AGGRAVATED FELONIES -- HARSH CONSEQUENCES
by abbe kingston
On April 24, 1996, Congress passed the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA)a bill ostensibly designed to counter terrorism. The broad sweep of AEDPA brought significant changes to the entire field of immigration lawchanges that are of particular significance to criminal defense attorneys. Specifically, the Act expands the offenses classified as "aggravated felonies" and the concurrent grounds of deportation.
Less than six months after the changes brought about by AEDPA (Pub. L. No. 104-132, Stat 1214; April 24, 1996), Congress again reconfigured immigration law, with the passage of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRAIRA or IIRIRA; Div. C. Pub. L. No. 104-208, 110 Stat 3009; Sept. 30, 1996). As with AEDPA, IIRAIRA made a significant expansion of the aggravated felony definition. Section 101(a)(43) INA, 8 U.S.C.§ 1101 (a)(43), which began as one paragraph in 1988, now contains 21 paragraphs with many subparagraphs. With the expansion of the definition of aggravated felony under IIRAIRA, some 50 general classes of crime are currently specifically enumerated. Today, practice under IIRAIRA requires a very close analysis of the criminal charges because seemingly all convictions considered felonies under federal law will qualify as aggravated felonies. Moreover, because recent statutory changes apply retroactively to offenses committed decades ago (that may even have been misdemeanors), past offenses may now be grounds for removal from the U.S. as aggravated felonies.
Aggravated felonies were also added to immigration law by the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988 which was passed at the height of the war on drugs. The initial definition included murder, any drug trafficking crime, or any illicit trafficking in firearms or destructive devices. When this legislation was first passed, its effect on existing immigration law was minimal as these offenses were deportable offenses under then existing immigration law. Today the expanded definition is a cornerstone of the INS's efforts to deport and remove permanent residents from the United States.
Any noncitizen convicted or charged with a criminal offense will be subject to collateral consequences that affect immigration status. The harsh consequences that follow a criminal convictionespecially a conviction for an aggravated felony, mandate a close link between defense attorneys and immigration practitioners. It has become imperative for criminal practitioners to expand their working knowledge of immigration law-related issues.
Almost No Relief Available for Aggravated Felony Conviction
Conviction of an offense deemed to be an aggravated felony under 101(a)(43) INA carries drastic penalties under immigration law, including removal from the U.S. and a lifetime bar to readmission as a lawful permanent resident. A close reading of the statute with an understanding of its broad reach is required in order for a criminal attorney to provide effective representation for noncitizens convicted of crimes in the United States.
An individual convicted of an aggravated felony is ineligible for:
A person convicted of an aggravated felony is permanently inadmissable to the United States, IIRAIRA 301(b).
- Voluntary departure, 244(e) INA
- stablishment of good moral character, 101(f)(8) INA
- Establishment of eligibility for naturalization, suspension of deportation or registry
- Asylum, 208 INA
- Withholding of removal, 241(b)(3) INA
- Establishment of eligibility for 212(h) INA relief
- Cancellation of removal, 240(A) INA
Section 321(b) IIRAIRA, which expanded the definition of aggravated felony under 101(a)(43) INA, applies to convictions entered "before, on, or after" the date that this Act was enacted (September 30, 1996). However, it must be noted that a distinction exists between meeting the definition of aggravated felony and the specific disability or limitation upon relief that may attach to such a conviction. Thus while the definition of aggravated felony is given retroactive application, the various effective dates of the limitations of possible relief under the INA for specific charges still offer some relief in certain rare cases. Where the individual was convicted of an aggravated felony some years ago, and where he/she now faces another minor charge which triggers an investigation by INS, there may be in very limited circumstances some form of relief in an immigration context. For example, since the effective date of the limitation on voluntary departure is November 18, 1988, there remains the possibility of relief for those individuals who committed an offense prior to that date. In the case of the limitation on the establishment of good moral character, which has an effective date of November 29, 1990, there may be relief for those individuals convicted of an offense (except for murder) prior to that date. In order to determine if a particular case qualifies for relief, one must make a closer reading of the IMMACT (see Immigration Law and Crimes, National Immigration Project, National Lawyers Guild).
Definitions of Conviction and Term of Imprisonment Expanded Under IIRAIRA
Section 322 of IIRAIRA amended the IMACT to provide a new paragraph entitled "Definition of Conviction and Term of Imprisonment". This fundamental change in definition significantly increases the number of noncitizens subject to removal based on criminal convictions. Now, even in cases where adjudication of guilt has been withheld, a noncitizen is deemed convicted for immigration purposes if he/she has entered a nolo or guilty plea or admitted sufficient facts to warrant a finding of guilt and the judge has ordered some form of punishment, penalty or restraint on the person's liberty. The IIRAIRA definition of conviction specifically overturns the long-standing definition announced in Matter of Ozkok, 19 In. Dec. 546 (BIA 1988) by dropping what has been referred to as the third prong of the Ozkok case; this third prong held that conviction occurred only when no further proceedings concerning guilt were available upon violation of probation. For immigration purposes, whether a criminal disposition meets the definition of a conviction is now a two-part test. The term `conviction' currently means:
- A formal judgment of guilt entered by a court, OR
- If adjudication of guilt has been withheld, where:
- A judge or jury has found the alien guilty or alien has entered a plea of guilty or nolo contendere or has admitted sufficient facts to warrant a finding of guilt, AND
- The judge has ordered some form of punishment, penalty, or restraint on the alien's liberty to be imposed. (IIRAIRA 322, amending INA 101(a)(48), 8 U.S.C. 1101(A)(48)
The same section that amended the definition of conviction also contains changes in the definition of term of imprisonment. Section 322 of IIRAIRA provides that any reference to a term of imprisonment or sentence with respect to an offense is deemed to include the period of incarceration or confinement ordered by a court of law regardless of any suspension of the imposition or execution of that imprisonment or sentence in whole or in part. This section has particular significance to those crimes which may fit the definition of aggravated felony where the noncitizen is sentenced to a year or more as part of the criminal sentence.
A stay of adjudication of guilt or deferred adjudication of guilty will be considered a conviction even though there is no conviction under state law where, for example the criminal plea is later vacated and the criminal case is dismissed. Matter of Roldan, Int. Dec. 3377 (BIA 1999); Matter of Punu, Int. Dec. 3364 (BIA 1998). The statutory definition of conviction provides that no effect is to be given in immigration proceedings to a state action which purports to expunge, dismiss, cancel, vacate, discharge or otherwise remove a guilty plea or other record of guilt or conviction through operation of a state rehabilitation statute.
Classifications of Aggravated Felonies
There are two general types of aggravated felonies contained within 101(a)(43) INA:
1. Category crimes, deemed aggravated felonies regardless of sentence
2. Sentence crimes, which are those aggravated felonies that require an imposed sentence of at least one year and include the broad category of crime of violence, theft, burglary, forgery and offenses relating to obstruction of justice and perjury.
A list of aggravated felonies as broadly defined in the IMACT is attached as Appendix A. The definition of aggravated felony includes "an offense described in this definition whether in violation of Federal or State law and the law of a foreign country for which the term of imprisonment was completed in the previous 15 years." 101(a)(43) INA. The broad reach of the definition includes conduct which might not sound aggravated to a criminal defense attorney but which will nevertheless incur harsh consequences under immigration law. Even a state misdemeanor can be an aggravated felony if it meets the federal definition of an aggravated felony.
Appendix B provides a brief summary of controlled substance violations and their treatment as aggravated felonies.
Under the amended definition contained in IIRAIRA, the following crimes (even if classified as misdemeanor) will be considered aggravated (101(a)(43) INA) :
(F) a crime of violence ( as defined in section 16 of title 18 of United States Code, but not including a purely political offense) for which the term of imprisonment imposed (regardless of any suspension of imprisonment) is at least one year
(G) a theft offense (including receipt of stolen property) or burglary offense for which the term of imprisonment imposed (regardless of any suspension of such imprisonment) is at least one year
(P) an offense (i) which either is falsely making, forging, counterfeiting, mutilating, or altering a passport or instrument in violation of section 1543 of title 18, United States Code, or is described in section 1546(a) of such title (relating to document fraud) and (ii) for which the term of imprisonment imposed (regardless of any suspension of such imprisonment) is at least 12 months, except in the case of a first offense for which the alien has affirmatively shown that the alien committed the offense for the purpose of assisting, abetting, or aiding only the alien's spouse, child, or parent (and no other individual) to violate a provision of this Act
(R) an offense relating to commercial bribery, counterfeiting, forgery, or trafficking in vehicles the identification numbers of which have been altered for which the term of imprisonment is at least one year
(S) an offense relating to obstruction of justice, perjury or subornation of perjury, or bribery of a witness, for which the term of imprisonment is at least one year
(U) An attempt or conspiracy to commit an offense described in this paragraph
Crimes of Violence
The definition of aggravated felony for crimes of violence has dramatically changed under IIRAIRA. Under title 18, section 16 of the United States Code, a crime of violence is defined as:
(A) an offense that has as an element the use, attempted use, or threatened use of physical force against, or
(B) any other offense that is a felony and that, by its nature involves a substantial risk that physical force against the person or property of another may be used in the course of committing the offense (18 U.S.C. § 16)
A state offense meeting the federal definition of a crime of violence where the sentence imposed regardless of any suspension of imposition or execution of sentence of one year or more will meet the definition of aggravated felony under 101(a)(43)(F) INA.
Felony Drunk Driving
The Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) in Matter of Magallanes-Garcia, Int. Dec. 3341 (BIA 1998), held that an alien convicted of aggravated driving while under the influence and sentenced to two and a half years in prison was convicted of a crime of violence within the meaning of 101(a)(43)(F) because the conviction involved a substantial risk of physical force against the property or person of another as defined by 18 U.S.C. § 16. It appears now that the INS considers a felony DUI conviction with a sentence of one year or more to be an aggravated felony and is deporting or removing long-term permanent residents from the U.S. without any possibility of relief.
The BIA in Matter of Palacios-Pinera, Int. Dec. 3373 (BIA 1998) ruled that a state arson conviction comes within the meaning of an aggravated felony. The BIA noted that an offense qualifies as a crime of violence under the statutory definition if either:
(A) Physical force is an element of the crime, or
(B) The nature of the crime (as demonstrated by the generic elements of the offense) means that "its commission ordinarily would present a risk that physical force would be used against the person or property of another irrespective of whether the risk develops or harm actually occurs."
In very broad terms, the BIA has said that an offense comes with 18 U.S.C. § 16(b) as a crime of violence if it has the potential of resulting in harm.
The BIA in Matter of Alcantar, 20 In. Dec. 801 (BIA 1994), found a conviction for involuntary manslaughter to be a crime of violence and an aggravated felony as defined in 101(a)(43)(F). The BIA held that if the offense is a felony and if by the "nature of the crime as elucidated by the generic elements of the offense is such that its commission would ordinarily present a risk that physical force would be used against the person or property of another."
The BIA in Alcantar cited United States v. Springfield, 829 F 2d 890 (9th Cir 1987), where the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals found a federal conviction for involuntary manslaughter constituted a "crime of violence." The Springfield decision found that Congress did not intend to limit crimes of violence to crimes of specific intent, and held:
"Since no culpability level is prescribed in this section, the applicable state of mind that must be shown is at a minimum `reckless', i.e., that the defendant was conscious of but disregarded the substantial risk that the circumstances existed." United States v. Springfield, 829 F2d 860, at 863.
The BIA in Matter of Ahmad Aldabesheh, Int. Dec. 3410 (August 1999), found a conviction for criminal contempt in the first degree under New York Penal Law with a sentence to imprisonment of at least one year a conviction for a crime of violence under 18 U.S.C. 16(b), thus rendering it an aggravated felony under 101(a)(43)(F) INA. The New York Penal Law states in pertinent part that a person is guilty of criminal contempt in violation of a duly served order of protection if he:
"intentionally places or attempts to place a person for whose protection such order was issued in reasonable fear of physical injury, serious physical injury or death by displaying a deadly weapon, dangerous instrument or what appears to be a pistol, revolver, rifle, shotgun, machine gun or other firearm or by means of a threat or threats." (N.Y. Penal Law 215.51(b)(I)
Criminally Negligent Child Abuse
The BIA held in Matter of Sweetser, Int. Dec. 3390 (May 1999) that a conviction of criminally negligent child abuse under Colorado statute was not an aggravated felony under 101(a)(43)(F) INA. In reaching its decision the Board concluded that the respondent was convicted under a statute that is divisible, meaning it encompasses offenses that include as an element the use, attempted use, or threatened use of physical force against the person or property of another, as well as offenses that do not include such elements. The BIA held that for purposes of determining whether an offense is a crime of violence as defined in 18 U.S.C. § 16(b) it is necessary to examine the criminal conduct required for conviction, rather than the consequences of the crime, to find if the offense, by its nature, involves "a substantial risk that physical force against the person or property of another may be used in the course of committing the offense."
Recent decisions conflict as to whether statutory rape is considered a crime of violence.
The BIA in Matter of B, Int. Dec. 3270 (1976), held that a conviction for statutory rape is a crime of violence even if the sexual act was consensual, finding that a 14-year-old could not give meaningful consent. Thus sexual intercourse with minor is a crime of violence because it necessarily involves force or the threat of force.
The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Xiong v INS, 173 F3d 604 (7th Cir. 1999) examined a Wisconsin statute which makes it a felony to have sexual contact or sexual intercourse with a person who has not attained the age of 16 years. In Xiong, the alien was 18 years old and had engaged in consensual intercourse with his 15-year-old girlfriend. The Seventh Circuit overturned the BIA decision which found the alien removablehaving been convicted of an aggravated felony, to wit, a crime of violence. The decision in Xiong made note that the Wisconsin statute "covers a lot of ground" and does not per se, describe a crime of violence. The decision in part states:
"When the statutory definition of a criminal offense encompasses conduct that does not constitute a crime of violence as well as conduct that does constitute a crime of vilence, and immigration judge may not simply categorize all conduct covered by the offense as a crime of violence...If the IJ had considered the facts described in the complaint he would have found that the conduct of which Xiong was convicted consisted of consensual sex between a boyfriend and his fifteen-year-old girlfriend. Absent a substantial age difference, that conduct did not, by its nature, involve a substantial risk of physical force..."
A very close reading of these two cases is needed in order to distinguish them. Perhaps the main difference is the relative ages of the parties.
In United States v. Taylor, 495 U.S. 575 (1990), the Third Circuit Court of Appeals held that a state misdemeanor theft conviction, with a one-year sentence imposed, constitutes an aggravated felony if the state offense meets the elements of burglary under the federal definition under 18 USC § 924(e).
Accessory After the Fact
In Matter of Batista-Hernandez, Int. Dec. 3321 (BIA 1997) the Board held that "accessory after the fact" under 18 USC § 3 to a controlled-substance offense constituted "an offense relating to obstruction of justice" within the meaning of 101(a)(43)(S) INA and results in an aggravated felony conviction if the term of imprisonment imposed is at least one year. The BIA determined that 18 USC clearly "relates to obstruction of justice" because it criminalizes actions knowingly taken to "hinder justice" or prevent another's apprehension, trial or punishment.
Misprison of Felony
In re: Rafael Espinoza-Gonzalez, Int. Dec. 3402 (June 1999), the Board found "misprison of a felony" is not an offense relating to obstruction of justice. Pursuant to 18 USC § 4, misprison of a felony is defined as follows:
"Whoever, having knowledge of the actual commission of a felony cognizable by a court of the United States, conceals and does not as soon as possible make known the same to some judge or other person in civic or military authority under the United States, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 3 years or both."
Elements of the crime of misprison of a felony are that the principal committed and completed the felony alleged and that the defendant, having full knowledge of that fact, failed to notify that authority and took an affirmative step to conceal the crime. The BIA noted its decision in Matter of Batista-Hernandez where it held that a conviction under 18 USC § 3 (accessory after the fact) constitutes a conviction for an aggravated felony because that section criminalizes actions knowingly taken to "hinder or prevent [another's] apprehension, trial or punishment." The BIA distinguished the two decisions, finding the federal crime of accessory after the fact in 18 USC § 3 requires an affirmative action knowingly undertaken to hinder or prevent another's apprehension, trial or punishment, and noting that nothing in section 4 references the specific purpose for which the concealment must be undertaken.
The BIA in a recent case distinguished Matter of Batista-Hernandez and found a conviction for misprison of a felony under 18 U.S.C. § 4 (1994) does not constitute a conviction for an aggravated felony under 101(1)(43)(S) INA as an offense relating to obstruction of justice. In the decision of In re: Rafael Espinoza-Gonzalez the alien was convicted of misprison of a felony in violation of 18 USC § 4 (conspiracy to possess marijuana with intent to distribute) and sentenced to imprisonment for a year and a day. The BIA in its decision found that misprison of a felony does not require as an element either active interference with proceedings of tribunal or investigation or action or threat of action against those who would cooperate in the process of justice.
Fraud Convictions Involving Less Than $10,000
The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in a recent decision found a guilty plea to fraud for under $10,000 supports removal for an aggravated felony conviction where the overall scheme caused losses of more than $10,000. Soveiti v. INS, 1999 Daily Journal D.A.R. 7643. In Soveiti v INS, the alien, a lawful permanent resident, pleaded guilty to a single count of a multi-count indictment for fraud charging him with submitting a fraudulent payment of $2,605 to the victim, and he admitted in his plea agreement that he obtained in excess of $500,000 as a result of a scheme to defraud various banks. The Ninth Circuit decision upheld the BIA interpretation that the aggravated definition requires only that a conviction "involve" a fraud that resulted in a loss exceeding more than $10,000 and rejected the argument that the $10,000 loss must be based on the conviction itself. The decision in Soveiti notes that the definition of an aggravated felony under 101(a)(43)(M) requires only a conviction for an offense that "involves" fraud in which the loss to the victim or victims is more than $10,000.
Attempted Fraud - No Loss to Victim
The BIA in Matter of Onyido, Int. Dec. 3379 (BIA 1999) held that a case involving an attempted fraud of $15,000 in which there was no actual loss qualified as an aggravated felony. The conviction in Onyido arose out of an unsuccessful scheme to defraud an insurance company of $15,000 in settlement of a false "slip and fall" personal injury case. Onyido argued (unsuccessfully) that he was not deportable because the insurance company suffered no loss. The BIA found:
"The fact that the respondent failed to obtain the money is of no consequence under section 101(a)(43)(U) of the act, which prescribes deportability as an aggravated felon for aliens convicted of an attempt or conspiracy to commit an offense described in section 101(a)(43) of the Act. In view of this conclusion we need not address at this time the Immigration Judge's additional finding that the respondent is also deportable as an aggravated felon under section 101)(a)(43)(M)(I), as an alien convicted of a fraud or deceit in which the loss to the victim exceeds $10,000."
Deferred Adjudication Under State Statute
The BIA in Matter of Roldan, Int. Dec. 3377 (BIA 1999) overturned the long-standing policy on deferred adjudication in which state rehabilitation statutes were recognized. The BIA held that the definition of "conviction" (INA 101(a)(48)(A)) provides that no effect is to be given in immigration proceedings to any state action that purports to expunge, dismiss, cancel, vacate, discharge, or otherwise remove a guilty plea or other record of guilt or conviction by operation of a state rehabilitation statute. Under Matter of Roldan, once a "conviction" occurs as defined under 101(a)(48)(A), that conviction remains, notwithstanding any state rehabilitation statute. The BIA also overturned Matter of Manrique, Int. Dec. 3250 (BIA 1995), which accorded federal first-offender treatment to certain aliens who receive relief under a state rehabilitation statute such as California Penal Code 1203.4. The BIA held that with the enactment of 101(a)(48)(A) no immigration effect is to be given to any state rehabilitation statute.
In a similar case, Matter of Punu, Int. Dec. 3364 (BIA 1998), the Board (relying on section 322 of IIRAIRA, which amended 101(a)(48)(A) INA) overturned its prior precident decision, Matter of Ozkok, 20 INA Dec. 546 (BIA 1988) and held that the term "conviction" means:
"with respect to an alien a formal judgment of guilt of the alien entered by a court or, if adjudication of guilt has been withheld where (1) a judge or jury has found the alien guilty or the alien has entered a plea of guilty or nolo contendere or has admitted sufficient facts to warrant a finding of guilt, and (2) the judge has ordered some form of punishment or restraint on the alien's liberty to be imposed."
This fundamental change in interpretation by the Board will have a pronounced effect on a significant number of noncitizenseven those with decades-old convictions.
The INS continues to remove record numbers of lawful permanent residents who have been convicted of criminal offenses in the United States. Since October 1998 the INS has implemented a mandatory detention program that prevents posting of bond in most cases pending removal proceedings. INS Border Agents interview almost all persons placed in county jail facilities to determine their immigration status. Noncitizens will have detainers placed on them to prevent their release from custody; in most cases this will prevent the noncitizen from posting criminal bond. And a noncitizen who re-enters the U.S. following deportation or removal as an aggravated felon can face a sentence of up to 20 years for the illegal entry.
These changes require criminal defense attorneys to improve their understanding of the immigration consequences of criminal pleas. It is no longer effective representation to simply advise a noncitizen of the provision of California Penal Code 1016.5. Although Congress may eventually take steps to ameliorate the harsh consequences for aggravated felony convictions (and possibly increase the various forms of discretionary relief that have all but disappeared), until such changes are made, criminal defense attorneys must explore all possible sentencing options to avoid a conviction for an aggravated felony.
Definition of Aggravated Felony
The amended statue now reads:
43) The term "aggravated felony" means--
(A) murder, rape, or sexual abuse of a minor;
(B) illicit trafficking in controlled substance (as described in section 102 of the Controlled Substances Act), including a drug trafficking crime (as defined in section 924(c) of title 18, United States Code);
(C) illicit trafficking in firearms or destructive devices (as defined in section 921 of title 18, United States Code) or in explosive materials (as defined in section 841(c) of that title);
(D) an offense described in section 1956 of title 18, United States Code (relating to laundering of monetary instruments) or section 1957 of that tile (relating to engaging in monetary transactions in property derived from specific unlawful activity) if the amount of the funds exceeded $10,000;
(E) an offense described in---
(i) section 842(h) or (i) of title 18, United States Code, or section 844(d), (e), (f), (g), (h), or (i) of that title (relating to explosive materials offense);
(ii) section 922(g)(1), (2), (3), (4), or (5), (j), (n), (o), (p), or (r) or 924(b) (or (h) of title 18, United States Code (relating to firearms offenses);
(iii) section 5861 of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 (relating to firearms offenses);
(F) a crime of violence (as defined in section 16 of title 18, Untied States Code, but not including a purely political offense) for which the term of imprisonment [is] at least 1 year;
(G) a theft offense (including receipt of stolen property or burglary offense for which the term of imprisonment [is] at least 1 year;
? (H) an offense described in section 875, 876, 877, or 1202 of title 18, Untied States Code (relating to the demand for or receipt of ransom);
(I) an offense described in section 2251, 2251A, or 2252 of title 18, United States Code (relating to child pornography);
(J) an offense described in section 1962 of title 18, Unites States Code (relating to racketeer influenced corrupt organizations), or an offense described in section 1084 (if it the second or subsequent offense) or 1955 of that title (relating to gambling offenses), for which a sentence of 1 year imprisonment or more may be imposed;
(K) an offense that:
(i) relates to the owning, controlling, managing, or supervising of a prostitution business; or
(ii) is described in section 2421, 2422, 2423, of title 18, United States Code (relating to transportation for the purpose of prostitution) if committed for commercial advantage; or
(iii) is described in section 1581, 1582, 1583, 1584, 1585, or 1588 of title 18, United States Code (relating to peonage, slavery, and involuntary servitude);
(L) an offense described in---
(i) section 793 (relating to gathering or transmitting national defense information), 798 (relating to disclosure of classified information), 2153 (relating to sabotage) or 2381 or 2382 (relating to treason) of title 18, United States Code;
(ii) section 601 of the National Security Act of 1947 (50 U.S.C. 421) (relating to protecting the identity of undercover intelligence agents);
(iii) section 601 of the National Security Act of 1947 (relating to protecting the identity of undercover agents);
(M) an offense that--
(i) involves document fraud or deceit in which the loss to the victim or victims exceeds $10,000; or
(ii) is described in section 7201 of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 (relating to tax evasion) in which the revenue loss to the Government exceeds $10,000;
(N) an offense described in paragraph (1)(A) or (2) of section of 274(a) (relating to alien smuggling), except in the case of a first offense for which the alien has affirmatively shown that the alien committed the offense for the purpose of assisting, abetting, or aiding only the alien's spouse, child, or parent (and no other individual) to violate a provision of this Act;
(O) an offense described in section 275(a) or 276 committed by an alien who was previously deported on the basis of a conviction for an offense described in another subparagraph of this paragraph;
(P) an offense
(i) which either is falsely making, forging, counterfeiting, mutilating, or altering a passport or instrument in violation of section 1543 of title 18, Untied States Code, or is described in section 1546(a) of such title (relating to document fraud) and
(ii) for which the term of imprisonment is at least 12 months, except in the case of a first offense for which the alien has affirmatively shown that the alien committed the offense for the purpose of assisting, abetting, or aiding only the alien's spouse, child or parent (and no other individual) to violate a provision of this Act;
(Q) an offense relating to a failure to appear by a defendant of service of sentence if the underlying offense is punishable by imprisonment for a term of 5 years or more;
(R) an offense relating to commercial bribery, counterfeiting, forgery, or trafficking in vehicles the identification numbers of which have ben altered for which the term of imprisonment is at least one year;
(S) an offense relating to obstruction justice, perjury or subornation of perjury, or bribery of a witness, for which the term of imprisonment is at least one year;
(T) an offense relating to a failure to appear before a court pursuant to a court order to answer to or dispose of a charge of a felony for which a sentence of 2 years' imprisonment or more may be imposed; and
(U) an attempt or conspiracy to attempt to commit an offense described in this paragraph.
The terms applies to an offense described in this paragraph whether in violation of Federal or State law and applies to such offense in violation of the law of a foreign country for which the term of imprisonment was completed within the previous 15 years. Notwithstanding any other provision of law including any effective date, the term applies regardless of whether the conviction was entered before, on, or after the date of enactment of this paragraph.
Controlled Substance Convictions
The definition of aggravated felony provides:
"any illicit trafficking in any controlled substance (as defined in seciton 102 of the Controlled Substance Act), including any drug trafficking crime as defined in 924(c)(2) of title 18, United States Code." 101(a)(43)(B)
To determine if a state offense is an aggravated felony, the BIA will review the state statutes to determine if the offense is punishable as a felony under federal statutes.
For a state felony drug conviction for simple possession (first offense), which would be considered a misdemeanor under federal law, the INS is following the decision in Matter of L-G-II, Int. Dec. 3254 (BIA 1995) and will not treat the conviction as an aggravated felony.
For a state misdemeanor conviction for conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance, the BIA in Matter of Davis, 20 IN 536 (BIA 1992) found it an aggravated felony. The Board reasoned that the state conviction, even though a misdemeanor, would be analogous to a felony under federal law. The BIA noted that because the phrase "any illicit trafficking in any controlled substance" in section 101(a)(43)(B) of the Act includes "any drug trafficking crime" as defined in 18 USC § 924(c)(2), an offense involving a controlled substance which is not designated as a felony under the law of the rendering jurisdiction and/or which does not constitute "illicit trafficking" as commonly defined, might nonetheless be a "drug trafficking crime" and be deemed an aggravated felony.
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