What Is A Crime Involving Moral Turpitude According To USCIS?
Some types of criminal convictions can ultimately block approval of a U.S. visa or green card. I’ll go over what types of crimes fall under the “crime involving moral turpitude” later in this post. First, let’s discuss why USCIS believes some crimes should stop someone from entering the United States or allowed to stay. When reviewing an applicant’s background, an adjudicator looks at whether they are admissible in the U.S. in the first place.
If you can’t get over this initial hurdle, your case never makes it far enough to know if you were eligible for a visa or green card.
Here’s another interesting fact. Even if you already have a visa or green card, you could lose your status by being convicted of a crime involving moral turpitude. It’s important to know that you are not actually charged with something called “crime involving moral turpitude”. But instead, the crime itself is classified as a “CIMT”.
What Is A Crime Involving Moral Turpitude (CIMT)?
A crime involving moral turpitude is any behavior that shocks the public conscience as being vile, depraved and against the rules of morality of society. The crime committed must show intent to cause bodily harm, defraud, or permanently deprive an owner of property. The Board of Immigration Appeals has described a person committing the crime to have either “evil intent” or acted recklessly without regard to others.
I tried to simply it as much as possible but if you’re still confused by this definition look at it this way: it’s a crime that would shock the general public and is morally wrong. There are two ways that a immigration official will try to determine whether the crime is CIMT:
- Was the crime morally wrong or reckless?
- Does this conviction make the applicant inadmissible?
Prior to 2015, immigration officials were allowed to look at the full record when making a ruling. However, this has changed so that the courts and immigration officials can only consider whether the crime involving moral turpitude is the language of the criminal statute for that particular crime.
What crimes are considered moral turpitude?
- voluntary manslaughter
- involuntary manslaughter, in some cases
- spousal abuse
- child abuse
- aggravated assault
- animal fighting
- fraud, and
- conspiracy, attempt, or acting as an accessory to a crime if that crime involved moral turpitude.
Note that the above listed crimes are not the full list. These are the most common ones that fall under crimes of moral turpitude. If you’re unsure whether your conviction will be a problem, contact an immigration attorney for guidance.
Case Example 1:
Max arrived in the U.S. on a CR1 visa. Within 2 years of his entry, he was convicted of auto theft with the intent of depriving the owner of property (a CIMT), and joyriding with temporary intent (not a CIMT). If Max and his attorney plead guilty to auto theft with temporary intent, then this crime is not considered a CIMT. But, if the record is vague on the difference between temporary and permanent theft, the immigration judge may make a determination on the intent. The judge will only be able to make their decision on whether the crime is a CIMT based on the record which is intentionally vague.
It’s important to know what the immigration consequences are before pleading to any crime. A crime the involves negligence or less is not a CIMT. For example, drunk driving even with injury or as a repeat offense is not CIMT. But, if the offense also involved driving on a suspended license an immigration judge may deem that to be a crime involving moral turpitude. I know, it’s really confusing. That’s why it’s in your best interest to see an immigration attorney about your specific case.
Case Example 2:
Michael has a conditional green card through marriage. Within a year of his arrival to the U.S., he pleads guilty to spousal battery. But, if this offense is committed with “offensive touching” it would not be considered CIMT or a deportable offense. Why? Because immigration law doesn’t consider this a “violent crime”. Now if the offense included violence, it will be deemed to be CIMT and you are then deportable. Michael’s attorney could then create a vague record of his conviction so that he pleads to the language of the statute, which doesn’t really say whether the offense involved actual violence or an offensive touching.
The above is a good reason to hire an experienced attorney because they are aware of the “loopholes” in the law. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not condoning spousal abuse or wanting anyone to get away with any type of crime. But in all honesty, a good lawyer will do their best to get their client off. The law is the law. I just want to inform you and you can do what you want with this information.
Who Should Avoid a Deportable Conviction?
Some criminal convictions can make you immediately deportable under immigration law. Of course, if you have already naturalized and are a U.S. citizen, you have nothing to worry about. But, for the rest of you who have legal status with a visa or green card, review the list below carefully.
- Permanent residents
- F-1 students
- all other non-citizen with lawful status
You might be thinking: “hey, this includes everyone who isn’t a citizen!”. This is not true. Anyone who is in the country illegally are not harmed by a deportable offense conviction. There are some exceptions to this though.
- Someone who will apply for any form of non-LPR cancellation
- Someone who has or will apply for Temporary Protect Status (TPS)
The two cases above should try to avoid committing any deportable crimes because it will cause their application to be denied.
Convictions of CIMTs And Grounds For Deportation.
A noncitizen is deportable if they have been convicted of two or more crimes involving moral turpitude.
The crimes can occur anytime after entry into the U.S. on any visa, or after adjustment status. There is no time limit or expiration time for when the two crimes were committed.
Mesa was admitted to the U.S. in 1996 on a student visa. She was convicted of petty theft in 2004 and fraud in 2015. She is deportable for conviction of two CIMTs since her admission.
One conviction of a CIMT, committed within 5 years of admission and it carries a maximum sentence of 1 year or more.
A single crime of CIMT committed within 5 years of entry is a deportable offense. This is because of the 5 year clock that begins when you enter the U.S. on a valid visa. You can avoid deportation by pleading guilty to a 6 month misdemeanor instead. This is because a single CIMT misdemeanor that carries a sentence of 6 months won’t trigger the CIMT deportation ground, regardless of when the offense was committed.
If you plead guilty to attempt you can reduce the maximum possible sentence. For example: attempted grand theft, when classified as a misdemeanor, has a possible sentence of 6 months. Immigration will accept the sentence reduction even if the motion is filed after removal proceedings.
Pleading guilty to an offense committed more than 5 years after your date of admission into the U.S.
You can look at this in two ways:
- A person that entered the U.S. on a valid visa
- A person who entered the U.S. without inspection (EWI)
Generally, if someone entered the country with a lawful status – with a green, on a tourist visa, with a border crossing card, or other status – that is the admission date that starts the 5 year clock. Losing you lawful status, such as overstaying a visa, doesn’t stop the clock.
Cassandra was admitted in the U.S. as a tourist in 2006. Her permitted time ran out but she continued to live unlawfully for a few years after that. She then married a U.S. citizen and adjusted her status through him to become a permanent resident in 2013. She was then convicted of a CIMT that has a potential sentence of a year, for an offense she committed in 2015. Is she deportable under the CIMT ground?
Answer: no she is not deportable.
To be found deportable under CIMT, her crimes would need to have occurred within 5 years of her U.S. entry. That means that if she had committed the crime between 2006 and 2011, then she would be deportable. But, because the crime happened in 2015 it is not considered when it comes to the 5 year clock. The fact that she was out of status for many years before adjusting status doesn’t matter in this case.
Important Note: the 5 year clock begins when you initially have legal status. So, if someone crossed the border illegally in 2008 and then married a U.S. citizen in 2012 to adjust their status and was convicted of a CIMT in 2015, they are deportable. Why? Because the 5 year clock began in 2012 which is when they had legal status in the country.
Exceptions To Crimes Involving Moral Turpitude
There are two exceptions when a noncitizen is considered inadmissible because they were convicted of just one crime involving moral turpitude, whether before or after admission
Petty Offense Exception
- If a noncitizen commits only one CIMT offense EVER
- The offense carries a potential sentence of a year or less
- the sentence was less that 6 months
Based on the 3 criteria above, the person is not inadmissible under the CIMT ground.
Frank is convicted of grand theft, which is the only CIMT he has ever committed (a). He was also convicted of drunk diving but that is not a CIMT crime and does not affect immigration. The judge gives him 3 years probation (b) and orders him to spend one month in jail as a condition of probation (c). He is released after 15 days. The grand theft is later reduced to a misdemeanor.
Frank’s crime and sentences comes within the petty offense exception. He has committed one CIMT, it has a potential sentence of a year or less, and the sentence given was one month.
Youthful Offender Exception
- If a noncitizen commits only one CIMT offense EVER
- Was under the age of 18 during the crime
- Is no longer inadmissible after 5 years have passed since conviction/release
This exception is rarely used, but I’ll discuss it for those of you that it may apply to. If you were convicted of a crime as an adult but the actual crime took place when you were under the age of 18, you fall under the youthful offender exception.
Ricardo was convicted as an adult for felony assault with a deadly weapon. The incident took place when he was 17 years old. He was sentenced to 8 months and was released from prison when he was 19 years old. He is now 26 years old. This conviction does not make him inadmissible for moral turpitude.
Important Note: If you admit to a crime involving moral turpitude during an immigration interview for which you have never been convicted of, can make you inadmissible under CMIT. This doesn’t apply if the case was brought to court but was later dropped or vacated.
Final Thoughts On Crimes Involving Moral Turpitude
Wow, you need a pat on the back if you’ve gotten this far. Immigration law is not a fun topic to read and I get that, but I hope it was easy to understand. There are so many little things you need to be aware of before filing any immigration application. I can’t say this enough, if you have a criminal conviction that you think falls under CIMT, contact an immigration attorney to review your case.
This is no time to try to save some money especially if you want to continue living in the U.S. and have family here. One thing that all immigrants need to know are the immigration consequences to any plea deals they accept. Many criminal attorneys have no idea how pleading guilty to a crime, even if you don’t get jail time, will affect your immigration application down the road. Do your own research because if your attorney doesn’t know, how will you?
What are your thoughts on this? Did your conviction fall under CIMT? If so, how did you avoid deportation? Let me know in the comments below.
Ayan is the founder of the Migrant Academy community, the My Path To Citizenship Blog and Podcast.
After successfully navigating the hurdles of US immigration. She now dedicates her time to helping other couples achieve their goals of starting their new life together in the US.