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Crimes and their immigration impact on Green Cards

All immigrants, including those with green cards, can be deported if they violate U.S. immigration laws or are convicted of certain crimes. In fact, the most common reason for people to be placed into removal proceedings is because there is evidence that they have been convicted of what is called a "crime of moral turpitude" or an "aggravated felony." In addition, certain crimes are specifically listed as being grounds for deportation.  This situation is highlighted by the following case study found here.

There are certain criminal convictions that will cause a person who has not left the country after committing the crime to get deported.  A longer list of crimes can get an immigrant deported if he or she leaves the country, comes back, and is put into removal proceedings upon return.  

"Crimes of moral turpitude" are not well defined in U.S. immigration law. However, the Department of State has provided guidance, noting that the most common elements of a moral turpitude crime will include "fraud, larceny, and intent to harm persons or things." Crimes involving dishonesty and theft will almost always be considered crimes of moral turpitude. Other examples would be assault with the intent to rob or kill, spousal abuse, and aggravated driving under the influence ("DUI" or "DWI"). 

Immigration law provides that a crime can escape classification as a crime of moral turpitude if it is a "petty offense", that is if the penalty for the crime committed could never exceed one year of imprisonment, and if any time the person actually served in prison was less than six months.

There are two different ways that committing a crime of moral turpitude will put you into removal (deportation) proceedings:

1) You commit a crime of moral turpitude during the first five years after your admission to the United States.

2) You commit two or more crimes of moral turpitude that did not arise out of a single scheme of criminal misconduct at any time after your admission to the United States.

There are a few situations in which you may be able to ask to apply or reapply for a green card as a defense to deportation along with a "212(h) waiver" despite having committed a crime of moral turpitude. (A "waiver" is a form of legal forgiveness.) To qualify for a 212(h) waiver, you cannot be a threat to national security. In addition, if you are a green card holder, you must never have committed an aggravated felony, and you must have lived within the U.S. in lawful status continuously for at least seven years before the deportation case was brought against you. The aggravated felony bar and the seven-year rule do not apply if you are not a green card holder.

If your crime was related to prostitution, or was committed more than 15 years before you applied to adjust or re-adjust your status, all you need is for the judge to decide you deserve the waiver. Likewise, if you qualify for adjustment or re-adjustment under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) because you suffered physical or emotional abuse at the hands of a U.S. citizen or permanent resident spouse or parent, all you need is the judge's approval.

Otherwise, you can get a 212(h) waiver only if you can show that your deportation would cause extreme hardship to your U.S. citizen or lawfully resident spouse, parent, son, or daughter.

The full list of crimes that are considered aggravated felonies under immigration law (which is different from criminal law) is extensive and may be found in the Immigration and Nationality Act at I.N.A. § 101(a)(43). 

If you were convicted of an aggravated felony at any time, there will be very little that you can do to avoid deportation, unless you can prove it is more likely than not that you would be tortured in your native country upon return. A waiver to return to the U.S. will not be available for any purpose.

The full list of crimes and other grounds of deportability is in Section 237 of the I.N.A. It lists things like drug crimes, illegal firearms possession or sales, espionage, domestic violence, stalking, child abuse or neglect, human trafficking, terrorist activity, and more. By listing them separately, however, the law ensures that immigrants cannot attempt to defend against deportation by arguing about whether or not the conviction should count as a crime of moral turpitude or aggravated felony. 

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