Interviewer: What penalties happen at immigration which would be in addition to criminal penalty?
Brian Geno: Right. The biggest one is deportation. That one is if a person gets convicted of certain crimes, of course they get penalized with monetary fines and jail and probation, the loss of driver’s license that sort of thing. But in the immigration context, in addition to all those, immigration court doesn’t put anyone in jail and they don’t give monetary fines. What they do is they hold people in jail until they can be deported. Also, a person can suffer other smaller penalties which may have the same effect. For example, if you are trying to, at some point, get permission to stay here, let’s say you are married to an American and you want to be able to become a resident here because you’re married to that American.
Being Considered A Person of Bad Moral Character Seriously Jeopardizes Residential Status in the United States
Well, if you’ve done something that makes you a person not of good moral character, you can’t adjust to a resident. Or if you’ve done something that makes you inadmissible, that would be a more serious crime, then you can’t stay. So, you weren’t deported but you were made inadmissible, so it’s a future harm that, you know, check the box, you just accomplished a future harm to yourself. And so, those would be additional penalties which can sometimes be worst to people than the actual criminal penalties. A person may not care if they lose their driver’s license but they do care if they get separated from their family or they can’t stay here and provide for their family back home.
The Federal Government Acknowledges Deportation as a Serious Penalty
The Federal Government has routinely acknowledged that deportation is a very serious penalty which may not actually be considered a criminal penalty but under the constitutional right to counsel, for example, they would acknowledge that a person — if they have the chance of suffering the consequences deportation, that their lawyer in the criminal context, must protect them against that just like he would against other criminal penalties. And so, that’s the U.S. Supreme Court who’s said that. So, for many people, the worst possible result is to be deported.
The Role of Good Moral Character in the United States Immigration Process
Interviewer: What is a good moral character and how does it play into to criminal cases?
Brian Geno: Good moral character applies once you’ve been convicted of something because it applies in the immigration context. So, once a person has been convicted, then the person essentially has a mark against them which immigration court would use to say, “Oh, you can’t satisfy our requirement that you’re good. So, therefore you must be bad”. Good moral character is something that you have to — you don’t earn good moral character but you lose it. They assume that Amoral is good, anything less than that is considered bad. So, by getting a conviction, you lose that innate goodness that they attribute to a person. So, obviously if it’s a drug crime, then that’s considered bad moral character. If it’s a theft or a fraud or something like that or a sex crime, it’s considered bad moral character. If you’ve committed bigamy, you’re considered bad but it’s more than that.
Judges May Use a Collection of Prior Offenses to Avoid Giving an Immigrant Discretionary Relief
I’ve had cases before where the judge is, in the immigration context, using a collection of offenses which each one in itself doesn’t have an immigration context but considered on the whole makes the person look bad enough that they won’t give them discretionary relief. So, I had a person who had probably 15 different crimes; driving on suspended DWI, petty larceny, possession to Marijuana. Each one by itself could have been okay but that little crime of driving on a suspended license later on makes him look bad enough that they won’t grant their discretionary relief. So, it’s important not only because there’s a box that the government checks that says good moral character but there’s also this general character issue that the courts and the USCIS, the US Customs & Information Service, you know they want to satisfy themselves about and they can lose that by crimes.