Can a DUI/DWI Lead to Revocation of Your Green Card?

A green card can indeed be revoked if the holder commits certain crimes, in some cases drunk driving convictions.

Although a green card reflects your "permanent residence" in the United States, a green card can indeed be revoked if the holder commits certain crimes, in some cases DUIs.

Revocation of your green card won't happen right away. You would first be called into immigration court for removal proceedings. There, an immigration judge would hear your defense and make a decision on whether or not to revoke your green card and have you deported.

Deportability Under the Immigration Laws

Having one or more DUIs is not, by itself, on the list of deportability grounds found in the immigration laws. But it's a long and complicated list. And, depending on the facts of the case, it is possible for even one DUI to make a person deportable.

It all depends on whether there were aggravating factors in the case. These might include, for example, driving on a suspended license, or having a child present in the vehicle. Such factors could easily lead U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to conclude that you had committed a crime of moral turpitude (CMT). A CMT is enough by itself to make you deportable if it was committed within five years of your admission to the United States, and if it carries a possible prison sentence in your state of at least one year.

Or, if you already had a crime of moral turpitude on your record, having another one could make you deportable as someone who has committed two separate crimes involving moral turpitude.

If your DUI related to drugs rather than alcohol, you've got another deportability problem. You could be found removable for having committed an offense relating to a controlled substance.

Along the same lines, if an accident occurred due to the DUI, and someone is injured as a result, additional charges of aggravated assault or negligent homicide could lead to deportability problems. Courts so far have not been inclined to call such incidents "crimes of violence," but that is another ground of deportability. With a bad enough incident, it's not hard to imagine USCIS and the courts invoking this section of the law.

When Might You Get Caught by USCIS?

USCIS agents sometimes visit prisons to see whether non-citizens are held there, and institute removal proceedings where appropriate. And it's more and more common to see cooperation between the police and the immigration authorities. Barring that, simply applying for U.S. citizenship will lead USCIS to review your case -- and not only deny citizenship, but start removal proceedings if it sees a reason to.

What Can You Do?

You will be permitted an opportunity to challenge the agency's action in immigration court. Upon revoking the green card, the DHS will also initiate removal proceedings against you and serve you with a Notice to Appear (NTA) before an immigration judge. At the court hearing (in the Executive Office for Immigration Review, or EOIR), you will have the opportunity to contest the allegations against you and potentially be able to get your green card (lawful permanent residence) back.

What to Do After Receiving a Notice to Appear

Once you receive a notice to appear in immigration court, you will be best served by contacting an immigration attorney. If your hearing date is soon and you have not yet contacted an attorney, you can appear at your first hearing, called a Master Calendar Hearing, at which time you can request the opportunity to do so. Whatever you do, don't fail to show up at the Master Calendar or any other court hearing, or an order of removal will automatically be entered against you, and you will be forced to leave the U.S., with a prohibition on returning for many years.

Because of the strictness and complexity of immigration laws, this is not a matter you should attempt to handle yourself, perhaps hoping that the judge will show leniency if you come up with an excuse for your behavior. If you can't show a specific legal reason why you should keep your green card, you risk of being removed (deported).

Request Relief from Deportation/Removal

In addition to disputing the overall allegations, you will want to apply for any relief available in the event that you are found removable, such as:

  1. Cancellation of Removal for Certain Permanent Residents, or in the alternative
  2. Voluntary Departure.

Cancellation of Removal for Certain Permanent Residents

Qualifying for the relief of cancellation of removal depends largely on the length of your presence in the U.S. before the incident took place and the number of years you have had a green card. For example, you may qualify for cancellation of removal by filing form EOIR-42A if:

  1. you have been a permanent resident (green card holder) for at least five years
  2. you have been in the U.S. for at least seven years before the incident occurred, regardless of your immigration status, and
  3. you have not been convicted of an aggravated felony.

If the immigration judge grants cancellation of removal, your green card will be reinstated. In some cases, meeting the above requirements for cancellation can be sufficient by themselves to warrant the judge's favorable discretion. However, if in addition to the DUI, other negative factors exist, the immigration judge will balance those adverse factors against the favorable factors. Some favorable factors include evidence of:

  • significant family ties in the U.S.
  • lengthy presence in the U.S., particularly if you have lived here since childhood,
  • hardship to you and/or your family if you were to be removed/deported,
  • your value and service to the community, and
  • your rehabilitation since the DUI.

Upon considering all of the evidence and hearing from witnesses., the immigration judge will render a decision as to whether or not to cancel your removal. If the decision is not favorable, you will have the right to appeal the judge's decision to the Board of Immigration Appeals within 30 days of the judge’s decision. And again, you also have the right to, and are urged to seek, legal representation.

For more on this option, please see Cancellation of Removal in Deportation Proceedings.

Voluntary Departure

In case all else fails, your lawyer will probably want to add a request for voluntary departure to your claims before the immigration judge. This is simply a way of avoiding an order of removal, by saying that you will leave the U.S. on your own. The advantage is that it also avoids your becoming inadmissible to the U.S. for several years based on the order of removal. For more information, see Voluntary Departure vs Deportation.

Speak to a Lawyer

Any DUI carries serious consequences, but for a person who holds a green card, the potential ramifications are even greater. Multiple DUI convictions can cause USCIS to begin deportation proceedings. To give yourself the maximum protection, speak to an experienced immigration attorney right away -- ideally before a final conviction is issued on the most recent DUI. The attorney can guide you through the process, and work with your criminal defense attorney to get you the most favorable result.

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