Other provisions of INA § 212 also address criminal conduct, but they are not listed within §212(a)(2). For example, INA § 212(a)(3) covers “Security and Related Grounds” of inadmissibility, such as terroristactivities, genocide, and acts of torture, which would likely involve conduct that is criminal in nature. Id. § 1182(a)(3).In addition, INA § 212(a)(6) includes provisions relating to entering the United States without authorization and aliensmuggling, which may be subject to separate criminal sanction. See id. § 1182(a)(6)(A)(i), (E)(i); id. §§ 1324 (crime ofunlawful entry), 1325(a) (criminal offenses related to alien smuggling and harboring).38Id. § 1182(a)(2).Congressional Research Service5

Immigration Consequences of Criminal ActivityGround of InadmissibilityCovered AliensExceptionsProstitution and commercialized viceAn alien who is coming to theUnited States to engage inprostitution, has engaged inprostitution within ten years ofapplying for admission or adjustmentof status, has procured or attemptedto procure or import prostitutes orpersons for the purpose ofprostitution within that ten-yearperiod, has received the proceeds ofprostitution during that ten-yearperiod, or is coming to the UnitedStates to engage in another unlawfulcommercialized viceNoneSerious criminal activityAn alien who has been involved inserious criminal activitya in theUnited States, gained immunity fromprosecution, and, as a result,departed the United StatesNoneHuman traffickingAn alien who has committed orconspired to commit a humantrafficking offense in the UnitedStates or abroad, or who the U.S.government knows or has reason tobelieve has been involved in severeforms of human traffickingb (includesalien’s spouse, son, or daughter ifthey have, within the previous fiveyears, obtained any financial or otherbenefit from that activity, and knewor reasonably should have knownthat such benefit resulted from theactivity)Does not apply to a son or daughterof human trafficker who was a childat the time of receiving benefit fromhuman trafficking activityMoney launderingAn alien who relevant immigrationauthorities know, or have reason tobelieve, has engaged in, is engaging in,or seeks to enter the United Statesto engage in money launderingc(including aiding or conspiring inmoney laundering)NoneSource: 8 U.S.C. §§ 1182(a)(2)(A), (a)(2)(B), (a)(2)(C), (a)(2)(D), (a)(2)(E), (a)(2)(H), (a)(2)(I).Notes:a. The INA defines a “serious criminal offense” as any felony, a “crime of violence,” or any crime of recklessdriving or driving while under the influence of alcohol or a prohibited substance that results in personalinjury to another person. 8 U.S.C. § 1101(h).b. See 22 U.S.C. § 7102(9) (defining “severe forms of trafficking in persons”).c. See 18 U.S.C. §§ 1956-1957 (money laundering offenses).Congressional Research Service6

Immigration Consequences of Criminal ActivityCriminal Grounds of Deportability Under INA § 237(a)(2)Criminal grounds for deportation are primarily listed in INA § 237(a)(2).39 Like theinadmissibility grounds, criminal deportation grounds also consist of specific crimes andcategories of crimes. One main difference between the criminal grounds for inadmissibility anddeportability is that the deportability grounds largely require the alien to have been convicted ofthe listed offense, whereas the inadmissibility grounds for certain crimes may only require thatthe alien admitted committing the offense or that immigration authorities have “reason to believe”the alien committed the proscribed conduct.40Table 2. Criminal Grounds of Deportation Under INA § 237(a)(2)Ground of DeportabilityCovered AliensExceptionsCrimes involving moral turpitudeAliens convicted of a crime involvingmoral turpitude (committed withinten years of admission in the case ofan LPR, or five years after admissionfor other categories of aliens) forwhich a sentence of imprisonmentfor one year or longer may beimposedDoes not apply if the alien is granteda full and unconditional pardonfollowing the criminal convictionMultiple criminal convictionsAliens convicted of two or

ineligible for certain relief from removal, including cancellation of removal, voluntary departure, withholding of removal, and asylum. The report also addresses the criminal grounds that render an alien ineligible to adjust to lawful permanent resident (LPR) status, as well as those grounds barring LPRs from naturalizing as U.S. citizens.

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