Drunk Driving and Immigration

drunk-driving-police-carWith the holiday season coming upon us, it is always a good idea to remember that our actions can have more consequences than we realize.  Driving after drinking is one such decision.  Not only is it dangerous and not only can it take lives, but even without causing an accident, it can lead to your removal from the US if you are here as a non-immigrant, and even, in some cases, as a permanent resident.

First, it is important to say that the effects of driving under the influence will depend both on the severity of what occurs as well as the State you are in when you are pulled over.  Every State has different laws, and those laws can vary quite widely in terms of how they will affect your immigration status.  There are three ways that driving after drinking can affect your immigration status: First, if it is considered a crime of moral turpitude; Second, if the situation is such that you are charged with a Crime of Violence; and, Third, if you have multiple arrests for driving after drinking and are considered a habitual drunkard.

In most states a simple Driving while Intoxicated (DWI) is not considered a crime involving moral turpitude (CIMT).  Crimes of Moral Turpitude make one inadmissible to the United States an eligible for removal proceedings.   However, there are a number of states that have laws on the books which elevate a DWI to a more serious crime if certain “aggravating” factors are present.  One example is Arizona, which raises a regular case to an “aggravated DWI or DUI” case if it is found that you knowingly drove a car without a license.  In this case the Court determined that this “extra” was enough to raise the case to a crime involving moral turpitude (as now you are doing something knowingly, which is usually the requirement for CIMTs).  Other states have other criteria for raising the stakes in a DWI or DUI case.  It should be noted that CIMTs can affect those who are applying for permanent residence, those who are already permanent residents (for example two or more CIMT within 5 years of being a permanent resident can lead to the removal of your permanent resident status) and for those filing for Naturalization (which requires you show that you had good moral character and if you are found to be a habitual drunkard or having committed a CIMT during a specified period that shows a lack of good moral character).

If the incident is more than just driving drunk (i.e. there is an accident, a person is hurt, etc.) then it is also possible that you would also be charged with additional charges, some of which could be CIMT or could be aggravated felonies.  It should be noted that when we discuss aggravated felonies, they are not the same as the “aggravating” factors taken into account to increase penalties on DWI/DUI convictions.  Aggravated Felonies are specific felonies of a serious nature that include murder and crimes of violence.  A crime of violence is any felony that involves the use or threatened use of violence against another person or property (and any felony for which that is a likely outcome that has a sentence of 1 year or more).  So many ancillary charges – reckless endangerment or even manslaughter could mean that you are subject to deportation as well.

If you need to leave the US and get a visa stamp, many consulates require a checkup with a doctor to determine you are not a danger to society prior to getting you the visa.  This can lengthen significantly the process for you getting back to the US.  This applies to almost all non-immigrant statuses, inlcuding H-1Bs.

What it comes down to is that drinking and driving carries serious consequences for everyone, but even more serious consequences for those who are not citizens including removal from the US.  Be careful this holiday season and all year.

Please remember, as always, this blog does not offer legal advice. If you need legal advice, consult with a lawyer instead of a blog. Thank you.

Subscribe to Immigration Briefs

Don’t miss out on the latest issues. Sign up now to get access to the library of members-only issues.