How Does Criminal Background Affect U.S. Immigration?

How Can Criminal Background Affect Immigration Status?

Every year, over one million immigrants come to the U.S. come from all over the world in search of a better life and economic opportunities for themselves and their families. Sadly, obtaining permanent residence in America can be a long and arduous process for many noncitizens, leading to disappointment for many hardworking and well-meaning people.

From backlogged bureaucratic processing delays to denied petitions to insufficient documentation or evidence, there are many obstacles that can impact an immigrant's ability to become a lawful permanent resident (LPR) or green card holder in the United States. One factor that can negatively impact a noncitizen’s immigration status is criminal background.

Even if a criminal record entails a single honest mistake, it can be exceedingly difficult for these applicants to reunite with family, seek asylum, or obtain lawful U.S. employment. That’s why it’s crucial for immigrants to seek help from an experienced immigration attorney who can defend their rights in court.

How can criminal records affect immigration status? Keep reading to learn more about what steps immigrants with criminal backgrounds can take to achieve lawful U.S. residency.

3 Crimes That Make Immigrants Inadmissible to the U.S.

Under U.S. immigration law, a criminal record can be considered a “ground of inadmissibility,” meaning that noncitizens with certain criminal histories can be denied lawful U.S. residence regardless of other factors, such as employment opportunities or green card sponsorship from a spouse or family member.

Unfortunately, many deserving immigrants with criminal records are penalized for it. Certain criminal offenses and convictions can make an immigrant inadmissible to the U.S., prohibiting them from successfully applying for a U.S. visa, green card, or other forms of lawful U.S. residence status. The good news is that not all crimes are considered grounds for inadmissibility when it comes to U.S. immigration status.

What criminal convictions can jeopardize a noncitizen’s chances of obtaining lawful U.S. residence? Consider the following 3 criminal convictions that can make noncitizens inadmissible to the United States:

1. Aggravated Felony Convictions

Aggravated felonies are serious criminal offenses that can have significant implications for U.S. immigration status. Such crimes are considered “grounds of inadmissibility” under U.S. immigration law, meaning that a noncitizen with a past conviction for one of these offenses can be prohibited from obtaining lawful U.S. residency (such as through obtaining a green card or work visa).

The list of aggravated felony convictions under U.S. immigration law is quite extensive. Qualifying crimes include (but aren’t limited to):

  • Murder
  • Racketeering
  • Drug trafficking
  • Weapons trafficking
  • Filing a false tax return
  • Sexual abuse of a minor
  • Bribery of U.S government officials
  • Fraud involving more than $10,000 in losses

Being convicted of an aggravated felony offense can result in automatic deportation from the U.S., as well as lifelong ineligibility for U.S. visas and green cards without special waivers granted by the U.S. government on a case-by-case basis.

It’s worth noting that not all criminal offenses constitute an aggravated felony under U.S. immigration law, as many misdemeanor offenses are not automatically considered grounds of inadmissibility. However, such decisions will always be left to the court’s discretion and often hinge on the severity of the offense and other extenuating factors, such as the offender’s age or other unique circumstances of the crime.

Generally, U.S immigration authorities distinguish between “aggravated” and “petty” offenses when determining whether an immigrant is inadmissible or deportable based on their criminal record. The U.S Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) defines aggravated felonies as crimes that involve:

  • Fraud or deceit resulting in a loss amounting to more than $10,000;
  • Malicious intent; and/or
  • Violence against another person.

On the contrary, petty offenses entail crimes that do not meet the criteria above and typically involve less serious violations, such as minor theft charges.

2. Drug-Related Criminal Convictions

Drug crimes are also considered grounds for inadmissibility under U.S. immigration law. Drug-related felony convictions encompass a wide range of offenses, with the most serious being drug trafficking and distribution.

Under U.S. immigration law, any person convicted of a drug-related crime may be deemed inadmissible and subject to removal from the U.S., regardless of their other qualifications or circumstances that would otherwise make them eligible for U.S. citizenship or permanent residency.

Common types of drug crimes that may render an individual inadmissible include the possession, manufacturing, cultivation, sale, transportation, delivery, importation, or distribution of any controlled substance, such as:

  • Heroin
  • Cocaine
  • Marijuana
  • Opium derivatives
  • Any other illegal drugs or narcotics

Additionally, individuals convicted for conspiring to commit such offenses may also be deemed ineligible for U.S. immigration status under this ground of the inadmissibility clause. Even if an individual’s criminal record only involves one conviction related to drugs, regardless of intent or severity, they are still subject to this rule and will likely be denied entry into the United States on these grounds alone.

However, there are certain exceptions where the U.S government may waive this ban depending on unique qualifying factors, such as:

  1. Rehabilitation efforts made by the applicant prior to applying for U.S immigration status; or
  2. Special humanitarian considerations are at play due to extenuating circumstances present in their case.

In short, drug-related criminal convictions can have severe consequences on an individual's eligibility for U.S. immigration status. That’s why it’s imperative to consult with a knowledgeable immigration attorney who can guide your steps accordingly and fight to avoid life-altering penalties, such as removal orders and deportation proceedings.

3. Crimes Involving Moral Turpitude (CIMTs)

Crimes involving moral turpitude (CIMTs) are classified under a broad category of criminal offenses involving conduct considered to be contrary to the standards of justice, honesty, or good morals. A CIMT conviction can result in harsh legal repercussions for immigrants seeking lawful U.S. residence.

Under U.S. immigration law, CIMTs are offenses entailing any behavior or conduct deemed to be morally reprehensible and contrary to the accepted rules of society. Common crimes involving moral turpitude include (but aren’t limited to):

  • Rape
  • Murder
  • Prostitution
  • Kidnapping
  • Manslaughter
  • Sexual assault
  • Fraud or identity theft
  • Larceny or embezzlement
  • Forgery and counterfeiting
  • Procuring U.S. citizenship illegally
  • False statements, perjury, or suborning perjury
  • Assault with intent to commit a felony or serious bodily injury
  • Burglary, robbery, or theft of property over certain value thresholds

CIMTs are considered more serious than many non-CIMT offenses, such as minor misdemeanors like traffic violations and disorderly conduct charges. As such, U.S immigration law holds that certain CIMTs—including those resulting in a sentence exceeding one year in prison—are considered grounds for removal from the U.S., even if an applicant has otherwise proven themselves to be a productive member of society since their conviction or have taken measures toward rehabilitation.

However, not every CIMT warrants inadmissibility or deportation proceedings, as there can be some wiggle room depending on certain extenuating circumstances. It’s best to consult with a trusted immigration lawyer who can help fortify your case with sufficient evidence and advocate on your behalf in court.

Contact a Trusted Charleston Immigration Attorney Today

At Maghzi Law Firm, LLC, we understand how complex and emotionally taxing U.S. immigration processes can be. If you’re a noncitizen with a criminal record, it’s imperative to consult with an experienced immigration attorney. Forgoing your right to strong legal representation as a noncitizen can be a grave error, as it can quickly lead to rejection, loss of lawful immigration status, and even deportation.

Fortunately, our skilled legal advocates can help you better understand your rights and determine whether you qualify for any special waivers or exemptions based on the unique circumstances of your case. As an immigrant herself, our award-winning founding attorney Ameneh Maghzi brings a unique perspective and specialized legal skillset to the table while advocating for the rights of immigrants throughout Charleston and the surrounding areas.

U.S. immigration processes can be overwhelming to navigate alone. Our firm can fight to obtain the favorable outcome you deserve. Call (843) 800-2750 to schedule a consultation with our passionate immigration lawyer.

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