U.S. lawful permanent residents must renew their green cards every ten years. This doesn’t mean that you’re no longer a lawful permanent resident if your green card expires – only the card expires, not your actual status. Nevertheless, if you have criminal charges on your record, reapplying for your green card (or, for that matter, applying for U.S. citizenship or traveling outside the U.S.) could put your status at risk.
Does that mean you should simply avoid renewing your green card? No, it’s important to get the card renewed, because you are legally obligated to carry a valid green card with you at all times. Not having a valid green card could make it difficult for you to find or keep a job, or to travel outside the U.S. and return. But you should definitely speak with an attorney before submitting your renewal application, for the reasons explained below.
The process of applying for a renewal of your green card involves filling out and submitting Form I-90 to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). You’ll notice that you’ll also be asked to pay fees at this time, for both the application itself and for "biometrics."
What are biometrics? As you probably know, USCIS collects personal data on every green card applicant, including fingerprints and a photo. It will send the fingerprints, as well as your name, to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). The FBI will check these against databases held by numerous law enforcement agencies. The results will tell USCIS whether you have any crimes or immigration violations on your record.
If USCIS sees a crime or immigration violation on your record that may make you removable - like an aggravated felony - it can place you into removal (deportation proceedings). That means that you'd have to appear before an immigration judge and defend yourself. If you lost your case, you’d likely lose your right to a green card as well, and be sent from the United States to your home country.
Not every crime makes a green card holder deportable. With the help of your attorney, you may find grounds upon which to argue that your crime doesn't actually fit within one of the grounds of deportability (described below), or find some other basis upon which to mount a defense.
Within the Immigration and Nationality Act (I.N.A.) is a long list of types of crimes that make a person with a green card deportable. For example, you can be found deportable for having committed:
This is only an abbreviated list. To actually understand whether a particular crime matches one of these descriptions requires an in-depth analysis of the actual legal language and of courts' interpretations in previous cases.
You won’t, for example, see the words “crime of moral turpitude” on your court record – this is an added judgment made by the immigration authorities. In order to compare your crime with the above list, you’ll need an attorney's help.
If you’ve been convicted of a crime and need to renew your green card or to travel outside the U.S., be sure to hire an experienced immigration lawyer. The lawyer will most likely have you get your fingerprints done again, and then analyze the results to help you develop a strategy with regard to renewing your green card.