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The Human Side of Illegal Immigration

A criminal defense lawyer must always be aware of whether his client is a citizen or not. A case can have huge a huge impact on a defendant’s life if he is not a citizen. Many city and county jails now screen their inmates to determine whether they are in the country legally or not.

Even if one is in the United States legally with a “green card” one can be deported if a conviction is sustained in court. In California, every guilty plea on any misdemeanor or felony requires the court tell the defendant that if he pleads guilty it may have the consequence of deportation, exclusion from admission to the United States, or denial of naturalization pursuant to the laws of the United States. What this means to the criminal defense lawyer is that he must resolve the case for his client without any jail time.

The fact that a client says, “I can’t go to jail” won’t make it so. Many times the lawyer will do all that he or she can but the law requires jail time. Once the defendant enters the jail system the Department of Immigration Customs and Enforcement (ICE) will swoop in on them and issue a detainer holding them in custody even once the jail time is served. A small offense can lead to swift deportation from the country. The defense lawyer knows what is at stake.

Many of the clients a defense lawyer sees are illegal and necessarily undocumented. Some of the most difficult cases are those that the lawyer knows will result in the tearing apart of families if the client goes to jail. Even such minor offenses as driving without a license can lead to jail. It’s a “Catch 22” when the undocumented can’t be legal drivers because they are illegal and thus denied licenses. That leads to millions of illegals driving without licenses, without insurance, and without formal driver training.

There aren’t any easy answers but when a young man comes to me for help and he is in school, working, and trying to live an honest life but he can’t get to work because he can’t get a driver’s license, something has to change. At the moment the best I can do for him is ….no jail.

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