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Certain drug offenders face surprise consequences

Iowa City readers may be aware that undocumented or unauthorized immigrants charged with certain criminal offenses might also find themselves in a deportation proceeding -- regardless of whether those criminal allegations result in a conviction or prove unfounded.

Yet even immigrants with documentation might not fare better if they are convicted of an aggravated felony -- a category defined in 1988 by the Immigration and Nationality Act. Originally, the term may have referred only to extremely serious or violent crimes. However, Congress expanded the term in 1996 to include crimes that readers might not regard as terribly violent, such as theft or failing to appear in court. Today, the term is most often used in the context of immigration law and includes over 30 types of offenses.

A recent article called for reforms in the immigration arena. In that regard, President Obama and other lawmakers are considering several reforms. Obama's proposal would narrow the definition of aggravated felony, restoring it to a meaning closer to its 1988 version. For example, the primary offenses implicated by Obama's proposed definition might center on offenses that truly are violent, such as murder or trafficking in drugs, firearms or explosives. Obama's proposal would also grant judges greater latitude in determining whether convictions for minor offenses might warrant deportation.

Although not everyone facing a criminal charge may fear immigration consequences, this discussion reminds us that such allegations can have far-reaching consequences. Even if a grand jury declines to bring an indictment -- through a confidential process meant to protect a defendant's reputation -- an aggressive prosecutor may still decide to bring charges. Similarly, although criminal charges that result in acquittal or a non-disposition may not be considered public information, such information may be hard to withhold from an employer. All too often, such a disclosure results in an employee being placed on administrative leave during the criminal proceeding, with no guarantee of reinstatement.

Source: hrw.org, "US: Senate Immigration Plan Important Yet Flawed," April 16, 2013

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