Shoplifting may sound like a petty crime. It is not as grave of an offense as murder, rape or molestation of a minor. But by immigration standards, it is a crime involving moral turpitude. A crime involving moral turpitude goes into the grain of one’s moral and ethical conduct as a person. Commission of crimes involving moral turpitude can cause one to lose his green card or bar any efforts towards US citizenship.
In Michigan, shoplifting, also known as “retail fraud,” happens when a person takes or conceals something that is offered to the public for sale. You do not have to leave the store with the item, it is sufficient that you altered, transferred, removed and replaced, concealed or otherwise misrepresents the price of an item with the intent to steal or take away an item without intention of paying it.
Depending on the value of the item fraudulently obtained, the perpetrator can be penalized with jail time, heavy fines and/or civil restitution. If the value of the item taken is $1,000 or more, the charge becomes first-degree shoplifting, a felony, punishable by imprisonment of at least one year.
If the value of the item shoplifted is $200 or more but less than $1,000, the charge is second-degree shoplifting, a misdemeanor punishable by a maximum sentence of one year. If the value is less than $200, the offense is shoplifting in the third degree, and the maximum possible sentence is up to 93 days in jail.
All these three degrees in shoplifting have detrimental effects on immigration. First, shoplifting an 18K diamond ring costing $3000, a felony for which imprisonment can be imposed for more than a year, will directly send the immigrant to removal proceedings. It does not matter that a green card has already been issued.
An alien who commits a theft offense with sentence conviction of 365 days or more is an aggravated felon. If caught and convicted, the crime is classified as aggravated felony for which there is no other recourse but deportation. Second, a stolen pair of silver earrings costing $300 will cause one to be convicted of a misdemeanor. But since the highest penalty that can be imposed for second-degree shoplifting is one year or 365 days, one can still be sentenced to 365 days and be classified as an aggravated felon, causing her to be removed from the United States.
In immigration, a misdemeanor may fall under the category of “aggravated felony.” If sentenced to less than a year but six months or more, an immigrant can still be placed in removal proceedings for having committed a crime involving moral turpitude. Finally, shoplifting a pair of costume jewelry earring costing $30 or $3 might sound petty but will surely cause one’s US citizenship application to fail.
Assessment of one’s good moral character is discretionary on the part of the interviewing officer. He can recommend the denial of the application based on one’s failure to comply with the standards of good moral character.