Good Moral Character, The Effect of Criminal Convictions, and Moral Turpitude on Admissibility
How immigration officials assess the character of anyone applying for admission to the United States affects admissibility. Good moral character is a requirement, whether applying for an immigrant or non-immigrant visa. Similarly, good moral character is required to adjust status to become a permanent resident of the United States, and for citizenship or naturalization. Our US immigration lawyers in Milwaukee, Wisconsin provide insight into character and admissibility factors for our clients.
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In contrast to a showing of good moral character, a lack of good moral character, any finding of moral turpitude, and certain criminal offenses can result in an adverse immigration determination. For example, any criminal conviction or act of moral turpitude may result in inadmissibility to the United States. Similarly, lack of good moral character may result in denial of visas, or denial of naturalization and citizenship. However, our United States immigration lawyers in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, can help you resolve these concerns. We are immigration problem solvers who help clients successfully obtain the immigration benefits they seek.
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FAQ: Good Moral Character, Criminal Records, & Moral Turpitude
- What determines good moral character?
- How is a lack of good moral character determined?
- What is moral turpitude?
- How does a finding of moral turpitude affect a finding of good moral character?
- Does a criminal conviction have an effect on my immigration status?
- What crimes can affect my immigration status?
- What is an aggravated felony?
- Will I be deported if I am convicted of a crime?
- Will it affect my immigration status if I receive a sentence of incarceration or probation?
Answers to questions about moral character, turpitude, and the effects of criminal convictions on immigration status
What determines good moral character?
The USCIS interprets good moral character according to a set definition. The definition is character that “measures up to the standards of average citizens of the community in which the applicant resides.” However, good moral character “does not necessarily require the highest degree of moral excellence.” Furthermore, what constitutes good moral character may change over time based on changing standards in the community. Moreover, someone’s character (who you are) is not the same as someone’s reputation (who you are believed to be).
What can cause a finding of lack of good moral character?
According to USCIS, whether someone has or lacks good moral character is a question of fact. Specifically, the standards of the community determine assessments of a person’s character. Further, both reputation and behavior can provide evidence of good or bad moral character. Historically the common thought was that good moral character could only be established when a person is a free moral agent, free from restraint. As a result, a person on probation or parole cannot demonstrate good moral character during the term of such supervision because the person is not free from restraint. However, a more common view is that probation, parole, and the term of a suspended sentence are factors to consider in determining whether good moral character has been established. Factors for consideration to determine someone’s moral character include to following:
- family ties and background
- absence or presence of criminal history
- employment history
- other law-abiding behavior
- community involvement
- compliance with probation
- length of time in the US
Do some things always show a lack of good moral character?
Certain findings can preclude a finding a good moral character, such as:
- criminal convictions for any of the following:
- an aggravated felony
- one or more crimes of moral turpitude (not including a purely political offense, but including expunged offenses, if convicted of 2 or more crimes of moral turpitude)
- two or more gambling offenses
- an admission to having committed (regardless of whether charged), or a conviction for any of the following:
- two or more offenses for which the combined sentence imposed totaled 5 years or more. However, this does not include a purely political offense outside the United States.
- a violation of any US law, state law, or the law of any foreign country relating to a controlled substance. However, this does not include a single offense of simple possession of marijuana, 30 grams or less. In contrast, it does include even expunged offenses of trafficking in controlled substances.
- confinement in a penal institution for a total of 180 days as a result of a criminal conviction(s). However, again this does not include confinement outside the US for a purely political offense committed outside the US.
- failure to support a child except under extenuating circumstances
- a habitual drunkard or drug abuser or addict
- incurring financial obligations with intent to defraud
- bigamy or polygamy
- adultery which tended to destroy an existing marriage
- engagement in, procuring, attempting to engage or procure, or receiving any proceeds from, prostitution or another unlawful commercialized vice
- sexual immorality (homosexuality is not considered sexually immoral in itself, but may be immoral where a specific act has an adverse public effect, involves a minor, involves a criminal act, or is in violation of marital vows)
- obtaining public benefits by fraud (not indigency or obtaining public benefits in itself)
- involvement in the smuggling of any person into the United States in violation of the law, except for limited cases of family reunification under applicable law
- falsifying any sworn testimony to obtain an immigration benefit, whether the false testimony was material or immaterial
- having committed, being convicted of, or imprisoned for, other unlawful act(s) that reflect adversely on moral character.
What is moral turpitude?
According to Merriam-Webster’s dictionary, the definition of moral turpitude is “an act or behavior that gravely violates the moral sentiment or accepted moral standards of the community; esp: sexual immorality.” Similarly, USCIS indicates that “the most common elements involving moral turpitude are: (1) fraud, (2) larceny, and (3) intent to harm persons or things.” 9 FAM 40.21(a) N2.2.
Examples of moral turpitude
Crimes of moral turpitude in include completed offenses, attempted offenses and involvement is as a party to the crime, such as any of the following:
- abandonment of a child
- alien smuggling
- assault, including with intent to kill, with intent to rape, with intent to commit robbery, with intent to commit serious bodily harm, and with a dangerous or deadly weapon.
- contributing to the delinquency of a minor
- damaging private property (with or without intent to damage)
- domestic violence offenses
- drug trafficking (not simple possession or use)
- false pretenses
- firearms offenses
- fraud (including other crimes where fraud is an element)
- gross indecency
- harboring a fugitive
- issuance of worthless checks
- joy riding (without the intent to permanently deprive)
- juvenile delinquency
- malicious destruction of property
- possession of child pornography
- possession of stolen property
- prostitution and related offenses
- rape offenses including statutory rape
- receiving stolen property
- tax evasion (with intent to defraud)
- theft offenses
- transporting stolen property
- voluntary manslaughter
How does a finding of moral turpitude affect a finding of good moral character?
According to US immigration rules, “an applicant who has committed or admits the commission of two or more crimes involving moral turpitude … is precluded from establishing good moral character, even though the conviction record of one or more offenses has been expunged.” 8 CFR § 316.10.
Does a criminal conviction have an effect on my immigration status?
First, it is important to note what constitutes a conviction for immigration purposes. According to USCIS, “conviction” means any of the following:
- a formal judgment of guilt entered by a court
- an adjudication of guilt is withheld if any of the following occurred and the judge has ordered a form of punishment, penalty, or imposed a restraint on the alien’s liberty
- a judge or jury has found the person guilty
- a no contest plea was entered
- sufficient facts were admitted to warrant a finding of guilt
However, for immigration purposes, if there is no admission or finding of guilt then the offense may not count as a conviction.
What types of crimes will affect my immigration status?
A conviction for any criminal matter can cause a person to be denied a visa, denied admission to the United States, or deported. For example, any criminal conviction includes a conviction for a misdemeanor. A felony conviction, in particular, can heavily prejudice any application for admission, permanent residency, or naturalization. For instance, a felony conviction is any crime for which a sentence of one year or longer may be imposed.
Moreover, a conviction for an aggravated felony will likely cause immigration consequences for any non-citizen alien. For example an aggravated felony conviction likely causes even a lawful permanent resident mandatory removal from the United States without any available relief from deportation. Similarly, an aggravated felony conviction bars future admission to the US. Even conviction for crimes not included on the list of aggravated felonies at the time of the commission of the offense can cause someone to become immediately deportable if Congress later adds the crime to the list of aggravated felonies.
Additionally, crimes of moral turpitude are viewed as more serious for immigration purposes. A crime of moral turpitude can result in deportation and the denial or revocation of visas, admission to the US, and permanent residency. If you face criminal charges or accusations in Wisconsin, we strongly encourage you to talk to Milwaukee immigration lawyers about the effect on your immigration status.
What is an aggravated felony?
Aggravated felonies are crimes that involve incarceration of a year or more. Aggravated felonies carry harsh immigration consequences for non-citizens. However, to be classified as an “aggravated felony” the offense does not need to be “aggravated” or even a “felony” in your jurisdiction. For purposes of immigration, an aggravated felony is any offense that Congress has designated as an aggravated felony. In Milwaukee, or Wisconsin, you can ask your US immigration lawyers or find a list of aggravated felonies in Act 101(a)15P(43).
List of aggravated felonies
The Congressionally designated list of aggravated felonies currently may include an act, attempt, or conspiracy to commit any of the following crimes:
- Sexual Abuse of a Minor (including statutory rape)
- Controlled Substances Trafficking Crimes
- Illicit Trafficking of Firearms, Destructive Devices, or Explosive Materials
- Money Laundering
- Violent Crimes for which the term of imprisonment is at least 1 year for which an element includes the use, attempted use, threatened use, or is a felony and involves substantial risk of use or attempted use or threatened use, of physical force against another or the property of another
- Any theft (including receiving stolen property) or burglary offense for which the term of imprisonment may be 1 year or more
- Ranson offenses
- Child Pornography offenses
- Racketeering or gambling offenses for which the term of incarceration may be 1 year or longer
- Prostitution based offenses for owning, controlling, managing or supervising a prostitution business, or certain offenses of transporting for purposes of prostitution
- Other human trafficking offenses, including peonage, slavery, or involuntary servitude
- Espionage, release of classified or national defense information, sabotage, or treason
- Any offense involving fraud or deceit in which the victim(s) loss exceeds $10,000
- Tax evasion where the loss to the government exceeds $10,000
- Smuggling of any person into the United States in violation of law, except for limited cases of family reunification under applicable law
- Document or passport fraud, for which the term of imprisonment is at least 12 months, except for limited cases of assistance to an immediate family member
- Failure to appear for service of a sentence where the underlying offense is punishable by confinement of 5 years or more
- An offense related to commercial bribery, counterfeiting, forgery, trafficking in VINs for which the term of incarceration is at least 1 year
- An offense relating to obstruction of justice, perjury, subornation of perjury, or bribery of a witness for which the punishment is at least 1 year
- Failure to appear before a court related to a felony for which a sentence of 2 years imprisonment or more may be imposed
A requirement exists that immigration authorities deport any immigrant convicted of an aggravated felony upon release from criminal custody. However, any immigrant who is not a lawful permanent resident (LPR) may be deported by expedited administrative proceedings, without a formal hearing. Additionally, non lawful permanent residents in administrative deportations are not eligible for any form of discretionary relief. Further non LPRs in administrative deportations may not appeal the order to the Board of Immigration Appeals. For example, removal of a non-green card holder for conviction of an aggravated felony may occur within 2 weeks of the order being entered.
A permanent resident detained following a conviction for an aggravated felony may only obtain bond upon a substantial showing that the crime at issue is not an aggravated felony. An alien convicted of an aggravated felony is ineligible for cancellation of removal or voluntary departure. Further, an alien convicted of an aggravated felony is permanently inadmissible to the United States (unless a waiver is obtained). We recommend you talk to United States immigration lawyers if you have questions about the effect of a criminal conviction in Milwaukee or Wisconsin.
Certain convictions constitute deportable offenses
With certain exceptions for presidential or governor’s pardon, convictions for any of the following offenses make an alien deportable, including:
- Any non-citizen, even a lawful permanent resident, is subject to deportation through expedited removal upon release from incarceration following a conviction for an aggravated felony at any time after admission.
- A conviction for a crime of moral turpitude for which a sentence of one year or longer may be imposed within 5 years of admission for a visa holder, or within 10 years of admission for a lawful permanent resident.
- A conviction for 2 or more crimes of moral turpitude arising out of different incidents of misconduct, even if adjudicated together in 1 trial, and regardless of whether confined after conviction.
- High speed flight from an immigration checkpoint under 18 USC § 758.
- Failing to register as a sex offender under 18 USC § 2250.
- Any violation, or conspiracy or attempt to commit a violation, of any law or regulation of the United States, any state, or any foreign country relating to a controlled substance except for a single offense of simple possession of marijuana, 30 grams or less, but including expunged drug trafficking offenses.
- Firearms offenses including a violation of any law of actually, attempting, or conspiring to purchase, sell, offering to sell, exchange, use, own, possess or carry any weapon, part or accessory which is a firearm or destructive device.
- Crimes of domestic violence, stalking or child abuse, child neglect, or child abandonment.
- A violation of any restraining order or other order of protection against credible threats of violence, repeated harassment, or bodily injury to the person(s) for whom the injunction was issued.
- Any act, attempt, or conspiracy to commit an act of human trafficking or benefit financially or otherwise from human trafficking.
- Any act, attempt or conspiracy to fail to register as an alien or to falsify visa, permits, or other documents.
- Terrorist, espionage, or sabotage activities
Will it affect my immigration status if I receive a sentence of incarceration or probation?
Generally, an alien who is sentenced to jail or prison cannot be deported from the United States until the alien is released from incarceration. However, parole, supervised release, probation, or the possibility of future incarceration or arrest are not reasons to defer removal. An exception to deferring removal proceedings until the completion of a sentence of incarceration exists for some non-violent offenders (for a conviction of an offense other than smuggling or harboring aliens, or an aggravated felony) who may be removed prior to completing the sentence of imprisonment.
Finally, contact US immigration lawyers in Milwaukee, Wisconsin if you have questions about character and admissibility to the United States. Also, visit our US Immigration Resources Page for more information.