Justin Bieber’s recent arrest in Miami has left many of his young fans disappointed, but they aren’t the only one’s concerned with the pop star’s “good moral character”. Bieber, a Canadian, is reportedly in the U.S. on an O-1 visa which is issued to those who have shown extraordinary ability in the arts. Despite his talent he is not exempt from the strict prohibitions against criminal activity in our immigration laws.
Bieber was arrested on January 23rd for a DUI and resisting arrest. Although the DUI is not an offense that would make him deportable, the charge of resisting arrest may, depending on state law. Florida law provides for resisting arrest both with and without violence. Bieber was charged with resisting arrest without violence. A charge under this provision of the law is not likely to be construed as an aggravated felony or a crime of moral turpitude, both of which, under certain circumstances, can make a person deportable or prevent them from gaining reentry to the US after foreign travel, or permanent residence in the future.
Of more concern is the marijuana that police found, earlier this month, at the singer’s home while conducting a search pursuant to a warrant. The Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) makes conviction for possession of a controlled substance, except for 30 grams or less of marijuana for personal use, a deportable offense if committed by a non-citizen. Likewise, such a conviction could result in refusal of admission to the US. Depending on the amount of marijuana and who the police attribute its ownership to, Bieber could be facing serious immigration consequences. Even if not convicted, the incident may have consequences for the star. The INA gives immigration officers broad discretion to deny entry into the U.S. of a non-citizen who the officer knows or “has reason to believe” is a drug trafficker, abuser or addict. No conviction is required for a non-citizen to be denied entry or permanent residence on this basis.
Finally, this rash of trouble with the law reflects poorly on Bieber’s so called “discretionary” factors. In nearly all applications for admission or for permanent residence, immigration officers examine the totality of a person’s immigration and criminal history to determine if “discretion” warrants grant of a benefit. While there are guidelines and precedent on “discretion” the determination is still largely up to individual immigration officers. Drag racing, drinking and drugs may leave Bieber with more than just teenagers disappointed in his choices.
by Attorney Samantha Hechtman