By Kitty J. Lin
People from all over the world come to the United States because they want to chase the American Dream. What is the American Dream? It means different things to different people, but mostly it boils down to being successful in their line of work and being financially independent. When our economy was booming a lot of people achieved this dream. However, during our current economic downturn a lot of people saw those dreams turn into nightmares. Houses that were purchased at the height of the real estate boom are now so far underwater that they are now practically worthless. Speaking to a bankruptcy lawyer to file bankruptcy seems like the only way out of the financial hole. A lot of immigrants have the same question before filing for bankruptcy: “What will filing for bankruptcy do to my immigration status?”
Filing for bankruptcy alone will not affect your immigration status. You must have committed a crime that is subject to deportation. Under 8 U.S.C. §1227(a)(2), you could be subject to deportation if you fall into one or more of these categories: if you commit certain crimes of moral turpitude or aggravated felony, if you are convicted of owning controlled substances, if you are convicted of certain firearm offenses, miscellaneous crimes (like espionage, sabotage, treason), crimes of domestic violence, stalking, crimes against children, and trafficking (drug or human).
Crimes of moral turpitude are analyzed on a case by case basis. A crime of moral turpitude must involve highly reprehensible conduct that was done intentionally, deliberately, willfully, or recklessly. A crime involving ‘moral turpitude’ involves ‘conduct that shocks the public conscience as being inherently base, vile, or depraved, contrary to the rules of morality and the duties owed between man and man, either one’s fellow man or society in general. Some crimes that are considered to be a crime of moral turpitude that pertain to people filing for bankruptcy are: writing bad checks with the intent to defraud, crimes of domestic violence, and tax evasion.
There is a long list of crimes that are considered to be aggravated felonies under 8 U.S.C. §1101(a)(43) including murder, rape, and sexual abuse of a minor. The main ones that may pertain to people filing for bankruptcy are §1101(a)(43)(M)(i) and (ii): fraudulent transaction where the loss to the victim exceeds $10,000 and tax evasion where the loss to the government exceeds $10,000.
What you should take away from this article is that if you have not committed a crime listed above you should not be subject for removal from the United States. Filing bankruptcy is not a crime period and is not a path to deportation. Committing a bankruptcy crime (such as lying under penalty of perjury or committing fraud against one of your creditors) may get you deported. As long as you do not commit a bankruptcy crime you should not have to worry about your immigration status. If you are unsure if you fall under any of these categories, please consult with a bankruptcy attorney before you go forward.