Avoiding Deportation: Legal Information for Green Card Holders and Nonimmigrants

Protect yourself from deportation from the United States.

Foreign nationals living in the United States can be deported for a number of reasons, partly depending on what immigration status they hold in the United States. For example, their status might be:

  • permanent residents (with a green card)
  • nonimmigrants (with a valid visa or other right to remain in the U.S.), or
  • undocumented (who have no papers, and might 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 U.S. Immigration Status

If you've been given a visa or green card, you need to know the limits on what activities you're allowed to engage in during your U.S. stay, and to follow the rules carefully.

For example, people in the U.S. on a B-2 visitor or 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. People here on an F-1 student visa are not allowed to, say, take a semester off for the fun of it.

For Protection: Get Naturalized U.S. Citizenship as Soon as Eligible

Someone who has become a U.S. citizen cannot be deported except in rare circumstances (such as if they committed fraud to get their green card or citizenship.) So if you're already a permanent resident, you should seek United States citizenship as soon as you're eligible, which is usually three to five years after approval for a green card.

Avoid Criminal Convictions

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 others can be placed in removal proceedings, have their status taken away, and be deported from the United States.

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. The immigration attorney can also tell you whether any waivers are available to excuse your crime for immigration purposes.

Quite often, immigrants are not aware of the immigration consequences of pleading guilty to certain offenses. Many only learn after they are placed in deportation/exclusion proceeding that they could have negotiated a plea that would have avoided the harshest of immigration consequences.

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

If Undocumented, Know Your Rights When Confronted by Government Officials

The main group of persons subject to deportation are undocumented, often called "illegal aliens (or immigrants)". Persons become undocumented by entering the U.S. without permission or by staying longer than the period for which they were authorized, as is the case when a tourist overstays a B-2 visitor visa.

Involvement with the criminal justice system is one of the most common ways to get to the attention of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (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 can remain silent and refuse to answer questions, with the possible exception of stating their name. They should also refrain from carrying documents that can identify them as a citizen of another country. However, if you choose to talk to federal authorities, it is better not to lie; it is an offense to make false statements to a federal official.

Also know that U.S. immigration officials can legally enter a person's home only with a warrant or with the person's consent. You can say no, though they might try to convince you otherwise.

Avoid Traffic Stops and Driver's License Issues

Another possible means of getting unwanted attention from U.S. immigration authorities is by driving without a license. Many states refuse to give undocumented immigrants a driver's license, although they often need to drive in order to earn a living.

If you're driving without a license, at least learn and follow the traffic laws, by not speeding, not changing lanes without signaling, and not having defective equipment on the vehicle. Such violations give police a legal reason to stop a vehicle. The officer will then ask for a driver license, proof of registration, and insurance.

An undocumented driver who does not have a driver's license can be arrested and charged with driving without a license. The police know that many undocumented persons cannot now get driver's licenses, so they will immediately suspect that the person is undocumented and might have the power to turn the person over to the immigration authorities for deportation.

Immigration law is constantly changing. Seek out the assistance of a knowledgeable immigration service provider to be informed of your rights and options.


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