Being arrested or convicted of a crime can affect your immigration status. It can reduce the chances of obtaining a work visa or citizenship and can increase the risk of deportation, especially for those in the U.S. without any legal documentation. Individuals attempting to immigrate to the United States may be denied entrance if they have been arrested or convicted of a crime.
All arrests and convictions in the U.S. are entered into the National Crime Information Center (NCIC), a federal database containing criminal records. An arrest will appear in the NCIC computer if the person was fingerprinted and photographed by a law enforcement officer, or a law enforcement officer ordered the person to accompany him or her against the suspect's will.
Even if the arrest did not result in a conviction, the individual is required to advise immigration officers, employees of Homeland Security and employees of the State Department about the arrest when asked. If an individual is asked by any of these law enforcement officers about an arrest and fails to admit to the arrest, it could result in his or her conviction for "fraud to gain an immigration benefit."
Convictions that are entered into the NCIC system and are considered when deciding immigration status include guilty judgments entered in court, guilty pleas where the individual enters a program such as community service and pleas of no contest.
The sentence for the crime committed does matter. However, many more convictions can lead to deportation and negatively affect immigration status than crimes that do not. Convictions can count even if jail time is not ordered or if the penalty is only a fine or probation. While minor traffic violations will not lead to deportation, a DWI and arrests or convictions for drug crimes, including misdemeanors, can have negative consequences for those who are not U.S. citizens. Misrepresentations on an immigration application can result in delays or outright denial of a visa or entry into the U.S. or in deportation. Additionally, expungement has no effect on convictions for immigration purposes.
Speak to an Immigration Attorney
This is only a brief introduction to how an arrest or conviction may influence your immigration status. In addition, not all criminal defense attorneys may be aware of all of the ways a criminal charge or conviction can affect immigration status. Those with a previous criminal conviction or facing criminal charges should immediately speak to an immigration or criminal attorney familiar with how criminal convictions may affect immigration status.