Grounds of Deportability: When Legal U.S. Residents Can Be Removed

Whether on a nonimmigrant visa or green card, committing certain acts or crimes can make a person deportable from the U.S.

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Although people who carry nonimmigrant visas or green card holder have the right to be in the United States, such rights depend entirely on them following certain rules and avoiding certain types of legal violations. The U.S. Immigration and Nationality Act (I.N.A.) sets forth numerous grounds upon which a non-citizen may be deported (removed) back to the person’s country of origin.

The grounds of deportability can be found in Section 237 of the I.N.A. They apply to anyone already legally living within the United States, perhaps with a nonimmigrant (temporary) visa or a green card (lawful permanent residence). The law also mentions that people who are in the U.S. without legal permission shall be deported.

Only after an immigrant has successfully become a U.S. citizen, is he or she safe from the grounds of deportability. U.S. citizens cannot be removed unless they used fraud to gain their green card or citizenship.

Briefly summarized, a person may be deportable from the U.S. if he or she:

  • was inadmissible at time of U.S. entry or of adjustment of status, or violates the terms of his or her visa, green card, or other status.
  • was a conditional permanent resident status (applicable to certain spouses, sons, and daughters of U.S. citizens as well as investor/entrepreneurs, with their spouses, and children) but had this status terminated.
  • before, during, or within five years of the date of any U.S. entry, knowingly helped smuggle any other alien trying to enter the United States.
  • committed marriage fraud.
  • got married less than two years before getting a U.S. green card on that basis, then has the marriage annulled or terminated within the following two years, unless the immigrant can prove that the marriage was not a fraud, meant to evade any provision of the immigration laws.
  • is convicted of a crime involving moral turpitude that was committed within five years ) after the date of U.S. admission (or ten years if the person received a green card as a criminal informant) and is punishable by a sentence of at least one year.
  • has been convicted of two or more crimes involving moral turpitude at any time after U.S. admission, where the two crimes did not arise out of a single scheme of misconduct.
  • has been convicted of an aggravated felony at any time after U.S. admission.
  • has been convicted of high-speed flight from an immigration checkpoint.
  • fails to register as a sex offender.
  • has been convicted of a drug crime (or a conspiracy or attempt to commit one), whether in the U.S. or another country, at any time after U.S. admission. There’s an exception for a single offense involving possession for personal use of 30 grams or less of marijuana.
  • is, or at any time after U.S. admission has been, a drug abuser or addict. Notice that no actual court conviction is needed to be deportable under this section. The person’s own confession to drug use, or evidence on a medical report, could be enough.
  • has been convicted of illegally buying, selling, possessing, or engaging in other transactions concerning firearms, weapons, or destructive devices, at any time after U.S. admission.
  • has been convicted of committing, or conspiring to commit espionage, sabotage, treason, or sedition, if punishable by at least five years in prison.
  • has violated  the Military Selective Service Act or the Trading With the Enemy Act.
  • has violated certain travel and documentation restrictions or imported aliens for immoral purposes.
  • has been convicted of domestic violence, stalking, child abuse, child neglect, or child abandonment, at any time after U.S. admission.
  • has violated the portion of a protective order that is meant to stop credible threats of violence, repeated harassment, or bodily injury.
  • has committed or conspired to commit human trafficking inside or outside the U.S. or has apparently been a knowing aider, abettor, assister, conspirator, or colluder with in severe forms of human trafficking; or is the trafficker’s spouse, or daughter who, within the past five years, knowingly received any financial or other benefit from the illicit activity.
  • failed to advise the immigration authorities, in writing, of a change of address within ten days of the move, unless the person can prove that such failure was reasonably excusable or not willful.
  • has been convicted of providing false information in connection with a requirement to register with immigration authorities or of other violations relating to fraud and misuse of visas, permits, and other entry documents.
  • has received a final order of deportation for document fraud, forgery, counterfeiting, or related violations.
  • falsely represents himself or herself as a U.S. citizen in order to gain any immigration or other benefit. An exception is made if the person’s parents (natural or adoptive) are or were U.S. citizens, the person lived in the United States before age 16, and the person reasonably believed himself or herself to be a U.S. citizen.
  • is engaged, or at any time after admission engages in espionage, sabotage, or violations or evasions of any law prohibiting export of goods, technology, or sensitive information, or in any other criminal activity that is a danger to public safety or national security, or acts in opposition to, or attempts to control or overthrow the U.S. government by force, violence, or other unlawful means.
  • has engaged in or appears likely to engage in terrorist activity, or has incited terrorist activity, or is a representative a terrorist organization or group that endorses or espouses terrorist activity, or is a member of a terrorist organization (unless the person proves that he had no idea of its terrorist aims), or endorses or espouses terrorist activity or persuades others to do so, or has received military-type training from or on behalf a terrorist organization, or is the terrorist’s spouse or child, if the relevant activity took place within the last five years.
  • by being present in the U.S., would create potentially serious adverse foreign policy consequences.
  • participated in Nazi persecution, genocide, torture, or extrajudicial killings, severe violations of religious freedom, or recruitment or use of child soldiers.
  • within five years after U.S. entry, has become a public charge (dependent on need-based government assistance) for reasons that did not arise after the person’s U.S. entry.
  • has voted in violation of any federal, state, or local law. An exception is made for people who, based on parentage, reasonably believed themselves to be U.S. citizens.

Even if the immigration authorities believe that you are deportable, you will not be kicked out of the country right away. In most cases (unless, for example, there is an outstanding order of removal in your file), you have a right to defend your case in immigration court. For some types of deportability, the law may provide a waiver (legal forgiveness) that you can apply for. Definitely get expert help from a lawyer's help if you are facing removal proceedings or believe you may have become deportable.

by: , J.D.

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