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Panelists agreed that the intersection of immigration law with other areas of law, particularly criminal law, creates murky waters difficult for lawyers to wade through. "The Immigration Reform Act that was passed on September 30, 1996 really reconfigured the immigration system and made it more complex," said Joanne Macri, chief statewide implementation attorney for the New York Office of Indigent Legal Services. "There are so many different areas (federal and state) that have to be looked at to define whether that immigration consequence is going to be applicable or not." The most common consequences non-citizen immigrants face are ineligibility for immigration court relief, inadmissibility to the U.S. via immigration statuses (e.g. Green Card, Temporary Protective Status), mandatory detention, ineligibility for citizenship, and deportation. The training session, led by James Milstein of the Albany County Regional Immigration Assistance Center, addressed everything from the first questions lawyers must ask non-citizen immigrant clients, to the definitions and immigration consequences of charges like aggravated felonies. For example, non-citizen immigrants face mandatory deportation for committing an aggravated felony. Drug trafficking is considered to be an aggravated felony, and possession with intent to sell has been interpreted to be the equivalent of drug trafficking in immigration law. So if a non-citizen immigrant is found to be in possession of a controlled substance, they can be charged with an aggravated felony and face deportation. Mary Lynch, professor at the Albany Law School Law and Justice Clinic, stressed this chain of definitions and subsequent severe consequences is a result of the criminalization of immigrants. "We wanted folks to recognize that when a citizen does something, it's considered no big deal, but sometimes those same things can get labels under the immigration system that are a very big deal," she said. "So what you consider an aggravated felony for a (non-citizen) immigrant is not what you consider an aggravated felony for a citizen." While the complexities of immigration make it difficult for lawyers to practice, panelists said it is crucial for all lawyers to understand — particularly as U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detains more and more immigrants at state and local criminal, civil and family court rooms.

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