Immigration Problems for Non-Citizens Accused of Crimes in New York City

The most commonly thought of problem associated with being accused of a crime for those who are not citizens (including legal residents) is DEPORTATION. Deportation is the forced removal of a person from the United States, usually returning the person to the country of citizenship. Certainly deportation can have life changing effects on people’s lives on a par with or even more devastating than a criminal conviction or even jail. Families can be torn apart and people can be forcibly returned to countries they have never really known. These stories are frequently terribly sad and in many cases apparently unjust to most people.

But there is another, more insidious potential problem for those accused of crimes who are legal residents but not citizens of the United States: INADMISSIBILITY. Inadmissibility means that the immigration laws prevent you from entering the United States (say at an airport). Notice that inadmissibility is different from deportability. Under the complex web of immigration rules, there are situations in which people may not be deportable, but they are nevertheless inadmissible.

If you are in the strange group of people who are not deportable, but nevertheless inadmissible, then you are not subject to deportation and can remain within the United States as long as you are otherwise permitted under the law. But if you ever leave the country for any reason (vacation, for example) you could be stopped at the border coming home and denied admission into the United States.

The circumstances under which a person can be made inadmissible but not deportable are not what most people would expect. For example, probably the most surprising circumstance is the person who is accused of a crime (say drug dealing) and who is then acquitted (found NOT GUILTY). The person who is found NOT GUILTY is not deportable because there was no conviction. But, if the case involved dealing in drugs, the person is at risk of being labeled “inadmissible” if the United States Government decides that there is “reason to believe” he is involved in drug dealing. Isn’t this strange? The United States Government is using a finding of not guilty AGAINST someone.

This is why those who are not actually citizens of the United States should take any contact with the criminal justice system highly seriously and seek competent representation both as to the criminal case and as to the potential immigration questions.