KAREN LOCKE / ISTOCKPHOTO.COM
Crossing the border
with old convictions
Skeletons in the closet render foreign nationals inadmissible to U.S.
Gone are the days of simply stating one’s cit-
izenship and entering the U.S. The Western Hemisphere
Travel Initiative (WHTI), now in effect for over a year,
requires all travellers to present a passport or other docu-
ment that denotes identity and citizenship when
entering the U.S.
Foreign nationals’ passports are swiped against
a comprehensive database that reveals criminal
and immigration violations throughout the world.
Many foreign nationals, who have crossed the bor-
der dozens of times without incident, now find
they are inadmissible to the U.S. due to an old
Foreign nationals are often shocked to learn
they are no longer able to enter the U.S. to vaca-
tion, shop or work due to a criminal conviction
that may be over 25 years old. In general, the U.S. Immi-
gration and Nationality Act (INA) deems inadmissible
those individuals convicted of committing, or having
admitted to committing, crimes involving moral turpi-
tude (CIMTs). Seemingly minor offences can become big
challenges, since even a single CIMT can trigger inadmis-
sibility. The INA regulations do not acknowledge foreign
pardons, so even if a conviction has been fully pardoned
in Canada, it remains on a foreign national’s record at the
international border crossings.
While no comprehensive list of CIMTs exists,
there are general categories into which these
crimes typically fall. The most common elements
involving moral turpitude are: fraud, larceny and
intent to harm persons or things. However, even
within these elements, the case is rarely clear.
For example, burglary is considered to be a
CIMT, while breaking and entering is not. Likewise,
fraud is considered to be a CIMT, but passing “bad
cheques” is not. Major crimes such as kidnapping,
rape, prostitution and murder are all clearly CIMTs.
If a foreign national has a conviction for a CIMT,
he or she has two options: 1) obtain a non-immigrant
waiver, which is a document issued by the Department of
Homeland Security which acknowledges and waives the
underlying criminal offense; or 2) investigate whether the
underlying conviction falls under the limited “Petty Offence
See Convictions Page 15