A few years ago actor Russell Crowe was arrested in New York for throwing a telephone at a desk clerk. He was charged with felony assault and criminal possession of a weapon. Crowe not only faced years of jail time, but deportation from the U.S. as an “aggravated felon,” cutting off his ability to pursue his lucrative movie career in the U.S. In the end Crowe copped a plea to misdemeanor assault, avoiding a felony conviction, prison time, and a one-way ticket back to Australia. Appearing on the Late Show with David Letterman, Crowe described his behavior as "spectacularly stupid ... the most shameful situation I've ever gotten into in my life."
Justin Bieber, who is in the U.S. based on his status as an “alien of extraordinary ability” might want to take a moment to consider that legally he is a guest in this country. And a guest who wears out his legal welcome runs the risk of being shown the door.
- David Leopold
Which brings me to Justin Bieber, who was charged in Miami Beach Thursday afternoon with drag-racing (apparently in a Lamborghini on a quiet residential street), drunk driving, and resisting arrest. Bieber also reportedly admitted to the police that he had been smoking marijuana, taking prescription drugs, and drinking. Not a good combination under the best of circumstances, but worse when it involves a foreign national like Justin Bieber, a citizen of Canada, who could face deportation as a result of his actions.
The good news for Bieber is that convictions for driving under the influence of alcohol, reckless driving, and resisting arrest without violence, while certainly nothing to be proud of, will not likely lead to Bieber’s removal from the U.S. That’s because the Florida misdemeanor offenses do not fall under the provisions of the immigration law that govern deportation. When it comes to crime, the immigration law is chiefly focused on crimes involving moral turpitude and aggravated felonies, not regulatory or traffic violations.
And it’s a good thing for Bieber that while he allegedly resisted arrest, he wasn’t violent with the police. In Florida, resisting arrest with violence is a felony punishable by up to 5 years in the state prison. Should Bieber have been charged, convicted and sentenced to a year or more in jail, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) would have likely tried to deport him for conviction of a crime involving moral turpitude or as an “aggravated felon.” Resisting arrest with violence could be interpreted by the government as “crime of violence” under the immigration law.
A conviction for a crime of violence coupled with a sentence of a year or more is considered an aggravated felony under the immigration law—even if the offense is a misdemeanor under state law, and even if the judge suspends any part of the sentence. Further, Bieber would have had to defend himself from inside an immigration detention facility. That’s because a noncitizen charged with deportation for an aggravated felony conviction is generally not eligible for bail until the deportation case is concluded.
But Bieber doesn’t have to be convicted of a crime to endure adverse immigration consequences. He reportedly admitted to the Miami Beach police that he’d been smoking marijuana. Such an admission could complicate Bieber’s ability to reenter the United States after traveling abroad or lead to the denial of future immigration benefits, such as a green card.
Thursday morning’s Miami Beach incident follows a raid on Bieber’s Los Angeles home by detectives looking for evidence that he was involved in an egg-tossing vandalism incident which caused thousands of dollars in damage to a neighbor’s home. Although charges have not been filed in that case, a conviction for felony vandalism could lead to detention and deportation by immigration authorities.
Would Justin Bieber be treated any differently if he were not a famous pop-star? Imagine instead that he were an ordinary Latino or an African American male drag-racing at 4:00 a.m. in an affluent Miami Beach neighborhood. The answer to that question is far beyond the scope of this Op-Ed. But one thing is certain, Justin Bieber, who is in the U.S. based on his status as an “alien of extraordinary ability” might want to take a moment to consider that legally he is a guest in this country. And a guest who wears out his legal welcome runs the risk of being shown the door.
David Leopold is the former national president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association and currently practices immigration law in Cleveland, Ohio.