Finding yourself in handcuffs and under arrest is a traumatic experience for everyone. Many thoughts run through your mind, where will they take me, will I be able to get out of jail, can I afford a criminal defense attorney? One thought that should also be at the forefront for everyone arrested who is not a U.S. citizen is, how will this arrest affect my immigration status and will I be deported?
For non-citizens who are arrested, hiring a criminal defense attorney is just the first step in protecting your rights. While criminal defense attorneys in both state and federal court are charged by the U.S. Constitution with providing accurate immigration advice to their clients, in reality, this often does not happen. Criminal defense attorneys are often unable to give accurate immigration advice because they do not practice immigration law and have no idea what the effects of a given criminal charge will be for a client.
This is true because the criminal aspects of immigration law, or crimmigration is a very nuisanced, complicated, ever-changing and inconsistent area of law that even the most experienced immigration attorneys are often fearful of practicing. If immigration attorneys don’t know the immigration consequences of criminal prosecutions, how can your criminal defense attorney be expected to know them?
This leaves criminal defense attorneys and criminal defendants with but a few options. Criminal defense attorneys and clients can choose to be willfully ignorant and deal only with the criminal case, forsaking the immigration consequences until the day of reckoning when ICE comes to arrest and deport the non-citizen. Or criminal defense attorneys can try to learn immigration law during the course of a criminal case, while also trying to protect clients’ Constitutional rights in criminal court, not always a good plan or even realistic.
Or, what is the best option: you can find an experienced and knowledgeable immigration attorney who knows crimmigration law to help you with your case.
Whether your criminal defense attorney retains a crimmigration consultant, or sends you to hire the crimmigration attorney yourself, this is the surest way to protect your immigration status during the course of your criminal case.
If you are a federal criminal defendant and your defense attorney is appointed by the court, your attorney has the ability to hire a crimmigration consultant at no cost to you. Because protecting your immigration status is so important in the criminal context, the U.S. Government will pay an immigration attorney to help you. Ask your federal criminal defense attorney about hiring a crimmigration consultant as soon as possible during your case.
If you are a non-citizen criminal defendant in state court, ask your criminal defense attorney or public defender immediately about the immigration consequences of your criminal case. If he or she does not know, tell them you want to hire a crimmigration consultant immediately to help you with your case.
Having a crimmigration attorney help you during your criminal case is often the only way to mitigate or avoid the negative immigration consequences that follow from every arrest for non-citizens. Don’t wait until your criminal case is over to worry about immigration, act immediately to protect your immigration rights.
John Gihon is a Florida Bar Board Certified expert in Immigration and Nationality Law and a Crimmigration Consultant.