Immigration 101: Aggravated Felonies

You may be found deportable if you were convicted of a crime that qualifies as an “aggravated felony” at any time after you were admitted to the US. A conviction for an aggravated felony is a serious issue in immigration proceedings: Not only will you almost certainly be found deportable, but you’ll also be barred from receiving many of the most common types of relief from removal, such as asylumcancellation of removal, and adjustment of status.

The term “aggravated felony” has a very specific meaning for purposes of federal immigration law, which may be different than its meaning under the state law that you were convicted of filing. Just because you were convicted of a crime that your state called an “aggravated” offense, or that it was labeled as a “felony,” does not necessarily mean that it will be considered an “aggravated felony” under federal immigration law.

The federal definition of the phrase is divided into four categories:

  1. Crimes that constitute aggravated felonies, regardless of the length of the sentence imposed:
    1. Murder;
    2. Rape;
    3. Sexual abuse of a minor;
    4. Trafficking in drugs, firearms, destructive devices, or explosives;
    5. Crimes relating to the ownership or supervision of a prostitution business
  2. Crimes that constitute aggravated felonies if the sentence imposed was for a term of imprisonment of at least one year:
    1. Crimes of violence;
    2. Theft or burglary offenses, including receipt of stolen property;
    3. Commercial bribery, counterfeiting, forgery, or certain types of document fraud;
    4. Trafficking in vehicles with altered vehicle ID numbers;
    5. Crimes involving obstruction of justice or perjury;
    6. Failing to appear in court (although the length of the required sentence may be two or five years, depending on circumstances).
  3. Circumstance-specific crimes that constitute aggravated felonies if the damage involved was more than a certain amount:
    1. Offenses involving fraud or deceit where the loss to the victim was greater than $10,000.00;
    2. Federal tax evasion, where the loss to the Government was greater than $10,000.00;
    3. Money laundering, if the amount of the funds was greater than $10,000.00
  4. Crimes under certain federal criminal laws. A conviction under the specific federal statute for these crimes will almost always qualify as an aggravated felony, although state law convictions under similar circumstances may qualify as well. This category includes:
    1. Offenses related to explosive materials, firearms, sabotage, espionage, treason, and the disclosure of classified information;
    2. Offenses involving child pornography;
    3. Crimes involving human trafficking;
    4. Forgery of a passport or other document

A conviction for attempting to commit any of the above offenses, or for conspiring with others to do so, will also qualify as an aggravated felony. This is not a complete list of every category of aggravated felony, but it covers the most common types of crimes that can be classified as such. As with any removability ground related to criminal conduct, there are some complicated legal issues that may make it difficult for an immigration court to determine that a particular conviction constitutes an aggravated felony, even if it seems obvious that your conviction would qualify. The determination usually hinges on an extremely technical assessment of the language found in the criminal statute that you were convicted of violating, rather than on the facts of your case or what you actually did. Even if you have a conviction that appears to fall under one of the aggravated felony categories, don’t assume that you’ll be found removable without speaking with an experienced immigration attorney first.

This article is part of our ongoing “Immigration 101” series, in which we break down topics in US immigration law. For more articles in this series, click here.

The content in this post was originally written by Stuart Nickum and adapted by Lena Barouh.


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