Like most aspects of DUI law, the effect that a DUI can have on immigration status is largely determined by state legislation. Under most laws, a DUI arrest and conviction cannot lead directly to deportation, though the way a DUI is defined or categorized can place immigration status in jeopardy.
DUI and deportation: a complex problem
Recent debate in the federal government regarding immigration policy leaves a DUI conviction's effect on immigration status somewhat in flux. Some federal legislators are currently lobbying for comprehensive legislation that automates deportation for certain criminal activity, but currently, there is no unilateral agreement. Immigration law is extremely complex, and often begins with debate about constitutionality. The nuance of any federal standard, then, is problematic.
Categorizing resident status
The easiest way to explain a DUI charge as it relates to immigration is to categorize immigrants into three categories: undocumented or illegal immigrants, legal immigrants and temporary residents or immigrants in the process of naturalization.
While no person can technically be deported solely on the basis of a DUI conviction, immigrants who cannot prove their citizenship may be placed on an immigration hold. At the end of the DUI trial or following a sentence served, an undocumented immigrant will likely be deported. Technically, deportation is on the grounds of illegal residency, not because of the DUI charge.
For legal residents, the issue is more complex. In some states, violent crimes or aggravated felonies are considered deportable offenses. Conviction does not necessarily preclude a person's ability to remain in the United States, but in some cases the person may face deportation. A DUI conviction is, in most cases, not considered an aggravated felony, though prosecution may seek its consideration as such in some instances.
If a person is in the process of naturalization, a DUI charge can have negative effects on immigration status. People with temporary residency permits may be denied re-entry into the United States at the end of their allotted term.
In an effort to crack down on repeat offenders, some state officials are working to implement more stringent background checks and immigration status procedures on immigrants arrested for DUI. Because DUI charges vary depending on state law, enlisting the help of a local, experienced DUI lawyer can often help defendants evaluate their options.
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