Drunk driving offenses are some of the most commonly charged crimes in California courts, and they affect people from all walks of life. A conviction for DUI can be serious for any California resident, as the penalties can include steep fines, loss of driving privileges and time in jail. For non-citizens, the consequences can be even worse.
A DUI conviction does not necessarily lead to deportation, but even a relatively low-level DUI charge can greatly interfere with an immigrant’s attempt to become a permanent resident or citizen.
U.S. immigration law is harsh for any immigrant convicted of a crime. Two categories of crime that can lead to deportation or downgraded immigration status are aggravated felonies and crimes of moral turpitude.
A felony is any crime that carries a penalty of one year or more in prison. In immigration law, “aggravated felony” refers to a specific list of charges that include violent crimes like murder and serious federal crimes like drug trafficking. However, certain nonviolent crimes that are considered misdemeanors under state law can be counted as aggravated felonies under immigration law. These include theft, filing a false tax return and failure to appear in court.
Crimes involving moral turpitude
The second category of crimes that can lead to quick deportation is known as crimes involving moral turpitude. These include perjury, tax fraud, child abuse and other crimes that are considered to demonstrate a convicted person’s lack of honesty or morality.
Conviction and immigration status
An immigrant convicted of a felony, an aggravated felony or a crime involving moral turpitude will not necessarily face deportation. Immigration courts are supposed to consider a number of factors in each person’s case, and the court may decide that a defendant deserves a second chance before deporting him or her.
That said, it’s no secret that the U.S. government has been increasingly strict towards immigrants in recent years.
The bottom line about DUI and deportation
If you are a non-citizen and have been accused of drunk driving, the good news is that DUI is not normally considered an aggravated felony, nor a crime involving moral turpitude. The bad news is that if you are convicted, you will face harsh penalties that will affect your life in many ways. It may not lead to quick deportation, but it will certainly not help your attempt to become a permanent resident.
However, some DUI offenses are charged as felonies, and so conviction carries severe consequences, including hurting immigration status. Even misdemeanor convictions can hurt an immigrant’s chances. Even merely being accused of a misdemeanor can hurt an immigrant’s case, in some cases.