A deportable offense
Immigration issues loom large within the court system in Cook County, where one in five residents was born in another country. Most of those residents live in metro Chicago, which is home to 480,000 green card holders and an estimated 460,000 undocumented immigrants, according to a recent study published by The Chicago Council on Global Affairs.
It’s unclear how many noncitizens are facing criminal charges in Cook County; the circuit court doesn’t track a defendant’s immigration status. An internal survey conducted last year found that Cook County public defenders collectively represented approximately 700 noncitizens from more than 80 different countries in open felony cases.
“All those folks face immigration consequences stemming from that criminal case,” said incoming Cook County Public Defender Sharone Mitchell Jr., who takes the reins April 1.
When it comes to which crimes could get a noncitizen deported, immigration law is both exact and vague. Deportable convictions generally fall under two categories: aggravated felonies — a laundry list of more than 30 types of offenses, including drug trafficking, filing a false tax return, and failing to appear in court — and crimes “involving moral turpitude.”
The latter category is purposely vague; even the Justice Department has said the term is “difficult to define with precision.” Murder and other violent acts are included, but so are nonviolent crimes, such as embezzlement, fraud, forgery, and theft. In the absence of a clear definition, immigration courts make determinations on a case-by-case basis, informed by relevant case law and state criminal statutes.