Immigrants to the United States are often under extreme scrutiny. The government runs many checks on a person before he or she may come into the country or request asylum.

Once they are living in the U.S., immigrants also must be careful not to do anything that could lead to deportation, which means following all the laws concerning immigration and avoiding criminal activity at all costs.

Some crimes may not bring serious charges for U.S. citizens, but the same offenses could qualify as aggravated felonies for immigrants and their convictions could result in serious consequences.

What is a federal aggravated felony?

According to the American Immigration Council, Congress can designate any crime it wishes as an aggravated felony under federal immigration law. There are dozens of crimes in this category, including many nonviolent or petty offenses that would otherwise qualify as misdemeanors outside of immigration statutes.

This has not always been the case. The original intention of this designation was for charges of a much more severe nature, such as murder, firearms offenses and drug trafficking. Congress has expanded the definition and classified many crimes that seem trivial, such as failing to appear in court, as federal aggravated felonies for immigrants.

What are the consequences?

An aggravated felony conviction for an immigrant may lead to deportation, and it could prohibit noncitizens from reentering the country. Furthermore, the U.S. may deny asylum to any immigrant convicted of one of these crimes.

An immigrant’s minor charge may also face an upgrade to an aggravated felony if Congress adds that specific crime to the list, even if the conviction occurred before the change to the law. Subsequently, those immigrants could face new consequences that previously did not apply. Legislators update federal immigration law to categorize new offenses as aggravated felonies regularly, and any noncitizen with a criminal conviction, no matter how minor, could be at risk.