Depending on whether you love or hate Justin Bieber, news the Canadian citizen had been arrested for driving under the influence in Miami early Thursday likely evoked hope or fear.
If he is convicted of the charges of drunken driving, resisting arrest and driving without a valid license, could he be deported? It was a hypothetical already being tossed around last week, with news that he was being investigated for vandalism after an egg-throwing incident in his Los Angeles neighborhood.
The short answer is probably not. But his case highlights the complexities of the immigration deportation system.
"He's in a better position than a lot of folks," says Kamal Essaheb, an immigration policy attorney at the National Immigration Law Center.
According to the Immigration and Nationality Act, non-citizens may be deported for crimes that involve "moral turpitude," "aggravated felony," a controlled substance, domestic violence, firearms or for other reasons. The categories are as broad and vague as they sound, with usually some overlap, and the specific crimes that qualify for each vary from state to state.
For instance, attracting attention to Bieber's egg-throwing accusations is that California law has vandalism, normally considered a misdemeanor, qualifying as a felony if it exceeds $400 in damage. Some postulated that could make Bieber, if convicted of damages that have been estimated as much as $20,000, subject to deportation.
In the case of Thursday's DUI charges in Florida, first-time DUIs that resulted in no outside injury or death do not by themselves qualify as a deportable offense. For a crime to be considered as involving "moral turpitude" – which, by State Department definition, most commonly involves elements of fraud, larceny and/or the intent to harm persons or things – it typically also invokes a sentence of a year or more; Bieber is facing six months tops if convicted.
While some experts suggest that the resisting arrest charge could qualify as aggravated felony, Florida deportation law is shaky at best on this connection. The most likely situation in which Bieber could be considered for deportation, according to experts, is if he was convicted of both the California vandalism (a charge not yet levied) as well as for the Florida DUI. Even if by themselves not deplorable offenses, two separate incidents could qualify for "moral turpitude."
Of course that's not taking into account many advantages Bieber has that most immigrants facing deportation for criminal convictions don't.
"The multiple crimes could be an angle and certainly for someone who doesn't have a shot lawyers and maybe plead to the vandalism charge and not serve a day in court," Marshall Fitz, the director of immigration policy at the Center for American Progress, says. "That is something that happens day to day."
Indeed Bieber has hired a high powered attorney, one it's safe to assume who will be well versed in both criminal and immigration law to assure that whatever plea bargain is negotiated for Bieber, it does not put his immigration status in jeopardy.
This is not the case for countless other immigrants, who may find themselves pleading guilty for offense in deals that may seem wise in the context of the criminal case, yet still could haunt them in deportation court – even years down the road.
"For the average public defender, they don't understand the what immigration-related consequences of a plea deals are," Fitz says.
Furthermore, Congress can change the rules on you midway through the game, Essaheb says. So an immigrant may plead guilty to an offense that doesn't result in deportation at the time only to face deportation for it years later if new laws decide that it is.
Also important to keep in mind is that once one is being considered for deportation, he or she is not guaranteed the rights commonly associated with the criminal justice system. That could include the right to bail, the right to a speedy trial, the type evidence that can be used, and the right to counsel. Bieber would presumably have his high buck lawyer at his side in the situation that he was facing deportation, but immigration deportation court does not even guarantee a state-granted attorney.