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Three Ways Green Card Holders with Previous Arrests Get Caught by USCIS

August 13, 2010 by Immigration Law Attorney Lena Korial-Yonan, Esq.

Once an individual becomes a green card holder, he or she may think that "small" convictions are fine and will not affect his or her status. However, in this time of immigration enforcement, green card holders with a criminal history must take certain precautions to avoid USCIS from revoking their green card, especially if these convictions occurred after the green card was obtained.

This article will discuss the three main ways that USCIS can now be alerted that a green card holder has been arrested or convicted. Green card holders should especially take precautions when traveling internationally, as discussed below.

1. Green card holders who travel internationally and then re-enter the US may face interrogations and a referral to CBP if they have a previous criminal history

This is a warning to green card holders that previous arrests and / or convictions can now trigger an interrogation when they attempt to re-enter the US after traveling internationally. I regularly have potential clients come to my office after they have travelled internationally and were interrogated when they re-entered the US. Usually once the potential client is in my office for a consultation, that individual has already been referred to Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) for a specific time where they need to appear for an interview to see whether they can retain their green card or whether they will be placed in removal proceedings. Once an individual is placed in removal proceedings, the individual is now no longer allowed to travel. If that individual leaves the country, even to Canada or Mexico, that individual has "self" deported him or herself.

In addition, once in removal proceedings, that individual will need to appear for hearings at the Immigration Court closest to their residence. In Jacksonville, FL, residents placed in removal proceedings will be required to appear for hearings in Orlando, FL. An individual in removal proceedings will need to apply for immigration relief so that the Immigration Judge does not terminate permanent resident status.

I have previously advised some clients with a criminal history to be cautious about traveling internationally and only traveling in times of emergency. Some of these clients who did not take the precautions ended up having to meet with CBP and explain why they should not be referred to the Immigration Court. I have recently been retained for several cases where the green card holders had convictions from over 25-35 years ago, and they were still referred to the Immigration Court despite how long ago the convictions occurred.

The best advice is if you are a green card holder and you have criminal conviction(s), it is best to consult with an experienced immigration lawyer before traveling internationally to see whether you run the risk of being placed in removal proceedings.

Please also note that if you are required to meet with CBP, take an experienced immigration lawyer with you, because CBP has the power to have green card holders arrested without bond. Bond will then need to be requested from an Immigration Judge. An interrogation usually lasts about 2-3 hours and will continue even if your connecting flight will be missed.

2. Green card holders who are arrested even for minor offenses including traffic offenses can possibly be referred to ICE for investigation and possible referral to the Immigration Court

Now under Section 287(g), any individual who is not a US citizen and who is arrested, even for so-called "minor" non-violent crimes such as driving offenses will have their information sent to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for review of whether they need to have an immigration hold placed on them or whether they need to be referred to the Immigration Court to see whether they should keep their green card or not. An article has been written and can be located here for more in-depth information on this subject.

This procedure under Section 287(g) was implemented about one year or so ago, and so many green card holders who were arrested and / or convicted before that time did not have their information sent to ICE. As a result, all applicants for citizenship need to be especially careful when filing form N-400, as explained below.

3. Green card holders who file for Citizenship through filing Form N-400 will alert USCIS to their previous convictions and USCIS has the right to refer individuals to the Immigration Court

Although under Section 287(g), USCIS and ICE are both alerted when a green card holder is now arrested and / or convicted of a crime, previous to one year ago USCIS had no way of finding out if someone was arrested and / or convicted until that individual made an application with USCIS and completed fingerprints. Now, whenever a green card holder files a form N-400, Application for Naturalization, they of course will be required to complete their fingerprints. At this time, once the fingerprints are completed, USCIS will then have a complete record of any and all arrests / convictions. If the USCIS officer determines that an individual has committed crimes that could result in having that person removed from the US, the USCIS officer can place that person in removal proceedings.

As a result, an Application for Naturalization will not just be denied, as some applicants think. Instead, an Application for Naturalization could lead to that individual being placed in removal proceedings. It is always wise to have an experienced immigration lawyer in your area review your FULL criminal record before you file your Application for Naturalization, so that you can be advised as to whether your previous criminal record could lead to you being referred to the Immigration Court.


The above information is provided for green card holders to make sure that they understand the risks before they travel internationally, violate any US laws or file an Application for Naturalization.


This article is owned and written by Lena Korial-Yonan, Esq. No Part can be re-printed without the express written consent of its author. The information provided in this article is not intended as legal advice or to evade U.S. Immigration laws.

Lena Korial-Yonan, P.A.
9425 Craven Road, Suite 5
Jacksonville, FL 32257
Phone: (904) 448-6646
Facsimile: (904) 448-8221

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