Being charged with a domestic violence crime in Pennsylvania can have drastic and lasting repercussions for anyone. A conviction can result in steep penalties, including jail time, fines, and a criminal record. But for immigrants, both documented and undocumented, the situation can be even more complicated because a domestic violence conviction can lead to deportation for non-citizens.
Even if you're properly documented, a criminal conviction can impact your visa or green card status. If you're undocumented, the situation is even more precarious. Although, as of this publication, the current administration won't automatically deport you for being undocumented, you can be deported if you're considered a threat to public safety--and a domestic violence allegation certainly paints you as a threat.
Call a Pennsylvania Domestic Violence Defense Attorney
The law can be quite tricky where immigrant defendants are concerned, and considering that the State of Pennsylvania takes domestic violence claims very seriously, it can be easy for you as an immigrant to have your rights violated--especially if you don't know what your rights are. That's why it's so important to hire an experienced Pennsylvania criminal defense attorney as soon as possible when you are accused. Attorney Joseph D. Lento understands the law and how it pertains to your rights, and he will work toward a positive solution in a way that protects your rights. To schedule a consultation, call the Lento Law Firm at 888-535-3686.
Why Immigrants Are at Higher Risk When Charged with Domestic Violence
Immigrants who are charged with domestic violence face some unique challenges, not the least of which is the risk of being deported. This is because, under U.S. law, even a misdemeanor domestic violence charge can be escalated to an aggravated felony when the defendant is an immigrant, which in turn can lead to automatic deportation. This means that even if an immigrant has lived in the United States for many years and has strong ties to the community, they could be forced to leave the country if they're convicted of a domestic violence crime.
If you are legally documented...
If you are a green card holder, or if you are a non-citizen here legally on a temporary visa, a criminal conviction can affect your immigration status negatively. Depending on the severity of the offense, at best, it could hurt your chances for eventual citizenship--or if you're in the States temporarily as a student, for example, your visa may not be renewed. At worst, you could lose your visa or even face deportation. What's worse, even pleading guilty to a lesser charge as part of a plea agreement could have unexpected negative consequences for you.
If you are undocumented...
Undocumented immigrants are potentially even more vulnerable to domestic violence charges because they have fewer rights under the law. There are no guarantees of "innocent until proven guilty" when it comes to immigration status for the undocumented. Even being accused of a domestic violence crime can cause you to be seen as a threat to public safety if you're undocumented--and that can mean instant deportation even if you are never formally charged.
What About PFA Orders?
If an alleged victim obtains a Protection from Abuse Order (PFA), but you aren't formally charged with a crime, can this affect your immigration status? Unfortunately, yes--although in a more roundabout way. A PFA is a civil order, not a criminal one, and it can happen separately from criminal charges. But as a non-citizen, any admissions you make inadvertently in a PFA hearing could have a negative impact on your immigration status, just as a criminal charge might. Likewise, if an immigration officer investigates you and discovers the PFA in court records, this could damage your good character profile, weakening your chances for citizenship at best and endangering your immigration status at worst. If you're undocumented, again, your situation is even more tentative because a PFA order means someone considers you a threat--and that could be enough to get you deported.
An Additional Complication
There's a provision in immigration law that actually makes it semi-beneficial for a non-citizen (documented or not) to falsely accuse someone of domestic violence. Immigrants who are considered victims of domestic violence may be eligible to obtain a "U" visa, which gives them lawful status in the U.S. for up to 4 years, offers additional protections for family members and even provides a path to citizenship. So, while an undocumented immigrant who is accused of domestic violence could be deported, an undocumented accuser could actually be rewarded with legal status and therefore has an incentive to make a false accusation.
Domestic Violence Crimes that Can Be Trouble for Immigrants
Being charged and/or convicted for any crime can be potentially harmful to your immigration status. Below are some of the most common Pennsylvania crimes associated with domestic violence:
- False imprisonment
- Terroristic threats
- Sexual assault
- Child abuse
- Endangering the welfare of a child
- Elder abuse
Why You Need an Experienced Attorney
As a non-citizen of the U.S., if you are accused of or charged with any crime--especially a domestic violence crime--you are at a natural disadvantage where the law is concerned. For a U.S. citizen, it's their right to live in this country, but for an immigrant, it's considered a privilege--and one that can be taken away at the first hint of trouble. It's critical that you seek legal representation from an experienced Pennsylvania attorney, especially one who understands the intersection of criminal and immigration law. A good lawyer can help protect your rights and guide you through the potentially complicated process of defending yourself against criminal charges while also trying to avoid negative consequences for your immigration status.
If you're a non-citizen facing domestic violence charges and/or served with a PFA, attorney Joseph D. Lento can help you avoid potentially devastating repercussions by defending you aggressively and making sure your rights are protected. Call the Lento Law Firm today at 888-535-3686 to learn more.