Will a Misdemeanor Affect My Green Card Renewal?

Find out when a misdemeanor can make you deportable, which will be discovered upon applying to renew a green card.

Renewing a green card is important, since lawful permanent residents are legally obligated to carry one with them. But any time a foreign national is convicted of a crime, whether a misdemeanor or a felony, there are potential immigration consequences. Among these is the possibility that your green card renewal application will be denied. At that point, there is a strong possibility that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) will begin deportation (removal) proceedings against you. Let's take a closer look at the risks, and at what to do next.

How Crimes Are Discovered During the Green Card Renewal Process

U.S. permanent residents must renew their green cards every ten years by filing Form I-90 with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). After you do so, you will be required to attend a "biometrics" appointment, which includes fingerprinting.

Your name and fingerprints will be given to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), which will check them against the many law enforcement agency databases. Ultimately, if you have a criminal record, it will likely be discovered. The good news is, misdemeanors are considered the least serious of crimes. Only a few types of misdemeanors typically create serious immigration problems for people who do not have any other criminal history.

Definition of a Misdemeanor Under U.S. Immigration Law

Under U.S. immigration law, a misdemeanor means a crime that is either:

  1. punishable by imprisonment for a term of one year or less, or
  2. punishable by more than one year's imprisonment, but defined by the state as a misdemeanor, so long as the sentence actually imposed was one year or less.

The short sentences are just another indication that these crimes aren't the worst ones possible. Still, they can be considered serious crimes, as described next.

When a Misdemeanor May Also Be Considered a More Serious Crime

Immigration laws are federal, but misdemeanors are normally prosecuted under state law. They don't always match up easily. Thus a misdemeanor can, depending on how your state's law is written, potentially be deemed an aggravated felony or other serious crime for immigration purposes. Situations of this sort can lead to denial of the green card renewal as well as removal from the United States.

There are three types of misdemeanor charges that can potentially result in serious immigration consequences for a lawful permanent resident trying to renew a green card:

  1. crimes involving moral turpitude (CIMTs)
  2. crimes of violence, and
  3. controlled substance (drug) violations.

Consequences of a Misdemeanors Being Viewed as a Crime Involving Moral Turpitude

Any time a non-citizen is convicted of two crimes involving moral turpitude that did not arise from a single act/scheme of misconduct, the DHS will initiate removal proceedings. This is true even if the crimes were misdemeanors.

However, a conviction of just one misdemeanor crime involving moral turpitude when a state statute provides for a maximum sentence of one year or less is not grounds for the DHS to initiate removal proceedings.

Consequences of a Misdemeanor Being Viewed as a Crime of Violence

Any conviction for a crime that is determined to be a crime of violence, regardless of whether the individual state classifies the offense as a misdemeanor is, for immigration purposes, an aggravated felony. If you are accused of a misdemeanor crime alleged by DHS to be a crime of violence, contact an immigration attorney immediately. The penalty for an aggravated felony is removal from the U.S., and relief is available only in extremely limited circumstances.

Consequences of a Misdemeanor Being Seen as a Controlled Substance (Drug) Violation

Any conviction for a controlled substance violation (a crime involving drugs, including paraphernalia), with the exception of simple possession of less than 30 grams of marijuana, is grounds for denial of your green card renewal and the commencement of removal proceedings. This is true regardless of whether your state's law classifies the crime as a misdemeanor. (For more on this issue, see How Will a Drug Crime Charge Affect Your Green Card?)

Note: Although possession of less than 30 grams of marijuana is not grounds for denial of your green and removal, it is grounds for inadmissibility. So, if you travel outside the U.S. after such an offense, you may be found inadmissible upon attempting to return, which will require you to apply for a waiver of inadmissibility.

What Happens If I Don't Renew My U.S. Green Card?

While an expired green card does not mean that your lawful permanent resident status has also expired, failure to renew is regarded as a misdemeanor crime in itself. By law, you are required to carry a valid green card with you at all times. If you cannot produce one, you could again encounter problems with law enforcement or run into employment and travel problems.

If there is a chance you face immigration consequences because of a misdemeanor crime, you should contact an attorney to help you evaluate your situation before filing your green card renewal application.

An experienced attorney can help you to establish grounds to prove your crime is technically not among the removable offences described above or some other form of defense against allegations that DHS may set forth.

Talk to an Immigration attorney.
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