Under our immigration laws, an alien who has been convicted of a crime involving moral turpitude may not only be deportable but also ineligible to apply for a green card, re-enter the country, or become a naturalized citizen. Fortunately, the law recognizes that individuals should not always suffer the grave immigration consequences of a minor violation, and carves out two limited exceptions for crimes involving moral turpitude. The first one pertains to a single offense and is often referred to as the "petty offense exception." The second, which is not as well known, but of tremendous help to individuals who may have committed a criminal offense as a minor is termed the "Youthful Offender Exception."
Juvenile Delinquency and Immigration
Generally speaking, our federal immigration law does not penalize individuals who commit criminal acts as minors. There are certain exceptions where criminal conduct by a juvenile may still give rise to allegations of deportability or inadmissibility, but the general guiding principle that impacts most situations is that juvenile delinquency findings are not considered criminal convictions. Matter of Devison, 22 I & N 1362. Therefore, if an alien has committed certain crimes or offenses that were disposed of in juvenile court, he or she may benefit from this forgiving doctrine. However, if the juvenile was prosecuted and convicted of a crime as an adult, he or she may need to explore whether the Youthful Offender Exception applies. For example, in New Jersey, criminal charges against minors are normally heard and disposed of in Family Court. However, the Prosecutor's Office may seek a waiver of jurisdiction by the family court and move to refer the case to criminal court. This will ordinarily happen for criminal offenses of a more serious nature.
Youthful Offender Exception
Immigration and Nationality Act Section 212(a)(2)(A)(ii)(I) provides the following exception for non-US citizens who have committed and been convicted of a single crime involving moral turpitude as a minor. The law states that inadmissibility due conviction of certain crimes shall not apply if
The crime was committed when the alien was under 18 years of age, and the crime was committed (and the alien released from any confinement to a prison or correctional institution imposed for the crime) more than 5 years before the date of application for a visa or other documentation and the date of application for admission to the United States.
Minors and/or parents should not underestimate the seriousness of a juvenile delinquency charge. Obviously it would be to his/her benefit to retain an experienced immigration lawyer to examine all of the potential ramifications of a juvenile case on one's immigration status. The immigration law is highly sensitive, not to mention extraordinarily complex. Besides deportability and inadmissibility, there may be other humanitarian based programs such as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (or DACA) that are potentially affected by a juvenile finding of delinquency.
We hope that you have enjoyed this article and learned at least one new thing or tip that you may not have known. To keep informed about the latest developments in immigration law, please subscribe to our blog feed by clicking on the "Subscribe To This Blog's Feed" button on the left. It is important to understand that the above is only general information and not legal advice. It does not create an attorney-client relationship nor should it be relied upon as legal advice. The law is extremely fact and circumstance sensitive. For an individual legal analysis of your specific legal case, please complete the "Case Evaluation" box to the right of the screen to get in touch with one of our attorneys.