Ask a lawyer: 5 tips for noncitizens in criminal court

Hena Mansori, the head of the new immigration unit at the Cook County Public Defender’s Office, offers advice for noncitizens who come into contact with the justice system.

Cook County residents who are not U.S. citizens – including green card holders – risk being deported if they’re convicted of certain crimes. Defense attorneys and judges are supposed to inform noncitizens if the charges they’re facing could lead to their deportation, but that doesn’t always happen. To address this oversight, the Cook County Public Defender’s Office created a new immigration unit that will work with public defenders, prosecutors and community groups to ensure that noncitizens are warned when a plea deal could hurt their ability to stay in the U.S.

Leer en español

We asked Hena Mansori, the head of the new immigration unit, to offer advice for noncitizens who come into contact with the justice system. The five tips below are based on that conversation. Click here to download a PDF version.


1. Recognize deportable offenses

Learn which offenses can affect your immigration status. There are two common categories of deportable offenses: aggravated felonies, which includes over 30 offenses and crimes of moral turpitude, which can be very vague.

2. Report your status

If arrested, tell your defense attorney that you are not a citizen and provide them with an accurate immigration history. Anything you tell your attorney is confidential and won’t be shared with ICE.

3. Request an immigration attorney

Your defense attorney is obligated to find out the immigration consequences of any pending charges. Ask them to consult an immigration attorney, so you can get accurate advice and avoid collateral consequences.

4. Review any plea deal

Alternative sentences, such as probation, can also count as a conviction under immigration law. Talk with your lawyer about whether any deal could hurt your immigration status. Even if you are a lawful permanent resident, a criminal conviction could complicate tasks, such as traveling out of the country.

5. Know your Rights

Regardless of your immigration status, you have the same rights as anyone else in criminal court, including the right to an attorney.

This article was produced in partnership with Injustice Watch, Report for America and The Chicago Reporter.

Our work is made possible thanks to donations from people like you. Support high-quality reporting by making a tax-deductible donation today.                                                                                                                                    Donate