If you are not a U.S. citizen, arrests and criminal convictions – even for things that happened a long time ago or things that seem very minor – can have a major impact on your immigration status. The intersection of criminal and immigration laws is extremely complicated, and the rules change frequently.
The attorneys at Lisa Green & Associates, P.C. have extensive experience analyzing the immigration consequences of criminal charges and advising criminal defense attorneys and noncitizens about these consequences.
Certain criminal acts and convictions can make a person “inadmissible,” meaning ineligible for a visa, a green card, or admission to the United States after travel abroad. Crimes can also make a person “removable” from the United States. This is true even for people who have their green card. Green card holders, also known as Lawful Permanent Residents (LPRs), can be placed in removal proceedings if they are convicted of certain types of crimes. Even a municipal conviction for shoplifting or a conviction for possession of a small amount of drugs can lead to deportation.
Certain criminal convictions are not serious enough to make a person inadmissible or deportable, but they can still impact whether a person will receive certain immigration benefits. First, an applicant is ineligible for certain benefits, such as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), Temporary Protected Status, or naturalization (citizenship), if they have been convicted of certain crimes. Second, some benefits are granted in DHS’s or in an immigration judge’s “discretion.” This means that DHS and immigration judges will decide if they think you “deserve” whatever benefit you are seeking. They will look at your convictions, some of which can weigh very heavily against you.
For example, under current law, a conviction for Driving Under the Influence (DUI) does not make a person inadmissible or deportable, but it does make a person ineligible for DACA. Though it would not make someone automatically ineligible to naturalize, a DUI would make it very hard to show that the applicant “deserves” to become a citizen. Very few people are granted citizenship if they have a DUI on their record, especially if it happened recently.
If you are not a U.S. citizen and you have ever been arrested, charged with a crime, or convicted of a crime, you should consult with an experienced immigration lawyer before you:
Enter a plea in a criminal case or decide to take the case to trial. In addition to seeking advice from a criminal defense attorney, you should also consult with an experienced immigration attorney. Criminal and immigration laws are different and it is critical to get advice from both a criminal defense attorney and an immigration attorney. A plea that might be a great deal from a criminal-law perspective because it results in little jail time may be a very bad deal from an immigration-law perspective.
Submit any kind of application to United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, including applications for a green card or green card renewal, naturalization, and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). Instead of getting the benefit you are seeking, your application could result in your deportation. On the other hand, waivers of criminal convictions are available in some situations, and a qualified immigration attorney can tell you if you may qualify to apply for a waiver.
Travel outside the United States. If you have a green card but have been convicted of a crime after you received the green card, you could be denied admission at the border or airport and placed in removal proceedings.
Appear in immigration court after you have been placed in removal proceedings. Even if you have been charged as deportable based on a criminal conviction, with the help of an experienced immigration attorney, you may be able to fight your case and remain in the United States.
Decide whether to expunge or seal criminal records. While expunging or sealing records may have some positive effects, like making it easier to get a job, expunged and sealed convictions are still considered convictions under immigration law. Sometimes, sealing records can even make your immigration process more complicated.