How Can Criminal Charges Affect Immigration Proceedings?

If you have a criminal history, you need to speak with an experienced immigration attorney before applying for citizenship or being involved in other immigration proceedings.  If the crime is considered serious, you risk not only being denied citizenship, but having your green card taken away from you and being deported.  Immigration laws are very complex and each unique situation will be treated differently based on how the case is presented.  This is important to keep in mind while we discuss the basics of how criminal charges can affect immigration proceedings.

Having “Good Moral Character”

In order to be granted U.S. citizenship or to be successful in other immigration proceedings, you need to prove that you have Good Moral Character (GMC), which the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) describes as “character which measures up to the standards of average citizens of the community in which the applicant resides.”  This is determined by reviewing your record, statements, and oral testimony.

The Statutory Period for GMC

In general, your GMC is determined through your actions in the past 5 years.  This means that if you have criminal charges from over five years ago, they may be dismissed when determining your GMC.  However, the USCIS policy manual states that “conduct prior to the GMC period may affect the applicant’s ability to establish GMC if the applicant’s present conduct does not reflect a reformation of character or the earlier conduct is relevant to the applicant’s present moral character.”  This is very vague and open to interpretation, and you could be judged by a variety of factors such as your family background, education level, employment history, community involvement, and length of time in the United States. 

Criminal Charges That Affect Immigration Proceedings

If a U.S. court gave you a formal judgment of guilt or imposed some form of penalty, it will be taken into consideration in immigration proceedings.  If you received a criminal charge under the age of 18, it only constitutes a conviction if you were tried as an adult.  Any criminal charges outside of the U.S. will affect you if they’re considered criminal by U.S. standards, regardless of any foreign pardons or expungements.  Some criminal charges that are considered “aggravated felonies” permanently prevent individuals from proving GMC.  Other criminal charges can make you ineligible in proving GMC for five years.  The complexity of immigration laws makes it crucial for you to speak with an immigration attorney in order to prove your GMC. 

How To Protect Yourself In Immigration Proceedings

There are facts in each specific case that can help you in proving GMC if an experienced attorney who understands this area of law presents the case.  The Law Office of Elizabeth A. Lawrence offers high-quality legal representation, personal attention, and professionalism to help defend those who need it most.  Click here or call (410) 986-0088 to consult with an experienced attorney today.

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