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The consequences of juvenile crimes on immigration status

Among the many limits imposed on immigrants to the United States are rules about criminal convictions. Crimes of moral turpitude -- which include just about anything illegal -- not only make an immigrant ineligible for a green card or citizenship, but they can result in deportation.

Fortunately, there is an exception that applies specifically to minors. While not particularly well known, the exception for youthful offenders allows immigration to overlook a single conviction involving a crime of moral turpitude under the following circumstances:

  • The crime was committed prior to the immigrant's 18th birthday.
  • The conviction for the crime was in adult (not juvenile) court.
  • It is the immigrant's only criminal conviction.
  • The offense, plus any term of imprisonment imposed for it, was at least five years prior to the application for citizenship or a green card.

Essentially, this rule addresses the reality that young people sometimes make grave mistakes that land them in adult court before they're mature enough to understand the potential consequences of their actions. The rule offers them another chance.

It's important to understand that the exception for youthful offenders isn't restricted to any particular type of crime. It doesn't matter if the offense was a minor misdemeanor or a serious felony. It also doesn't matter how long the sentence is. It's far more important that the immigrant who wants to make use of this exception demonstrate his or her rehabilitation by staying out of trouble during the years following his or her conviction.

The exception for youthful offenders is also not the same as those applied to immigrants whose only convictions were in juvenile court as minors. Those are technically not considered convictions for the purpose of immigration. However, a delinquency disposition in juvenile court can still be held against an immigrant under a number of circumstances.

Everyone makes mistakes from time to time -- which makes it especially important to understand the consequences of a criminal conviction and what defenses are available to you if you're in trouble. Don't rush into any agreement with authorities until you are sure how it will impact your future.

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