Immigration and Criminal Convictions

In this month’s article I want to briefly touch on the incarceration and detention of so many of our immigrant community. Recently I attended a meeting of the Black Alliance for Just Immigration (BAJI) and I discovered some alarming statistics. “BAJI’s statistics discovered that immigrants of African descent are racially profiled by local police and turned over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and deported at a rate five times their representation in the undocumented population, mirroring the gross over-representation of African Americans in the criminal justice system. The War on Drugs and the War on immigrants has demonized and criminalized black and brown people. Due to these alarming statistics it is imperative that our Caribbean and African communities understand and take measures to avoid all criminal involvement. In this month’s article I will briefly highlight the important steps to take in the unfortunate event that an individual is arrested for a crime.

    In my practice I routinely meet individuals that have a conviction for minor offense such as shoplifting or theft by taking.  In the state of Georgia these offenses are usually listed a misdemeanor. In most cases the individual had no prior criminal history and so he pled guilty because he received probation and no jail time. Unfortunately the individual who accepts this plea deal is not aware that the court ordered 12 months confinement and then allowed him to spend his confinement time on probation. When Immigration reviews this case they look to see if the individual was sentenced to confinement. If this is the case then that individual is now considered to be an aggravated felon under federal immigration laws and that individual is now deportable. The bottom line is that all immigrants should take all arrests for any crimes very seriously.  Under no circumstances should an individual accept a plea deal or enter a guilty plea without first finding out, from an experienced attorney, the immigration consequences of a guilty plea or a conviction. The legal advice on the immigration consequences of a guilty plea or criminal conviction  should not come from a criminal public defender unless the public defender can show that he/she has the required immigration experience and he/she gives his/her advice in writing. If the criminal public defender is not aware of the immigration consequences of a conviction the individual should consult with an immigration attorney or hire a criminal attorney that also practices immigration law.


    In my practice we represent individuals from all the Caribbean and other African countries. In our deportation cases we have discovered that most of our clients from  Jamaica and Trinidad are currently in deportation because they were in possession of a large amount of marijuana. As a fellow Jamaican I understand that the habitual use of marijuana is a lifestyle choice for some people of Caribbean and African descent. However, I am compelled to discuss this issue here because the habitual use of marijuana is causing immigrants to lose their permanent residency “green card” and it is tearing families apart. Recently we worked on a case for a client that was married and had three beautiful daughters in high school. The client’s children were United States citizen and honor roll students at their high school. Our client was a permanent resident “green card holder” and he had lived in the United States for over 20 years. This family was devastated when the father was deported because of constant use of marijuana and his lack of attention to his arrests which led to his convictions. In the United States we need to understand that the possession and use of marijuana is an activity that can lead to revocation of legal immigration status and deportation for immigrants.

    The final point that I want to make is that we as a people need to stop hiding behind our desire to appear perfect to everyone. In my practice I have noticed a cultural phenomenon. I call it a cultural phenomenon because it usually occurs with my Caribbean and African clients. Normally when my clients come to see me they present me with their version of their case. At this first meeting I learn some basic information about their case and the reason why they are in deportation. If my client is already detained by ICE I will learn the facts of their case by meeting with the individual in the jail and then meeting with their family. I have found that these meetings do not always result in the client telling me all the facts of his case. Most times the family members tell me that my client has one arrest but in reality I later find out that there are multiple arrests and multiple convictions. When I ask my client why did he not disclose all the information to me I am usually told that ” I did not think it was any of your business” or “I did not want my family to worry” or ” I did not think it was important to my case.”  I understand that my client is sometimes ashamed of what has happened and he also wants to shield his family from worrying. The bottom line is that we need to stop this now. This incessant need to “save face” or “to prevent other people from knowing our business” is preventing individuals from getting the legal representation they need to win their cases and avoid criminal convictions and deportation.

If you have a question or an immigration topic that you would like to learn more about you can contact us directly at 678-736-5600 or via email at: [email protected].

Disclaimer: This article is a broad overview. This article is not legal advice and should not be taken as legal advice. This article is provided as a public service and is not intended to establish an attorney-client relationship. Any reliance on the information contained herein is taken at your own risk. The information provided in this article should never replace informed counsel when specific immigration-related guidance is needed. 

About the Writer:
Safiya Byars is the founder and senior partner of the Byars Firm, Inc. She is a native of Kingston, Jamaica.  Attorney Byars shows her clients the best ways to get their cases approved the FIRST time while reducing processing times and avoiding immigration red flags that result in delays, denials, and deportation.  The Byars firm is located at 3720 Chamblee Dunwoody Road, Suite D2, Chamblee, Georgia 30341. Attorney Byars handles all immigration matters, deportation defense, family law, and life planning (trusts & wills). We can be reached at 678-736-5600 or via email at: [email protected]  and


  • Safiya Byars, Esq

    Safiya Byars is the founder and senior partner of the Byars Firm. Attorney Byars serves as the Chair of the Family Immigration Continuing Learning Education and the Vice-Chair of the Immigration Law Section of the State Bar of Georgia. She is a native of Kingston, Jamaica. The Byars firm is located at 3720 Chamblee Dunwoody Road, Suite D2, Chamblee, Georgia 30341. The Byars Firm handles Immigration, Family, and Estate Planning matters. We can be reached at 678-736-5600 and email: [email protected].

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