Moral turpitude refers to an act that is per se morally reprehensible and intrinsically wrong.
Many immigration crimes are included in the category of Crime Involving Moral Turpitude (CIMT), or crimes involving moral indecency. The U.S. immigration law makes ineligible to enter the United States, obtain a Visa or a Green Card, for any alien who has been convicted of a CIMT or who admits committing acts that constitute the essential elements of a CIMT, with few exceptions.
The CIMT is one of the oldest reasons of "removal" from the United States. It appeared in the American immigration law for the first time in 1891, condemning to forced removal from the U.S. of immigrant guilty of a crime involving moral turpitude.
Although it was contemplated in the American law more than 100 years ago, there is really no law that specifically and exhaustively defines a CIMT. While the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) ruled that a CIMT involves a behavior that is itself vile or implies fraud or deception, various federal courts have different forms of interpreting these conditions.
The crimes involving moral indecency are grouped into three main categories:
- Crimes against property (blackmail, arson, robbery, burglary, receipt of stolen property);
- Crimes committed against governmental authority (tax evasion, corruption, fraud against the government);
- Crimes committed against individuals, family and sexual morality (statutory rape, murder, second or third degree assault, disorderly conduct, child abuse or pornography).
Under the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), the conviction of one of the above crimes renders a person ineligible to enter the United States and obtain a visa. If the person is already in the United States, the acquisition of a Green Card through adjustment of status can be denied.
In addition, aiding the commission of a CIMT is punished as being the main author of the crime.
The law on crimes of moral indecency is constantly evolving and changing; only an experienced immigration lawyer that is familiar with the local criminal laws and the federal immigration regulations is able to provide a comprehensive analysis of the case.
Once your lawyer has determined that you have been convicted of a CIMT, the analysis begins by assessing whether or not there are exceptions. The "Petty Offense" exception can often be relied on, to exclude CIMT inadmissibility.
You may apply for a "Petty Offense" if:
- the offender was less than 18 years old at the time of the crime;
- in some cases of purely political offenses (such as political rallies of opposition, in a politically repressed country);
- the sentence took place more than 5 years ago;
- the maximum penalty for the offense does not exceed one year in prison, and the offender was not sentenced to more than 180 days in prison.
Another way to handle a CIMT is to qualify for a pardon (Waiver), under the Section § 212 (h) of the INA. This section allows exceptions when the sentence was imposed more than 15 years ago; the admission did not affect the security of the United States and the immigrant was later rehabilitated.
Finally, a Waiver may be granted when extreme hardship can be shown for a spouse, child or parent legally residents should the applicant be banned from entering o remaining in the United States.