Criminal History and Consequences With Immigration Eligibility

An individual who gets arrested or convicted of any crime in New York or elsewhere is at risk of being unable to enter the United States, become a permanent resident or gain citizenship. Simply, this the cold, frightening and straight truth of immigration law in America today. The effect of an arrest or conviction will vary, depending on the circumstances surrounding the crime and the immigration status of the defendant, but this fact is not one that you should ignore or neglect. To fully understand the consequences of your criminal history on immigration eligibility, the best thing to do is hire an immigration attorney, such as one from Crotty Saland PC. Not a substitute for legal counsel from both a criminal defense attorney or an immigration lawyer, the following overview can provide an idea as to the impact of arrests or convictions.

Effect of an Arrest or Conviction: Getting a Visa or Green Card

An arrest or conviction will primarily affect a visa or Green Card applicant by making them “inadmissible.” Inadmissibility refers to individuals who are deemed by the US immigration authorities to be a threat to the United States in some way (even if there are in fact no threat at all). In most instances, an arrest will not make an individual inadmissible, but a conviction will. But even then, as your immigration attorney will explain, not all convictions will make someone inadmissible.

If an individual is convicted of certain crimes, they are likely to be deemed inadmissible and ineligible to receive a visa or Green Card unless a specific waiver applies. Some of the more common crimes where a conviction will usually lead to inadmissibility include:

  • Crimes Involving Moral Turpitude
  • Almost any drug offense, especially trafficking and sales
  • Two or more convictions where the prison sentences total five years or more
  • Aggravated Felonies

A conviction of a crime isn’t always necessary to make someone inadmissible. If the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) only believe an individual has committed certain crimes, they may still deem that person inadmissible. Some of these crimes include:

  • Money laundering
  • Prostitution
  • Human trafficking
  • Persecution of others based on religion while acting as a government official
Effect of an Arrest or Conviction: Getting US Citizenship (Naturalization)

An effect of an arrest or conviction on naturalization is similar to that of a visa or Green Card; a conviction is what’s most important with respect to affecting an individual’s immigration status. However, an arrest can often be just as damaging when trying to obtain US citizenship, because the applicant must show they are of good moral character.

Almost anything that makes it appear an applicant is not of good moral character may prevent the applicant from becoming a US citizen. However, for most crimes, a conviction is needed. These crimes include:

  • Crime of moral turpitude
  • Almost any drug offense, especially trafficking
  • Two or more convictions where the prison sentences total five years or more
  • Aggravated felony

An aggravated felony conviction is particularly troubling because it can permanently bar an individual from obtaining US citizenship.

For some crimes, a conviction isn’t necessary to bar citizenship. All that’s needed is for the USCIS to have “reason to believe” that certain crimes have taken place. These include:

  • Drug trafficking
  • Prostitution
  • Substance abuse

In these types of cases, once an immigration official has reason to believe the applicant committed a certain offense, the applicant will likely be unable to convince the USCIS that they are of good moral character.

If an applicant has committed a crime that may prevent US citizenship, whether it’s only an arrest or conviction, that doesn’t always mean it’s impossible to become a naturalized citizen. Some bars are only temporary and may last five years, since the examination of an applicant’s moral character only goes back five years (three years in some instances). Additionally, a waiver may also be available. If any of these “exceptions” exist in your application or pursuit for naturalization, consult with your immigration lawyer or risk making a mistake that can jeopardize your ability to secure the legal status you seek.

Effect of an Arrest or Conviction: Removal (Deportation)

As with visa, Green Card and naturalization applications, a conviction is usually what causes the most trouble and will often result in substantial change in an individual’s immigration status. If the conviction is for a Crime Involving Moral Turpitude or Aggravated Felony, it’s very likely it will result in removal. There will be an opportunity to contest the removal decision with your immigration lawyer, but it will be very difficult to do if there is a criminal conviction for an Aggravated Felony or Crime Involving Moral Turpitude.

If a conviction is for a crime that doesn’t qualify as an Aggravated Felony or Crime Involving Moral Turpitude, there’s a much better chance the removal proceedings can be prevented, but it will still be difficult. Again, consult with your immigration attorney to better understand this and other options.

If an individual was arrested (but not convicted) for “conduct based” crimes, or the individual decides to leave the United States and try to return, there can still be problems. This is for two reasons.

First, certain “conduct based” crimes are deportable offenses, even if there is no conviction. These crimes often deal with drug offenses and prostitution. Second, once an individual leaves the United States, they will have to reenter the country. When they do, they will have to show they are not inadmissible. The list of crimes that may make an individual inadmissible is much broader than crimes that will lead to deportation. Therefore, a certain arrest or conviction may not result in deportation or removal, but it can bar reentry to the United States.

Your Criminal History and Your Next Step

It should be overwhelmingly clear that any criminal history can lead you down the road to inadmissibility or deportation. The consequences are both grave and serious. It is of critical importance that should you have a criminal history or currently have a pending criminal case that you resolve your case in a manner that limits your exposure to deportation or inadmissibility. Be smart. Be careful. Be cautious. Retain immigration lawyers and consult with immigration attorneys or forever know that the mistakes and decisions you made sent you from the United States against your will or left you inadmissible in perpetuity.

Call the New York immigration lawyers and former New York City prosecutors at (212) 312-7129 or contact us online today.

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