Conviction of criminal offenses is one of the most obvious obstacles to entering or remaining in the United States, and can affect the eligibility of any non-citizen, even long-time permanent residents (green card holders), to continue living in the United States. In addition, criminal misconduct that does not result in a conviction can still cause a person to be inadmissible to or deportable from the United States. Certain criminal behavior can disqualify people for privileges and benefits under the Immigration and Nationality Act, such as nonimmigrant and immigrant visas, certain types of relief from removal, and naturalization (citizenship). Moreover, criminal activity can lead to immediate and prolonged detention. Even seemingly minor crimes, “expunged” convictions, and criminal sentences of probation can yield very serious consequences. Many of these immigration consequences may be avoided by consulting an immigration attorney, who can work in partnership with the individual’s criminal attorney and advise them on how the individual’s criminal case can impact his or her immigration status. Accordingly, it is important that non-citizens contact an immigration attorney immediately upon any contact with the police or other such authorities.
Once an individual’s criminal case concludes, an immigration attorney can determine the consequences of the conviction, if any, under the Immigration and Nationality Act. Individuals who have engaged in criminal activity face expulsion from the United States as either inadmissible or deportable individuals. With some exceptions, this determination is made in the context of removal proceedings in front of the Immigration Judge. An immigration attorney can represent the individual in defending against the charges of inadmissibility or deportability and in seeking relief from removal for which the individual may be eligible. Even if he or she is placed in proceedings in Immigration Court, an immigration attorney can also advise the individual regarding the effects of a conviction on applications for immigration benefits or travel outside of the United States. Certain grounds of inadmissibility can be “waived” or pardoned by submitting waiver applications in conjunction with visa applications or applications for relief from removal. Thus, it is always important to consult with an immigration attorney upon any criminal misconduct or contact with law enforcement authorities.