Can I Get Deported for Shoplifting?

Shoplifting is taken seriously in U.S. stores. They will prosecute individuals for even the smallest of theft offenses. For immigrants, shoplifting represents a real deportation risk. While not all shoplifters face deportation, the act will increase the likelihood of immigration issues. An arrest alone can warrant a residency adjustment denial. A conviction can, in certain cases, result in deportation.

Admissibility and Immigration

To maintain residency status and qualify for citizenship, immigrants must demonstrate a “good moral character.” Shoplifting is a “crime of moral turpitude” that can jeopardize someone’s good moral character and immigration admissibility. If you receive a theft conviction or admit to shoplifting, you may lose your admissibility status and face an increased risk for residency application denials and deportation.

A “petty theft exception” protects many immigrants from severe immigration consequences for small crimes. If you receive a petty theft conviction with a maximum sentence of one year in jail and you do not have to serve the full sentence, you may remain admissible. If, however, a conviction warrants a maximum sentence of longer than one year, you may face immigration consequences regardless of your actual sentence.

You will not qualify for the petty theft exception if you receive a theft conviction of any kind in your first five years in the U.S. In some cases, immigration authorities can elevate even minor shoplifting charges from a misdemeanor to an aggravated felony, eliminating the possibility of an exception and increasing the likelihood of deportation.

The laws surrounding admissibility and petty theft exceptions are confusing, because they involve elements of both criminal and immigration law. Discuss your case with an attorney who specializes in in criminal defense and immigration to protect your rights under current state criminal statutes and federal immigration laws.

What to Do if Someone Accuses You of Shoplifting

Unfortunately, innocent, legal immigrants sometimes face shoplifting accusations. The arrest alone can create hurdles for law-abiding residents. A false conviction can have far-reaching repercussions for those trying to remain in the country and achieve citizenship. If you or someone you know faces a shoplifting accusation, take the following steps:

  1. Remain silent. Do not admit to or sign anything while in the store or when the local authorities show up to arrest you. You do not have to say anything.
  2. Ask for an attorney. Contact an attorney who specializes in immigration matters as soon as possible. A local defense attorney will help you understand the charges and protect your rights. The sooner you start working on a defense strategy, the better. Many stores today rely on surveillance to reduce shoplifting incidents. A video recording can exonerate innocent shoppers of unreasonable accusations. If you did make a mistake and took something from a store, your attorney can pursue a petty theft exception or another defense strategy to reduce immigration repercussions.
  3. Avoid future encounters. After a shoplifting arrest or conviction, take steps to avoid future encounters with the law. You may avoid deportation after one minor arrest or conviction, but multiple arrests/convictions can jeopardize your protections.

The bottom line is that no amount of shoplifting is “safe” for immigrants in the United States. Avoid taking anything you have not paid for or associating with individuals who may commit a crime. While deportation isn’t automatic, shoplifting arrests and convictions will place your immigration status under a spotlight.

If you do face shoplifting charges, act quickly to protect your rights. An experienced and local defense attorney can help you avoid the sometimes-permanent immigration consequences of shoplifting.

David Breston

David Breston has represented over 3,000 clients charged with Federal, State, and juvenile crimes in Texas and is a native Houstonian. Mr. Breston is a proud member of the Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association, National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers Association, Harris County Criminal Defense Lawyers Association, and the American Immigration Lawyers Association. Throughout his years as an experienced criminal defense lawyer, he has taught seminars at Princeton and helped law students with their GMAT test review.

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