Since I’m an immigration attorney, I’m often asked for my opinion on the immigration consequences of criminal convictions and activities. Yesterday, a criminal defense attorney in Boston asked me whether, in Massachusetts, a non-citizen youth who breaks the law and who is found delinquent by a juvenile court could end up being deported as a result of the juvenile delinquency finding.
The short answer is no. According to the Board of Immigration Appeals, a juvenile adjudication isn’t considered a criminal conviction for immigration purposes. The logic behind this rule is that juvenile proceedings are not criminal. So a delinquency finding on a deportable offense will not cause a juvenile to be deported.
But beware: juvenile adjudications can trigger other adverse immigration consequences. They can be used to bar a finding of “good moral character”, which is a requirement for naturalization and other forms of relief from deportation such as cancellation of removal. Also, as a discretionary matter, Immigration Judges can view juvenile activities as a negative factor when considering any application for relief from deportation.
And some immigration provisions don’t require the existence of a conviction and can be based on an admission of guilt or merely a perceived “reason to believe” that the person has been involved in criminal activity. For instance, a person can be denied adjustment of status to permanent residency or entry into the United States based on an Immigration Judge’s “reason to believe” that the person has been involved in drug trafficking or money laundering. The “reason to believe” could be based on non-criminal juvenile proceedings.
To summarize my advice, a youthful offender conviction or a juvenile delinquency finding is not considered a “conviction” for immigration purposes and, therefore, can’t be the basis for deportation. But such adjudications should be avoided because they could affect a person’s immigration status in other ways.
Two final points:
1. Massachusetts Youthful Offender Law: This statute permits children between the ages of 14 and 17 to be prosecuted as adults when charged with serious felony crimes. It is possible that at some point, immigration authorities could make a legal argument that youthful offender convictions should carry the same immigration consequences as adult convictions. But from my research, no federal cases, published Board of Immigration Appeals decisions or other legal authority support this position.
2. Juvenile dispositions must be disclosed: Appearances in juvenile court, although not criminal, must be disclosed on immigration forms such as applications for adjustment of status to permanent residency (I-485), and applications for naturalization (N-400).
If you have further questions about the deportation, juvenile proceedings, or possible immigration consequences, feel free to call me at (617) 722-0005. Schedule an consultation with me in my Boston immigration offices. I’d be happy to help you.