Anytime anyone enters the United States through consular processing or applies to adjust their status, it is important that s/he passes a criminal background check. When applying for legal permanent residence, also known as a “Green Card,” an immigrant can be denied entry or admission to the United States if s/he has committed a “crime involving moral turpitude” (“CIMT”).
A crime involving moral turpitude is defined as a crime that is “inherently base, evil, or depraved, and contrary to the accepted rules of morality and the duties owed between persons or to society in general.” Generally, a crime involving moral turpitude requires evil intent. Examples include murder, manslaughter, rape, spousal abuse, child abuse, robbery, aggravated assault, theft, and fraud, among many others. However, a CIMT can also include crimes that may not seem so serious, but could ultimately affect your immigration case.
However, if you are applying for a green card and have committed a crime, there is a chance that you may qualify for an exception, which essentially “excuses” your criminal conviction. The “petty offense exception” is a waiver of this particular ground of inadmissibility. To qualify for the petty offense exception, you must meet certain criteria. For example, a CIMT is a petty offense if the maximum penalty that you could have received for committing the offense is exactly one year or less; and you personally were sentenced to no more than six months of imprisonment.
Additionally, please keep in mind that not all crimes are eligible for the petty offense exception. The petty offense exception can only apply to one offense, meaning that if you have committed two or more crimes involving moral turpitude, you will not be able to benefit from this exception, regardless of the maximum sentence and amount of time that you served.
It is important to have an experienced immigration attorney review your case if you have any type of criminal conviction, since the definitions of crimes for each state are different and specific details may determine whether a particular crime is a CIMT. However, if you do qualify, this form of immigration relief could potentially change your life for the better and allow you to remain in the United States and adjust status.