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While getting pulled over and arrested for a DUI can be a terrifying experience for anyone, undocumented immigrants may have additional concerns; namely that the arrest may result in their deportation from the United States and being separated from their families. While most standard first-time DUI convictions will not be grounds for deportation, there is always a risk that United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (“ICE”) will be alerted to the arrest and may have the undocumented immigrant removed from the country.
In the past ICE would have had access to all of the individuals booked or sentenced to jail on a particular criminal offense. However, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors recently voted to end the program that allows ICE agents to work in Los Angeles County jails and review inmates’ immigration statuses in order to deport them once they have been released from custody. The Board of Supervisors also voted to adopt a policy similar to the United States Priority Enforcement Program that would place undocumented immigrants who commit serious or violent offense at the front of the line for deportation, and may deprioritize less serious offenses such as driving under the influence. As a result of these policy changes, while it is still possible for ICE to learn about an undocumented immigrant who has been arrested for DUI, it is not likely that ICE will be taking immediate removal action against the immigrant.
In California, undocumented immigrants used to be unable to obtain driver’s licenses. However, California recently passed AB 60 which now makes undocumented immigrants eligible for driver’s licenses. Since the adoption of AB 60, nearly half a million undocumented immigrants in California have received driver’s licenses. This was a significant issue for immigrants, because while DUI may not make someone subject to removal, driving without a valid license is an offense that the United States government considers deportable.
Undocumented immigrants who are convicted of a standard, first-time DUI offense usually will not be considered a deportation priority. However, there may be aggravating circumstances that could be grounds for deportation or exclusion from admission for undocumented immigrants and even immigrants who may legally be in the United States. If the driver was involved in a hit and run and has been charged with this offense, he or she may be subject to removal. In addition, if there were drugs involved or other facts that would show a crime of moral turpitude, the immigrant may also be subject to removal proceedings.
Someone who has been deported from the United States may be barred from reentering the U.S. for several years, especially if they did not enter legally in the first place. In addition, undocumented immigrants who are convicted of DUI would be subject to the usual consequences of a DUI conviction, including a driver’s license suspension, a mandatory alcohol education program, expensive court fines, possible jail time or community service/labor and any other requirement of probation that the Court may choose to impose on the defendant.