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What is a Significant Misdemeanor?
Have you heard of President Obama’s Deferred Action for Undocumented Youths? Do you wonder if you qualify? There are several conditions for you qualify to apply (discussed in a prior blog post), but not until August 15, 2012 when the program is supposed to be implemented. However, one condition that may prevent your ability to receive work authorization is a conviction for a significant misdemeanor. Significant misdemeanor carries a maximum punishment for one year and you cannot have served more than six months in jail, excluding any suspended sentence. It is a federal, state, or local criminal offense that involves instances of violence, threats, assault (including domestic violence, sexual abuse, or exploitation). It also includes burglary, larceny, fraud, and DUI. It can also include obstruction of justice, bribery, unlawful flight from arrest, prosecution, or the scene of an accident, unlawful use or possession of a firearm, drug possession, trafficking or distribution. The term significant misdemeanor is not found in immigration statutes, regulations or case law, nor is there reference to any of the crimes mentioned under those terms. The standard when applying for Deferred Action should be less than when seeking permanent status. The Department of Homeland Security may exclude you from deferred action by taking into account a crime that a state or local government considers minor or a lesser offense than that defined in significant misdemeanor. This lack of clarity can compromise the success of this program. A qualified applicant may not risk applying for fear of being subjected to deportation. Let me give you an example, let’s say that you had an accident. You pulled over and spoke to the other driver. No one was injured so you both agreed to not call the police. The next day the police come to your door and you are issued a ticket for leaving the scene of the accident, the other driver changed his mind. Or how about taking an item form a store worth $30.00 and convicted of township ordinance for what amounts to shoplifting. These are just two of the many examples that can potentially disqualify you from this program. I recommended that significant misdemeanor be defined for all states and limited to a maximum punishment for one year and you cannot have served more than six months in jail, excluding any suspended sentence. This would provide clarity. It is not about the action, but the punishment that States place on the conduct. You must make informed decisions. The dangers are real. If denied, you may be placed into removal hearings. Before applying, discuss your matter with a qualified immigration attorney.