The premier Spanish-language newspaper “El Diario” turns to Catholic Charities Director of Immigrant and Refugee Services, C. Mario Russell, for regular updates on immigration reform.
In this latest issue of El Diario, learn how a single day can make all the difference.
By C. Mario Russell
One day can make a big difference. For many long-time resident immigrants who are facing a small misdemeanor criminal charges or who have served their time for a crime such as shoplifting, one day can mean the difference between staying with their families or being separated from them forever.
New York should consider following California’s example when, last year, its governor, Jerry Brown, signed a new law reducing the maximum sentence for lesser crimes–called misdemeanors–from 365 days to 364 days.
While a one-day reduction may not sound like much, it can be very important for immigration purposes. In New York, a mother who shoplifts diapers for her baby or a teen-ager who shoplifts food from a convenience store could be being sent to jail for up to one year. This fact, alone, can make both the mother and the boy permanently barred from staying in the United States, regardless of how much jail time they got.
Immigration law lists two types of convictions that make an immigrant deportable. The first is called a “crime involving moral turpitude”, which is a certain type of crime punishable by a year or more or in jail. Long-time residents convicted of shoplifting could not remain in the United States because their jail sentence could have been up to a year, that is 365 days. If the law were changed to make the maximum penalty 364 days, just one day less, they would not be barred from staying.
The second impact of a law such as California’s is that it reduces the risk a misdemeanor will be an “aggravated felony” under immigration law. Aggravated felonies carry especially serious immigration consequences. Not only are aggravated felonies offenses that require someone to be detained and deported, they eliminate nearly any possible defense to deportation.
But how do you know if you were convicted of an “aggravated felony”? You have to look at the long list of crimes in the immigration law, which includes non-violent crimes such as fraud and other crimes that are not a felony—yes, that’s correct—including misdemeanors with a “term of imprisonment” of a year (365 days) or more.
So, if the shoplifting mother and boy were given a term of imprisonment of a year for their shoplifting misdemeanors they will be considered aggravated felons. Yes, aggravated felons who would have to be detained and deported by immigration. Had they been given a term of 364 days, they would not.
Read this now in El Diario.
Mario Russell is Director of Immigrant and Refugee Services at Catholic Charities, 80 Maiden Lane NYC. He also teaches immigration law at St. John’s University School of Law.