Immigration and a Criminal Record: Applying for a Green Card or Seeking Citizenship

Whether you are a legal immigrant or an illegal immigrant to the US, an arrest, conviction, or criminal record can put your immigration status at risk.  Such a run-in with the law can lock you out of future immigration benefits or put you at higher risk of deportation.

On the other hand, not every crime, civil violation, or ticket will automatically prevent you from being granted an immigration benefit.

Giselle M. Rodriguez is a Boston immigration lawyer in Jamaica Plain who helps clients with the full range of immigration challenges, including a criminal history. She is bilingual (English & Spanish). Contact Giselle today to discuss your case, or read on to learn more.

Two quick notes:
1: We can meet in-person, on Zoom, or by phone.
2: My legal fees DO include the translations of relevant documents.

Which crimes will prevent you from getting a green card?

There are three types of crimes that can keep you from receiving a green card. The first is an aggravated felony. These are murder, drug trafficking, racketeering, firearms trafficking, human trafficking, child pornography, fraud of $10K or more, falsifying a tax return, violence, theft, burglary, resisting arrest, helping to smuggle an alien into the United States, and sexual abuse of a minor.

The second is a “crime of moral turpitude,” which is any crime committed with “evil intent.” Those include murder, rape, fraud, and animal abuse.

The third is a “relevant drug crime.” That means any violation of federal drug laws.

Convictions in other nations also count, in that they are likely to affect your green card eligibility in the US

Which crimes will prevent you from obtaining US citizenship?

Every crime that would prevent you from getting a green card would also prevent you from obtaining US citizenship.

There is also a whole host of crimes that can complicate your application and give the USCIS grounds to deny it. For example, prostituting yourself or hiring a prostitute, spending 180 days incarcerated for any crime, being convicted for 2 or more crimes that landed you in jail for five years or more, or illegal gambling can harm your chances of achieving US citizenship.

You are required to show that you have established good moral character before you can become a citizen, and you must have done so for a period of three to five years.

Which crimes will lead to deportation from the US?

If you are an illegal immigrant almost any crime can result in deportation, because it will draw the attention of immigration officials.

If you are a legal immigrant, human trafficking, smuggling, fraud, domestic violence, any crime of moral turpitude, drug crimes, firearms trafficking, money laundering, espionage, terrorism, sabotage, rape, and murder are likely to result in your deportation.

Is marijuana a problem for getting a green card or US citizenship?

Marijuana can create a major obstacle for you. Any criminal record involving marijuana will harm your efforts. Even wearing marijuana paraphernalia or creating social media posts that support marijuana legalization can compel an immigration officer to deny your application.

Though many states have made marijuana legal at the state level and refuse to prosecute marijuana crimes, marijuana is still illegal at the federal level. Immigration is a federal issue and therefor is governed by federal laws.

Can dropped or dismissed criminal charges create problems?

Dropped or dismissed charges do get immigrants into trouble. During your immigration interview you will be asked if you’ve ever been arrested, or if you’ve ever been charged with a crime.  Many immigrants answer “no” without thinking, in the belief that their dropped or dismissed charges don’t count.

The trouble is that dropped or dismissed charges DO count, and immigration officers want to know about them, in which case immigration officers will accuse you of lying to them. That can result in a denial of your application or immigration benefit.  Even traffic tickets can get you into trouble if you fail to disclose them fully and accurately.

How can an immigration attorney help with your criminal record?

It depends. Sometimes there is very little we can do. Sometimes there is much we can do. For example, if your drug conviction was for 30 grams or less of marijuana for your own personal use, you can apply for a waiver.

If you committed a first offense and smuggled an alien into the United States who happened to be your spouse, child, or parent, that is an example of a situation in which I may be able to help.

Either way, if you have committed a crime you should seek legal advice before attempting to apply for any immigration benefit, not after. Together, we’ll go over your options, discuss what you need to do next, and work to help you bring your case to its best outcome. You can contact my office today.