Texas has a long history of cross cultural friendship with our neighbors south of the border. And despite political rhetoric that is sometimes carelessly thrown around, the vast majority of people recognize the valuable contributions that immigrants make to the economy, culture, and society of Texas. Recent crackdowns have put immigrants at risk of greater scrutiny. If you are not a citizen and are facing criminal charges of any kind, it’s absolutely essential to take a forward leaning approach to your legal issues that considered both the criminal and immigration implications of your unique situation.
Types of Immigration Status
Unless you were born in the United States, or have gone through a very lengthy and complex process to become a citizen, odds are you are an immigrant belonging to one of five categories in the eyes of the government. Those immigrant statuses are:
- lawful permanent resident
- lawful non-immigrant
- refugee or asylee
- “special relief” category under TPS, DACA, DAPA, or other statute
- undocumented, or “out of status”
Immigration status greatly affects the implications of even small criminal charges, so it’s essential to first properly determine your exact immigration status with an attorney or other qualified advocate.
Conviction vs. Sentence
Terminology is key in criminal matters involving immigration. In Texas, about 98% of criminal cases settle out of court through a plea deal or other pre-trial program. Oftentimes, prosecutors give greatly reduced charges and punishment in exchange for avoiding a trial. However, immigrants must be careful when considering such deals. They may be the norm, but plea deals often ask the accused to accept a conviction or a sentence on a lesser offense than the original charge, or agree to lesser punishment by accepting a conviction.
In criminal law, a “conviction” is any adjudication or admission of guilt with some form of punishment or restraint on liberty. This includes deferred adjudication, but does not include a conditional dismissal, or a “memo agreement” that is common in Dallas and surrounding counties.
A “sentence” is any period of confinement ordered by a court, regardless of whether it is suspended or actually served. Why does this matter? Because immigration law uses these terms to decide what approach it will take towards immigrants charged with crimes. Before accepting a plea deal, always be certain of your immigration status and the exact terms of what you’re agreeing to with the prosecutor.
One Time Cancelation
What if you’ve been here a long time, generally stay out of trouble, and get one small charge (lower than an aggravated felony). Should all your past good acts come into consideration in light of one mistake, or wrongful charge? Fortunately, the law allows for a “one time cancelation.” Check with your attorney to see if you may be eligible for this one time pass.
What if I’m Approached by Police?
Many immigrants walk around the streets with constant anxiety of being detained by police, fearing it could unravel everything. However, in America, you have certain rights, even if you’re not a citizen. If police approach you out of the blue and start to ask you questions, politely ask them if you are free to go. You don’t even have to tell them your name. If they say yes, walk away. If they say no, you can say you would like to remain silent. Contact a skilled attorney or community advocate who knows the law and can assist you with the police detention. No matter what, it’s always best to remain very polite, and always be honest with police.
If you are facing any criminal charge and are worried about what it might mean for immigration, contact a skilled attorney who can answer your questions and fight for your best interests first.