Did you know that although an expired green card does not automatically negate an individual’s permanent resident status, failing to renew is itself a misdemeanor crime? As such, getting stopped for even a minor traffic violation can have life-changing consequences if you can’t produce a current green card, as required by law.

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Read on to learn what misdemeanor convictions could put you at risk for deportation and how an experienced immigration attorney can help.

How are crimes discovered?

When you file Form I-90 to renew your green card, you will also be fingerprinted. When the FBI checks your name and fingerprints against the databases of law-enforcement agencies across the country, your crime is likely to show up.

Felonies are almost always grounds for removal from the United States. Fortunately, when it comes to misdemeanor offenses, very few automatically expose you to the risk of deportation. That being said, certain misdemeanors can result in immigration consequences. The three types of misdemeanors most likely to impede your ability to renew your green card are:

  • crimes of moral turpitude
  • violent crimes
  • crimes involving controlled substances

Moral turpitude

Moral turpitude refers to crimes that call into question a person’s honesty, such as forgery or fraud. If a foreign national is convicted of two of these types of crimes, Homeland Security will initiate deportation proceedings. For one conviction, however, deportation is unlikely. According to the Immigrant Legal Resource Center, “there are two very limited exceptions” that would allow for deportation after one moral turpitude crime. These are “for convictions that are ‘purely political’ or that arise in a ‘single scheme of criminal misconduct’ (often interpreted to mean that the charges had to arise from the very same incident).”

Violent crimes

If you are convicted of a misdemeanor crime of violence, it will be viewed as an aggravated felony for immigration purposes. As such, deportation proceedings will be initiated. If you find yourself in this situation, your only option is to seek the immediate counsel of a skilled immigration attorney. Relief may be available, but only under limited circumstances.

Drug offenses

Unless your drug violation was for possession of less than 30 grams of marijuana, deportation proceedings will likely begin. Even if you were found in possession of a small amount of marijuana, you’re not necessarily in the clear. Although a bit of weed won’t result in deportation proceedings, it may render you inadmissible. This means that if you travel abroad and attempt to return to the U.S., re-entry may be denied.

The consequences of tough immigration laws

Studies show that strict immigration policies have a negative impact on overall crime management for immigrants and native-born citizens. A study conducted by the University of North Carolina School of Law and the ACLU of North Carolina revealed that strict immigration enforcement programs result in “a fear of law enforcement that causes immigrant communities to refrain from reporting crimes, thereby compromising public safety for immigrants and citizens alike.”

A real-life horror story

In January 2018, ICE detained a Polish doctor who has been living in the United States for nearly 40 years, since the age of five. Lukasz Niec, an internist in Kalamazoo, Michigan, never imagined that his status as a legal U.S. resident would ever be questioned. In fact, 43-year-old Niec doesn’t even speak Polish. 

Niec received a "notice to appear" due to two misdemeanors that occurred 26 years ago—in January 1992, he was charged with malicious destruction of property under $100, and later that same year he was slapped with another charge, this time for receiving and concealing stolen property over $100. At the time of the crimes, Niec was 17, and the law at the time allowed youthful first offenders to avoid a record.

"These misdemeanors were just an adolescent making mistakes and learning from them," said Niec's sister, Iwona Niec-Villaire.

But there’s more. In 2008, Niec pleaded guilty to a drunk-driving charge in Kalamazoo County. After completing probation, however, the case was dismissed. Then, in 2013, Niec was charged with domestic violence. He was found not guilty.

Despite a few run-ins with the law, all of Niec’s charges have been dismissed. Even so, he is at risk of deportation. This is why it is so important to hire an experienced immigration attorney the moment even a small issue arises.

"He cannot go back to Poland, a country he doesn't know, he has no family at, both our parents passed away in the United States, he doesn't know anyone, he wouldn't know where to go," said Niec-Villaire, a corporate lawyer. "It's shocking. No one can really understand what happened here."

Get legal help

Whatever your concern, an experienced immigration attorney is your absolute best resource. If you’ve been charged with any type of crime, contact an attorney experienced in immigration matters before it is too late.