By Lynne D. Feldman, MA, JD
I started out my legal career as a criminal defense attorney. I represented folks in municipal court for making too much noise at a Fourth of July backyard barbeque, and in Superior Court for representing a man accused of strangling to death his elderly neighbor after she baked cookies for him. I appeared before the New Jersey Appellate court and argued before the New Jersey Supreme Court. But I never imagined my criminal law background would require that I learn immigration law.
Criminal and immigration law have now become so deeply intertwined that migrants often are confused as to any distinction between the two, and don’t realize that their defense attorney may not be well versed in immigration law, or vice versa.
But if you’ve paid the slightest attention to the news of late, you may be aware that today we lock up 400,000 migrants per year from babies to the elderly. Your immigration case is often determined by the outcome of a separate or past criminal proceeding, and your criminal case is routinely affected by your immigration status. That is crimmigration!
This meshing of two separate bodies of law is not actually a new development; but it has grown exponentially to the point that it is difficult to see daylight between the two areas. In the mid-1980s Congress and Reagan officials became concerned about the migration of over 125,000 Cuban and 15,000 Haitian refugees. Both groups were seen as menacing, with Cubans derided as Communists and Haitians as HIV-infected dregs. More recent Central American migration took off as people fled civil wars, and were promptly labeled as Communist infiltrators and drug couriers.
After 9/11, we feared the influx of foreign Middle-Eastern terrorists flooding in through our Southern border, and others bringing drugs to fuel our growing addition crisis. By 2010, all criminal defense attorneys have been constitutionally obligated to tell our clients who might not be United States citizens that a conviction might lead to deportation. Indeed, many areas of your immigration status might result in your confinement. The Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) division under the Department of Homeland security (DHS) runs an entire prison-industrial complex of over 600 prisons housing over 300,000 people annually. Most are there for being charged with committing “immigration crimes”: unauthorized entry and unauthorized re-entry. And once convicted, more than 20,000 people are sent to the Bureau of Prisons.
Because of the seriousness of possible incarceration, the United States Supreme Court has directed all attorneys to inform their foreign national clients of consequences of entering a guilty plea, even in municipal courts. And the 6th Amendment’s right to counsel now includes immigration issues. For those who pled guilty to a simple offense in municipal court and are now housed in pre-deportation confinement, we are seeing a dramatic increase in the number of post-conviction relief petitions (PCRs) and motions to withdraw (MTW) their guilty pleas.
If you are not a US citizen, before your friend, relative, or you consider a guilty plea in any court, contact CURBELO LAW FIRM IN RIDGEWOOD, NJ and get legal advice from our attorneys. This is the first of a series on crimmigration.