Any time a foreign national is convicted of a crime, whether it is a misdemeanor or a felony, there are potential immigration consequences. Among these is the possibility that your green card renewal application will be denied. At that point, there is a strong possibility that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) will begin deportation (removal) proceedings against you.
How Crimes Are Discovered During the Green Card Renewal Process
Permanent residents must renew their green cards every ten years by filing Form I-90 with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). In doing so, you will be required to undergo "biometrics," which includes fingerprinting.
Your name and fingerprints will be provided to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), which will check them against the many law enforcement agency databases. Ultimately, if you have a criminal record, it will be discovered. The good news is, only a few types of misdemeanors typically create serious immigration problems for people who do not have any other criminal history.
Definition of a Misdemeanor Under U.S. Immigration Law
Under U.S. immigration law, a misdemeanor means a crime that is either:
- punishable by imprisonment for a term of one year or less, or
- punishable by more than one year's imprisonment, but defined by the state as a misdemeanor, so long as the sentence actually imposed was one year or less.
When a Misdemeanor May Also Be Considered a More Serious Crime
Despite the above definition, immigration laws (which are federal) differ from laws in the various U.S. states such that even a misdemeanor under a particular state's law can be deemed an aggravated felony or other serious crime for immigration purposes. Situations of this sort can lead to denial of the green card renewal as well as removal (deportation) from the United States.
There are three types of misdemeanor charges that can potentially result in serious immigration consequences for a lawful permanent resident trying to renew a green card:
1. crimes involving moral turpitude
2. crimes of violence, and
3. controlled substance (drug) violations.
Consequences of a Misdemeanors Being Seen as a Crime Involving Moral Turpitude
Any time a non-citizen is convicted of two crimes involving moral turpitude that did not arise from a single act/scheme of misconduct, the DHS will initiate removal proceedings. This is true even if the crimes are misdemeanors.
However, a conviction of just one misdemeanor crime involving moral turpitude when a state statute provides for a maximum sentence of one year or less is not grounds for the DHS to initiate removal proceedings.
Consequences of a Misdemeanor Being Seen as a Crime of Violence
Any conviction for a crime that is determined to be a crime of violence, regardless of whether the individual state classifies the offense as a misdemeanor is, for immigration purposes, an aggravated felony. If you are accused of a misdemeanor crime alleged by DHS to be a crime of violence, contact an immigration attorney immediately. The penalty for an aggravated felony is removal from the U.S. , and relief is available only in extremely limited circumstances.
Consequences of a Misdemeanor Being Seen as a Controlled Substance (Drug) Violation
Any conviction for a controlled substance violation (a crime involving drugs, including paraphernalia), with the exception of simple possession of less than 30 grams of marijuana, is grounds for denial of your green card renewal and the commencement of removal proceedings. This is true regardless of whether your state’s law classifies the crime as a misdemeanor.
Note: Although possession of less than 30 grams of marijuana is not grounds for denial of your green and removal, it is grounds for inadmissibility. So, if you travel outside the U.S. after such an offense, you may be found inadmissible upon attempting to return, which will require you to apply for a waiver of inadmissibility. You can learn about inadmissibility and available waivers at Immigrant Inadmissibility to the U.S.
What Will Happen if I Don’t Renew My Green Card?
While an expired green card does not mean that your lawful permanent resident status has also expired, failure to renew is regarded as a misdemeanor crime in itself. By law, you are required to carry a valid green card with you at all times. If you cannot produce one, you could again encounter problems with law enforcement or run into employment and travel problems.
If there is a chance you face immigration consequences because of a misdemeanor crime, you should contact an attorney to help you evaluate your situation before filing your green card renewal application.
An experienced attorney can help you to establish grounds to prove your crime is technically not among the removable offences described above or some other form of defense against allegations that DHS may set forth.