The potential immigration consequences faced by a non-citizen client are something every Washington DUI defense attorney must be familiar with to competently represent their client. Unfortunately, immigration law is complicated and sometimes inconsistent. For example, a non-citizen client with legal status here in the United States facing a DUI may be better off (for immigration purposes) convicted of the original DUI charge rather than a reduction to the crime of reckless driving. However, the opposite is true for an individual without legal status in the United States who may be eligible for a “deferred action.”
A “deferred action” is a temporary form of immigration protection for individuals without current legal status in the United States but who meet the requirements of the proposed legislation knows as the “DREAM Act.” However, certain criminal convictions will bar an otherwise eligible individual from taking advantage of this program. To qualify for a deferred action, a person must not be convicted of a felony, a significant misdemeanor, or multiple misdemeanors, or post a threat to public safety or national security. A “significant misdemeanor” is a category of crimes established specifically for the deferred action program and includes the crime of DUI. At this time, we do not yet know how the Department of Homeland Security will clarify the meaning of “significant misdemeanor” and how they will treat convictions resulting from reductions of DUI charges. However, such convictions do not appear to be an absolute bar to eligibility like a DUI conviction would be.
When representing non-citizen clients accused of crimes we are very conscious of the potential immigration consequences. We regularly consult with experienced immigration attorneys to make sure our clients are fully aware of any potential immigration consequences they are facing and so that we can minimize those consequences when possible.