Avoiding Deportation: Legal Information for Green Card Holders and Nonimmigrants

Legal permanent residents (green card holders) and visa holders can be removed from the U.S. for a number of reasons. Here's how to protect yourself.

Foreign nationals living in the United States can be deported for a number of reasons, partly depending on their status. The possible types of status fall into three broad categories, namely permanent residence (with a green card), nonimmigrant status (with a valid visa or other right to remain in the U.S.), and the undocumented (who have no papers, and may have entered the U.S. illegally or overstayed a visa).

Here are some of the best ways to protect against being removed from the United States.

Understand the Terms of Your Status

If you're given a visa or green card, you need to know the limits on what activities you're allowed to engage in. For example, people in the U.S. on a tourist visa are not allowed to work, and their visa can be cancelled if they do so. People with a green card are expected to advise the immigration authorities of changes in their address, and not commit crimes, and can be deported for failing to abide by these rules.

Get Naturalized Citizenship

U.S. citizens cannot be deported except in rare circumstances (such as if they committed fraud to get their green card or citizenship.) Permanent residents who are eligible should seek United States citizenship as soon as they are eligible.

Avoid Criminal Conviction

Nonimmigrants, and even permanent residents who are convicted of certain criminal offenses such as fraud, drug possession, drug and weapons trafficking, rape, murder, manslaughter, and a slew of other offenses can be placed in removal proceedings, have their status taken away, and be deported.

Steer clear of the criminal justice system! If you do face criminal charges, immediately contract the services of not only a criminal attorney, but an immigration attorney who is knowledgeable about both immigration and criminal law. Quite often immigrants just are not aware of the immigration consequences of pleading guilty to certain offenses. Many only learn of the consequences after they are placed in deportation/exclusion proceeding.

It is for this reason that some states such as California and Indiana now requires that immigrants be told of the immigration consequences of a plea before their guilty pleas can be accepted by the court.

Undocumented Immigrants

The main group of persons who are subject to deportation consist of undocumented individuals, or "illegal immigrants". A person may become undocumented by entering the country without being inspected or by staying longer than the period for which they were authorized i.e. a tourist overstaying his tourist visa.

Undocumented persons should try and stay away from the criminal justice system as much as possible. Involvement with the criminal justice system is one of the most common ways to get to the attention of ICE. Many jails are required to report the presence of undocumented persons who are behind their walls.

Undocumented persons have no obligation to reveal their lack of status to any police/immigration official. They should refuse to answer any questions from police/immigration officials with the possible exception of their names. Immigrants have no obligations to provide information to the police that can result in their deportation. Undocumented immigrants should refrain from carrying documents on their persons that can identify them as being a citizen of another country. Such documents can later be used to show that they are citizens of a particular country and thus can be sent back there.

Traffic Stops and Driver’s License Issues

Another possible means of getting to the attention of the immigration authorities is by way of driving without a license. Many states refuse to give undocumented immigrants a driver’s license. Many need to drive in order to earn a living. If such persons need to drive then they should make sure that they observe the traffic laws by not speeding, by not changing lanes without signaling or having defective equipment on the vehicle. Such violations give police a legal reason to stop a vehicle. On stopping the vehicle, the officer will ask for a driver license, proof of registration and insurance. If the undocumented driver does not have a driver’s license, he can be arrested and charged with driving without a license. The police know many undocumented cannot now get driver’s licenses so they will immediately suspect that the person is undocumented. If the person admits that he is undocumented then the police can turn him over to the immigration authorities for deportation.

Remain Silent

If an undocumented person is questioned by a police/immigration official, it is better to invoke one’s right to remain silent and not to talk to the authorities. However, if he chooses to talk to the authorities, it is better not to lie to them. It is an offense within itself to lie to a federal official.

Guilty Pleas in Criminal Cases

Many undocumented persons who are facing criminal charges routinely plead guilty to the charges without seeking legal advice. This practice should be discontinued. There are options that an attorney can seek to avoid them having a criminal record such as having them placed on probation and if they successfully complete it then the charges would be dropped. An experienced criminal defense attorney can also fight the charges and have them reduce or dropped.

There are many situations where undocumented persons try to arrange their status through a family member. Some criminal convictions may prevent such persons from being able to legalize their status. It is for such reasons that getting proper legal advice is so important when an immigrant, documented or undocumented, is faced with a crime.


It should be noted that the immigration officials can only enter a person’s home with a warrant or with their consent. They should only be allowed in the house after they present a warrant that was duly issued by a court of law. The individual should not consent to immigration officials (ICE) entering his home nor should he answer their questions.

ICE - Immigration Customs and Enforcement

If ICE (Immigration Customs Enforcement Agency) raids their place of employment, they should refuse to answer their questions and avoid having documents on their persons that identify them as citizens of another country.

Another option when being questioned by ICE personnel is to ask to consult with a lawyer before answering their questions or producing documents that they request. ICE cannot continue questioning the individual after he requests an attorney.

Immigration law is constantly changing. It is incumbent on persons with immigration problems to seek out the assistance of a knowledgeable immigration service provider to be informed of their rights and options.

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