Have you ever been convicted of a crime? (By the way, reckless driving in Virginia is a crime. It’s a Class 1 Misdemeanor). If you’re not a U.S. Citizen, even petty or minor crimes can cause trouble for your immigration case. Let’s go back to reckless driving. Let’s assume you are a lawful permanent resident (you have a green card) and you’ve just put your application in to become a U.S. Citizen. While you’re waiting for your test, you get a reckless driving ticket. Since you have a bad driving record, which shows you’ve had 3-4 speeding tickets, your traffic lawyer suggests you plead guilty to the reckless ticket, pay a fine and you will be on probation for one year. You agree – you’re just happy you don’t have to spend any time in jail!
Pleading guilty to this would prevent you from getting your Citizenship when it’s time for you to go to your interview. The reason is because USCIS cannot approve a case while you’re on probation. The majority of traffic attorneys do not know this (John Gardner, my husband and traffic and criminal attorney of our law firm of course knows this, but that’s because we represent almost exclusively people who are not U.S. Citizens). So the outcome is you lose your $725 filing fee for your Citizenship case and you have to wait until you are finished with probation to file again. For some who are waiting to file a petition for parents or spouses and/or children as U.S. Citizens, the delay in Citizenship is a delay in processing times for these petitions. For parents, you must be a Citizen to file. Thus, a reckless driving ticket conviction turns into delays for your family members’ immigration case.
Let’s say you have DACA (deferred action for childhood arrivals) and you get a DUI (conviction) driving while intoxicated. You will not be able to renew your DACA – end of story. You just lost your driver’s license, your work permit and your immigration status that allows you to stay in the United States. Muy mal!
What if you’re a permanent resident? And you get convicted of simple possession of marijuana. But because it’s a first offense, the marijuana conviction gets dismissed after you do drug classes and a year of probation. If you travel out of the country after this, you may be denied entry as a Permanent Resident. The worst case scenario, which I have seen before is that you get arrested at a deferred inspection and you are put in immigration removal proceedings. All this time, you’re detained (locked up in immigration jail) since there is no bond.
There are even more horrible stories, of course, of long-time permanent residents being deported after being convicted of petty crimes.
How do you avoid this? If you are not a U.S. Citizen and you’ve been charged with a crime, you need to seek out a criminal defense attorney who is very knowledgeable about criminal defense AND immigration. We do seminars for other lawyers about the consequences of criminal convictions, but we still see these very bad, yet common outcomes for criminal cases. And these outcomes are harming our clients and their families. Please, please whether it is our law firm or another qualified firm, use a criminal defense lawyer who either knows about immigration or will hire an immigration attorney to help them figure it out. Your life depends on it.