As an immigrant living in the U.S., you likely already know that the courts tend to divide crimes into misdemeanors (less serious) and felonies (more serious). You may therefore think that conviction of a misdemeanor will not affect your immigration status or make you eligible for deportation. Unfortunately, this is not always true. Some misdemeanor convictions will likely result in your deportation.

For immigration purposes, the misdemeanor/felony distinction is almost irrelevant. Immigration courts look at the specific crime for which you received your conviction, not its or their classifications of seriousness. The Immigration and Naturalization Service has its own classification system of deportable crimes as follows:

  • Crimes of moral turpitude
  • Aggravated felonies
  • Specifically named crimes

Moral turpitude crimes

Unfortunately, no one-size-fits-all definition exists of what constitutes a crime of moral turpitude. In general, they represent crimes that “breach the people’s and the country’s trust.” Crimes falling into this category include the following:

  • Fraud
  • Embezzlement
  • Assault
  • Shoplifting
  • Perjury

Keep in mind that if you receive a conviction for a petty (very minor) crime of moral turpitude where the penalty has a maximum jail or prison sentence of one year, this represents an exception for which you will not face deportation. However, if you receive multiple petty moral turpitude crime convictions, the INS can then use this as a ground to deport you.

Aggravated felonies

Aggravated felonies are no easier to define than crimes of moral turpitude. In fact, for immigration purposes, the true “definition” of an aggravated felony is any crime that Congress wants to designate as one. Consequently, an “aggravated felony” can mean something as serious as murder or as minor as failing to appear in court.

Specifically named crimes

Finally, Section 237 of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 lists a number of crimes by name for which you can face deportation. For instance, a conviction for stalking, human trafficking, domestic violence, or child abuse and/or neglect all represent specifically named crimes for which you face deportation.

If a judge or jury convicts you of any of the above crimes, you face deportation. This is regardless of whether the state or other jurisdiction considers them misdemeanors or felonies.