Cobos Law Firm Blog

Monday, November 3, 2014

I have a Green Card . . . and a Criminal Conviction: Can I Travel Abroad?

Lawful permanent residents (LPRs) also known as “green card holders” who have criminal convictions may encounter problems when attempting to re-enter the United States after traveling abroad and should consult an immigration attorney before planning any trips outside of the country.

In 2003, the Department of Homeland Security implemented an airport screening system to identify green card holders with past criminal convictions. Even if a permanent resident has previously been re-admitted to the United States without encountering any problems, he could find himself subject to “removal proceedings” upon a subsequent return to the U.S. based on old criminal convictions.

Upon returning to a U.S. airport or border transit area, LPRs who have a prior criminal conviction may be identified and diverted to “secondary inspection” for questioning. Typically, they are then given an appointment with the Deferred Inspections Unit which will verify the criminal record and serve the permanent resident with a Notice to Appear for a deportation hearing in U.S. Immigration Court. Travelers with criminal records can also be detained on the spot in certain instances, typically based on the date of their conviction and the type of offense.

The Department of Homeland Security’s criminal conviction database is vast and highly efficient. Criminal convictions, even those that may have taken place many years in the past, are quickly identified by the authorities and can be used to threaten one’s status as a permanent resident and subject the resident to deportation. These same risks are also present when one submits an application for green card renewal or U.S. citizenship.

Though not every criminal conviction may lead to inadmissibility, certain types of convictions can have serious consequences on one’s immigration status.  These include:

  • Conviction of a crime involving moral turpitude
  • Conviction of a controlled substance violation
  • Conviction of multiple crimes

Depending on the type and number of convictions, and when they occurred, the federal authorities may pursue removal proceedings.  During these proceedings, an immigration judge may exercise his authority to cancel a green card and order an immediate deportation of the immigrant.

When you travel abroad and return to the U.S., you force the government to make a decision whether to re-admit you, initiate proceedings to cancel your green card or deport you. It is vital that you understand the potential consequences before you travel beyond American borders to ensure you make an informed decision.

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