Does shoplifting a candy bar when you’re a teenager make you a hardened criminal? What about jumping the turnstile in the subway when you’re broke — or using a student pass even though you’re not technically a student any longer?
If these sound like the kind of petty crimes that deserve a slap on the wrist and then to be consigned to the relic bin of “youthful mistakes” that everyone has, you may be right. Yet, that’s not how Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) or the Justice Department sees things if you happen to be an immigrant.
For decades, ICE and the Justice Department have claimed that things like the Secure Communities program and the Criminal Alien Program exist to protect Americans from immigrants who are dangerous or hardened criminals. In reality, they create an “arrest-to-deportation” pipeline that complicates the lives of many immigrants who don’t have citizenship status. In their eyes, even a petty offense from a youthful offender can be considered a “crime of moral turpitude,” that’s worthy of deportation.
Getting arrested for any kind of criminal offense — no matter how slight — can put an immigrant on ICE’s radar and lead to deportation. A 2012 examination of the Secure Communities program found that more than half of those deported were guilty of nothing more serious than traffic tickets and misdemeanor offenses — but they were treated the same as drug traffickers and murderers. A 2015 examination of the Criminal Alien Program was even worse: It showed that 80% of the immigrants deported under that program either only had minor convictions or no convictions at all.
These days, even the smallest offense — or the mere suspicion of an offense — can lead to deportation. All it takes is an arrest to start the ball rolling. Find out how you can protect yourself and your family with the help of an experienced attorney.