The Criminal Lawyer’s Guide to Immigration Law: Questions and Answers.

(Paperback) Robert James McWhirter, ABA Publishing, 2001, 379 pp., $94.95 ($79.95 for ABA Division for Media Relations and Communication Services members).

In 1996 Congress changed the immigration laws to increase dramatically the negative immigration consequences of both criminal convictions and criminal conduct. Criminal defendants who are not United States citizens can be removed from this country for seemingly minor criminal incidents, often without any prospect for relief. Further, the federal government has in past years devoted more and more resources (especially since September 11) to enforcing these consequences and therefore it is less likely that persons convicted of criminal conduct will be able to fade into the background and avoid removal proceedings. For those who have come to the United States to escape persecution or untenable conditions in their country of origin, the immigration consequences of a criminal conviction can be far more severe and long lasting than any penal consequences they might endure.

As a result, criminal lawyers representing non-U.S. citizen clients must consider both the criminal and the immigration consequences of any disposition they obtain. However, for many attorneys, criminal and otherwise, our country’s complex and constantly changing immigration laws, especially as they relate to criminal conduct, remain an enigma. James McWhirter’s book, The Criminal Lawyer’s Guide to Immigration Law: Questions and Answers, offers some relief, providing a basic “issue spotting” guide to the criminal considerations that must be addressed when dealing with non-U.S. citizens.

The book is set up in an easy-to-read question and answer format. While at first glance this may appear a bit elementary, in actuality, it serves to provide the reader, and anyone not intimately familiar with immigration law, with a quick and easy way to determine the relevant issues concerning immigration and crimes. In addition, the main sections of the statutes dealing with immigration law are reproduced at the end of each section. This provides a useful reference tool for those who do not have them readily at their disposal.

Part I of the book provides an overview of immigration law, a summary of the immigration consequences of criminal convictions, and an analysis of what transpires at border stops. The overview introduces the reader to basic immigration terminology, an explanation of the immigration court system, custody and bond issues as they relate to aliens, removal hearings, and potential relief from removal. This is done in a succinct manner and provides a useful reference for those who need to know the basic concepts of immigration law.

The chapter dealing with the consequences of criminal convictions is basic, as McWhirther admits, due to the fact that a determination of the consequences of a criminal conviction is dependent on the statute of conviction. Accordingly, there is no “norm” or “general rule of thumb” when dealing with the immigration impact of a criminal conviction. In my experience I have found that practitioners want a quick “yes” or “no” answer to address the consequence of a specific conviction or plea. They will not find that here, in essence because it cannot be done without examining the specific statute of conviction. However, the book addresses the major issues of which the practitioner must be aware when dealing with criminal convictions of non-U.S. citizens and it provides a road map on how to analyze a conviction. Further, it provides a summary of the differing results rendered by the various circuit courts on specific issues and crimes.

Part II of the book provides an analysis of immigration crimes – that is, crimes that relate specifically to the aliens themselves, such as the unlawful employment of aliens, unfair immigration-related practices, marriage fraud, and document fraud. Further, an entire chapter is devoted to the procedures surrounding those who have entered this country illegally and those who have been removed and then reentered without permission.

Part III relates to the use of non-citizen witnesses and defendants. Again, the author provides a general outline of the issues involved in these areas, as well as the basic statutes and documents generally relied upon for guidance in this area.

All in all, this book provides a handy reference tool to practitioners who come across immigration issues in their representation of non-citizen clients. It will provide a simple guide to spotting the relevant issues that must be addressed, as well as some of the statutes that govern this area of the law. Further, and perhaps most important, it lists and refers to a wealth of other resources (and they are the ones most heavily relied upon and well-regarded in the field) for those who need more specific information on the topic.