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Immigration Law - Houston
Karam Immigration Law - Houston

Crimes that Affect a Foreign National’s Immigration Status

Criminal issues, especially criminal convictions, have serious implications for foreign nationals or noncitizens. Certain criminal convictions can eliminate eligibility for many forms of immigration relief and even lead to removal from the United States.The designation of certain crimes under immigration law differs considerable from criminal law. Some of the most consequential designations are the:

  • Aggravated felony;
  • Crime Involving Moral Turpitude (CIMT); and
  • Controlled substance violation.

Noncitizens with a criminal history should consult with an immigration attorney before applying for any immigration benefit. Even permanent residents run the risk of being deported or not allowed back into the United States after traveling outside the country as a result of their criminal record. A skilled advocate can make the difference between approval and denial in a case and can alert you to the potential immigration consequences of your criminal history.

Houston Lawyer for Foreign Nationals with Criminal History

Are you a noncitizen with a criminal history? Do you have questions regarding how a criminal past affects your eligibility for immigration benefits? Board Certified Immigration Attorney Kathryn Karam has over eight years of experience assisting people in the Houston metro area overcome their criminal past and receive immigration benefits.

The Texas immigration attorneys at Karam Immigration Law serve numerous communities in Galveston County, Brazoria County, Fort Bend County, Harris County, and Montgomery County. Contact Karam Immigration Law at (832) 582-0620 to receive a confidential attorney consultation.

Texas Criminal History Information Center

  • What crimes are considered aggravated felonies?
  • What crimes are considered crimes of violence?
  • What crimes are considered crimes involving moral turpitude?
  • Where can you learn more about criminal bars to immigration relief?

Aggravated Felony

An aggravated felony is a term used to describe certain criminal convictions that have serious immigration consequences. An aggravated felony does not have to be “aggravated” or a “felony” under criminal law.

8 U.S.C. 1101(a)(43) explicitly lists the criminal activity that is considered an aggravated felony. Legislators regularly expand this list. Originally, only murder, drug trafficking, and certain firearm offenses were designated as aggravated felonies. Since 1988, Congress has expanded legislation and included over thirty criminal convictions. This includes:

  • Rape or sexual abuse of a minor;
  • Arson;
  • Theft or burglary in which offense is one year or more;
  • Alien smuggling (with specific exceptions); and
  • Crimes of violence
  • Controlled substance trafficking

Many crimes can be easily recognized as an aggravated felony, like murder or rape. Other crimes, like crimes of violence, are not easily distinguished and may vary based on the state law under which the foreign national was convicted.

An aggravated felony eliminates eligibility for most forms of relief, including:

  • Naturalization;
  • Cancellation of Removal (42A and 42B);
  • Asylum; and
  • Voluntary Departure

The aforementioned list is not exhaustive. A foreign national with a criminal record should consult an experienced immigration attorney when considering immigration relief eligibility.

Crimes of Violence

A crime of violence is considered an aggravated felony under 8 U.S.C. 1101(a)(43). Determining whether a conviction is considered a crime of violence is a complex process. A foreign national should consult a seasoned immigration attorney when making this determination.

A crime of violence is defined under 18 U.S.C. § 16. For a criminal conviction to be considered a crime of violence, it must fit in one of the following categories:

  1.  An element of the criminal offense is the use, attempted us, or threatened use of physical force against the person or property of another;  or
  1. The offense is a felony that by its nature involves a substantial risk that physical force against the person or property of another may be used in the course of committing the offense.

Under the first provision, a criminal offense may be a misdemeanor or felony, intentional or reckless, and includes a wide array of offenses depending on the state law. The law is complex and constantly changing when determining which criminal convictions are considered crimes of violence (and as a result aggravated felonies).

Crime Involving Moral Turpitude (“CIMT”)

Crimes involving moral turpitude (“CIMT”) are criminal offenses that include an element of recklessness. Immigration does not further define CIMT. This broad definition ensures that most criminal offenses are considered CIMTs.

It is widely accepted that certain reckless crimes against a person are considered CIMTs, including:

  • Domestic violence;
  • Kidnapping;
  • Murder; and
  • Rape

However, there are several serious crimes that are not considered CIMTs. Also, there are certain CIMT convictions that fall within the petty offense exception. As a result, it is imperative to consult an experienced attorney when making this determination.

The petty offense exception permits a single CIMT conviction if the maximum sentence for the offense is less than one year and the foreign national was sentenced to a term of imprisonment no longer than six months. It is important to note that the petty offense does not apply if the non-citizen was sentenced to a term of imprisonment longer than six months, no matter the length of time actually served.


Aggravated Felonies| ILRC—Immigrant Legal Resource Center provides a quick guide to aggravated felonies and the potential bars to immigration relief.

Find a Lawyer in Houston for Foreign Nationals with Criminal History

Criminal issues can greatly complicate a foreign national’s immigration process. It is imperative to consult an experienced immigration attorney. Kathryn Karam is a Board Certified Immigration Attorney with over eight years of experience assisting clients overcome obstacles to citizenship.

The Harris County immigration attorneys at Karam Immigration Law represent clients all over the Greater Houston area and are fluent in Spanish, Cantonese, and Mandarin Chinese. We can review your case as soon as you call (832) 582-0620 to schedule an initial consultation or write to us using this button:

Board Certified Immigration Attorney




We are pleased to inform you that Kathryn and her team are now a part of Quan Law Group

5444 Westheimer Rd., Suite 1700
Houston, Texas 77056
United States(713) 625-9200

“Kathryn’s Law Firm has been an absolute wonderful experience to work with. They went above and beyond to get me my Visa to China when I was denied the first time. Kathryn is a true professional and is a step above her competition!!!” -Edward

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