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Crimes Involving Moral Turpitude (CIMT) In the Visa and Adjustment of Status Context

A noncitizen in the U.S. that has committed a Crime Involving Moral Turpitude (CIMT) may be inadmissible to the U.S. This means the person will likely not be issued a visa to come to the U.S. or might be refused admission to the U.S. at a port of entry. If the person is in the U.S. already, he or she may be prevented from adjustment of status to lawful permanent resident as a result of the crime. While beyond the scope of this article, it is relevant to note that CIMTs also may have serious consequences for individuals that are already lawful residents–by causing deportability or barring the “Good Moral Character” required for Naturalization.

It is not only a conviction for a CIMT that renders an individual inadmissible to the U.S.  Merely admitting having committed the crime, or admitting committing the essential elements of the crime, are also sufficient reasons under the law to render an individual inadmissible.  Nonetheless, while CIMTs cover a broad range of offenses and render many individuals inadmissible to the U.S. every year, it is important to note that several exceptions to CIMT inadmissibility exist, and a waiver under immigration laws is also possible under certain circumstances.

The precise definition of what constitutes a CIMT keeps many an attorney, prosecutor and Judge awake at night.  There is no statute that controls this term but it has appeared in our laws for over 100 years.  While the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) has stated is that a CIMT involves conduct that is inherently vile or depraved or involves fraud or deceit, the Circuit and lower courts have rendered varying decisions interpreting these terms. Ideally, prior to any criminal conviction, an immigration attorney would be able to confer with an offender’s criminal defense attorney after analyzing the relevant statute to try to avoid a CIMT conviction.

Once an immigration attorney determines that a CIMT offense does exist, the analysis should begin with a consideration of whether exceptions to inadmissibility exist. Most notably, the Petty Offense Exception can often be invoked to bypass CIMT grounds. To qualify for the Petty Offense Exception, the offender must have only committed one CIMT, the maximum possible imprisonment sentence for the offense must not exceed one year by statute, and the offender must not have been sentenced to over 180 days imprisonment.  Note that the actual time served isn’t relevant—it is the sentence that was imposed which is critical in qualifying for this exception.

Further, a conviction for a CIMT committed while a Juvenile is not an inadmissible ground if the crime occurred when the individual was under 18 and over 5 years have passed since the crime was committed or the individual was released from confinement.  Purely political offenses, such as convictions for attending opposition political rallies in a politically repressed country, are also generally exempt.

Once it has been determined that a CIMT has been committed for which no exception applies, the other option is to have the crime pardoned if the applicant qualifies for a waiver under Section 212(h) of the Immigration and Nationality Act.  212(h) waivers are granted where either: 1) the act being waived occurred over 15 years ago; the admission would not be contrary to the safety or security of the U.S.; and the immigrant has been rehabilitated; or 2) it is established that extreme hardship would result to the immigrant’s U.S. citizen or lawful resident spouse, parent, son or daughter if the immigrant was not permitted to enter the U.S. or adjust status.  “Extreme Hardship” is a high standard to meet, and hardship beyond that which would normally be expected in situations of family separation must be proven.

If you believe a CIMT may be applicable in your case and you are considering applying for a visa, returning to the U.S. after foreign travel, or applying for a benefit such as adjustment or naturalization, it is advisable to consult with an experienced immigration attorney beforehand.

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