The deferred action for childhood arrivals program, or DACA, provides legal status certain undocumented individuals that were brought to this country as children but have lived here most of their lives. While the future of the program is uncertain, court orders have held the system in stasis for now.
For anyone currently in the DACA program, they must comply with certain requirements and re-apply for the program each year. One of the most important requirements for DACA relates to criminal records.
A criminal conviction for a serious offense like a federal crime or a state felony is likely to result in the cancellation of a person's DACA status. The outcome of a conviction for a misdemeanor is not as clear. Not all misdemeanors are treated equally under the law. This includes charges of driving while intoxicated.
Only misdemeanors that are categorized as “significant” will result in denial of a DACA renewal. Federal guidelines are somewhat broad on what defines a significant misdemeanor, other than it includes any crime that carries a penalty between five days and one year in jail. However, the guidelines do list six distinct types of offenses that are always treated as significant misdemeanors. DWI is one of those six offenses. This is true even if the resulting conviction does not lead to a jail sentence.
Dealing with Consequences
A person convicted of DWI could see their DACA status revoked and the federal government begin deportation proceedings against them. A trial conviction is not the only way a DWI case could result in deportation, however. The government has broad discretion in determining what constitutes a DWI conviction, meaning any form of plea bargain a person might enter into could qualify.
Unfortunately, this includes the use of deferred adjudication for first-time DWI offenders. While the deferred adjudication program is designed to offer first-time offenders a chance to avoid a conviction in their case, successfully completing the process could still result in a conviction in the eyes of immigration officials. This is the case even when a judgment is never entered. The act of pleading guilty, even when that plea is not entered by the court, counts as a conviction in the eyes of immigration officials.
Responding to an Arrest for DWI in Houston
It is worth noting that part of the discretion held by the federal government in these cases could allow for exceptions to be made. Each case is reviewed individually, meaning a DWI conviction might not result in an automatic severance of DACA status. While leniency might be possible, it is risky to assume it could happen in your case.
The good news for DACA recipients that are arrested under suspicion of DWI is that an arrest alone will not trigger the cancellation of their status. Because a conviction is required, every DACA resident has the ability to fight back in their case. If they manage to avoid a conviction on the DWI charge they are facing, they could also avoid any potential action against their DACA status by the government.