Due to the controversy surrounding President Trump's "2.0 Muslim Ban," the press devoted very little attention to a Presidential Memorandum signed the same day (March 6) ordering the Department of State and Department of Homeland Security to develop and implement protocols and procedures to "enhance the screening and vetting of applications for visas and all other immigration benefits." From March 15 through March 17, 2017, Secretary of State issued a series of important cables to consular posts around the world in accordance with the memorandum, directing consulates to immediately implement measures to ensure that all visa applicants are properly vetted. Two of the most important cables can be viewed here and here.
In the wake of President Trump's Executive Actions on Immigration, this is one of the most frequently asked questions posed by undocumented and out of status aliens. The answer, unfortunately, is not so simple and belies how complex the immigration laws can be. Technically, most traffic violations, in general, do not constitute deportable offenses. In other words, a run-of-the-mill speeding ticket, committed in the absence of any aggravating factors or egregious circumstances such as going at an excessively high rate of speed with accident or injury, are not deportable violations. A lawful permanent resident who has committed a generic speeding offense or failed to maintain lanes will usually not have to worry about losing his/her status provided the offense is not serious in nature or a Crime Involving Moral Turpitude. However, if an individual is also out of status or has no legal status in the United States, the problem is that such an infraction may expose them to or make them more liable to be picked up ICE, which is the enforcement arm of the Department of Homeland Security. ("ICE" stands for Immigration and Customs Enforcement.) So while a speeding ticket in and of itself is not a legal basis for deportation, the person's illegal presence in the United States obviously is. The infractions only make the situation worse in terms of casting a blemish on the individual's law abiding character.
Last month, the New York Times reported the conviction of Rosa Maria Ortega, a lawful permanent resident who was sentenced to a shocking eight years in prison for voting illegally in 2012 and 2014. From the article, it appears that Ms. Ortega was brought to the country as an infant and only possessed a sixth-grade level education. Her defense attorney maintains that she did not reasonably know that she was not authorized to vote. Regardless, one thing is certain: she will likely be placed into immigration removal proceedings upon conclusion of her sentence and possibly be deported from the US. Cases such as these underscore not only the criminal but also collateral immigration consequences of unlawful voting, which is taken extremely seriously by the government. Regardless of when the act occurred, the immigration ramifications of such conduct are far reaching. In many instances, an individual who may illegally voted may not appreciate the gravity of the situation because nothing may have come out of it, that is, the person was never prosecuted or punished for it. However, for immigration purposes, time or lack of prosecution does not necessarily vitiate the impact of such an unlawful act. In the arena of naturalization, for example, unlawful voting can lead to a denial on the basis of failure to demonstrate good moral character.
Most individuals will, at some time or another, be issued a traffic ticket. Although most generic infractions do not normally invoke deportability concerns, traffic violations are nevertheless offenses committed in violation of the law. In New Jersey, they are punished under Title 39. When one applies for citizenship or naturalization, one must demonstrate to the satisfaction of an immigration officer that he or she is a person of "good moral character" for the last five years (or in some cases, three). A history or string of traffic offenses could possibly reflect on that determination, which begs the question whether such offenses must be disclosed on the N-400 application. A close reading of some of the questions, as found on the latest edition of the application (12/23/16), appears to refer to such conduct. For example, question #23 reads: "Have you EVER been arrested, cited, or detained by any law enforcement officer (including any immigration official or any official of the U.S. armed forces) for any reasons?" Since a traffic encounter involves a stop or detention by a law enforcement officer, traffic offenses appear to be implicated. Even if the offense is relatively minor, an applicant may want to be on the safe side and disclose it for purposes of the application but, of course, be prepared to address the nature and circumstances behind the violations at the interview. If the individual is not sure whether the offense is "minor," or whether there be potential immigration consequences, he or she may want to take the further step of consulting with an immigration attorney who can access the impact of such violations, not only for purposes of naturalization but more importantly, one's status.
Last week, to the consternation of millions, DHS Secretary John Kelly released two governmental memos setting forth plans on how to implement President Trump's interior public safety and border security mandates that were issued in January. There was extensive media coverage spurring an already apprehensive undocumented population into paranoia and hysteria. The alarm is not without reason. The memo enacts large scale, blanket measures that place those without status at significant risk of being arrested, detained, and removed.