Criminal History and Immigration Consequences

Criminal History and Immigration Consequences

Can you still get a visa, green card, or become a U.S. citizen if you have criminal convictions? Yes…but any contact with law enforcement makes your immigration case MUCH riskier and you need to make sure you fully understand the immigration consequences of any and all prior contact with law enforcement before seeking an immigration benefit. 

The intersection of immigration law and criminal history is worthy of several volumes of explanation, but we only have a few paragraphs together today, so here are the highlights:

  • When immigration asks about “criminal history” they want to know about ANY contact you’ve ever had with law enforcement. That means all arrests and/or charges, regardless of the outcome. 
  • Immigration does not care if your criminal record has been sealed or expunged.  You are required to tell immigration about ALL prior criminal history.  If you leave out sealed or expunged records, immigration may say that you have lied to them. And lying to immigration is very, very bad for your case. 
  • A case that was “dismissed” by a state court may still count as a conviction for immigration purposes.  The analysis of what counts as a conviction is really complex and involves a careful analysis of the court records for any particular case. 

Criminal history is important in immigration cases for three distinct reasons:

  1. Good Moral Character – Some immigration cases require you to prove you are a person of “good moral character.” This is a vague term that isn’t well defined and any prior contact with law enforcement will impact this “good moral character” analysis.
  2. Admission to the United States – If you want a green card or certain other benefits, you have to prove that you don’t have criminal convictions that make you ineligible for “admission” to the United States. Some types of criminal history will forever make you ineligible. Other types of criminal history will make you ineligible, but you can ask for a waiver.  And some types of criminal activity will have no impact on your ability to get a green card. 
  3. Deportation – Certain types of criminal history can get you deported, even if you’re already living and working legally in the United States.  It is critical that you understand your criminal history before sending in an immigration application. If not, you could send in your application and instead of getting approval, you could end up in deportation proceedings. That’s a nightmare scenario and no one wants that to happen!

As you can see, the consequences of criminal activity on an immigration application cover a huge range of possibilities. Some contact with law enforcement will have no negative impact on your immigration case. Other types of criminal history can get you deported. And there is a world of other possibilities between those two extremes.  

Each case is unique, and a very detailed analysis of your prior contact with law enforcement is critical to the success of your immigration case.  If you learn nothing else today, please remember this – CALL YOUR LAWYER. Don’t try to do your immigration case alone if you have ever, ever had contact with law enforcement. 

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