A person who is not a citizen of the United States—even one who is legally residing in this country—can be permanently deported if he or she has committed certain crimes. I discussed thisin greater detail last year. Immigration law is administered by the federal government but most often, a person is deported because he or she was convicted of a criminal act under state statute. While some of the federally enumerated deportable offenses are unambiguous and are consistent across states, such as assaultor kidnapping, other crimes may be punished differently in different states. Among the crimes for which a person may be deported under federal law are “aggravated felonies.” An “aggravated felony” is a “crime of violence” for which the punishment is one year or more.
But what is a “crime of violence?” Under federal statute a felony that “by its nature, involves a substantial risk that physical force against the person or property of another may be used in the course of committing the offense.” (18 U.S.C. §16(b).) So, would it be a crime of violence if a person was arrested for threatening to harm another? Or would a conviction of first-degree burglaryin California be a crime of violence even though no violence was committed during the burglary? (In California, a first-degree burglary is the unlawful entry into an occupied residence with the intent to commit a felony or theft.)
It is true that the majority of individuals deported under U.S. immigration law are deported after being convicted of a crime specifically enumerated in the federal code, such as rape, murder, assault, and so on. But some convictions do not fall under any specifically enumerated crime of violence. It is those types of crimes under which 18 U.S.C. §16(b) is applied in deportation proceedings.