Consequences of Criminal Convictions
Many individuals contact our office seeking to petition for Citizenship or simply seek advice about an expired Green Card. They are often concerned that a crime that they have committed may preclude them from obtaining their desired immigration benefit, or worse, placed them in removal proceedings. If you have been convicted of a crime and are in this situation, be aware that you do have a legitimate concern!
For example, when you petition for Naturalization (Citizenship), your application will be reviewed for crimes that you have been convicted of, or committed within the last five years leading up to the application. (INA 316)
However, the five years leading up to the petition is not an exclusive rule, and certain crimes like aggravated felonies (i.e. trafficking in controlled substance, certain crimes of violence or theft crimes, etc.), may cause denial of your application no matter when they were committed. But more importantly, convictions for such crimes, or even a drug offense, could trigger deportation proceedings once the application is reviewed and the prior conviction is revealed. So not only will your application be denied, but you may end up deported.
Another example involves expired green cards. Normally, applying to renew an expired green card will not trigger deportation proceedings. However, let’s say that you failed to renew your green card and also committed a drug crime some time prior to your renewal application. The application will trigger a review that will review your conviction for a drug crime, which is a deportable offense no matter when it happened.
There are many nuances to the laws stated above. For example, was the crime or conduct in question something that would be considered lacking in good moral character? (INA 101f) If so, then in a petition for Naturalization the most relevant (but not exclusive) period in question will be the five years preceding the application.
Or, was the drug crime you committed one that was punishable by imprisonment for over one year? If so, it could trigger deportation proceedings, even if you received a withhold of adjudication, had your record sealed, or even completed a diversion program at the end of which the case was dismissed!
These are all reasons why it is important to call an experienced criminal and immigration attorney before you plea to any crimes and submit an application for Citizenship.