I am a refugee from Iraq. The one-year anniversary of my admission to the U.S. is coming up very soon and I am ready to apply for my green card. But I had to plead guilty to child abuse last month, because I beat my son after he was caught stealing. I am very sorry for what I did. And now I am afraid that I am not going to get my green card because of that. Do I have a chance?
Yes, if the crime you committed makes you “inadmissible,” then you might be eligible for a waiver. But getting it might be difficult, depending on the details of your case.
When it comes to green cards for refugees (as opposed to asylees who apply for their status from inside the U.S.), the law does not give immigration officers and judges much freedom (or “discretion”). Any refugee who is not inadmissible must be given a green card. (Things might be a little different for refugees who wait too long before applying for the green card.)
However, a refugee who has committed a so-called “crime of moral turpitude” will be inadmissible and will not be able to obtain a green card unless he makes a formal request for forgiveness (by filing Form I-602, Application by Refugee for Waiver of Grounds of Excludability). And since child abuse is often considered a “crime of moral turpitude,” this is probably what you will need to do — although you should consult an attorney to make sure, because whether your crime really was one of moral turpitude depends on the details of what happened and what specific law you violated.
Fortunately for you, the fact that you are a refugee already plays a little bit in your favor. In fact, the requirements that you would need to meet in order to be eligible for the waiver (namely a demonstration that you should be granted a waiver because of humanitarian, family unity or public interest reasons) are less difficult to meet than those which apply to other types of noncitizens (who would need to prove “extreme hardship” and file a different form, Form I-601).
If you apply for a waiver based on family unity, you might want to begin by proving that your crime was an isolated incident, that you have been a good father to your son at all other times, and that you will continue to make an important contribution to his life. In addition, you should describe your ties to any other family member you have in the U.S. — especially (but not only) any other child, spouse, or parent.
If your persecution was especially severe, or if you have any serious health issue, this could count as a humanitarian basis for a waiver.
That said, if your crime was especially violent (meaning if your child was seriously injured), then the only way you might qualify for a waiver is if you or your family would suffer in very unusual and dramatic ways from a denial of your waiver request, or if the U.S. government has something really important to gain (in the “public interest”) from granting your request.
In any event, even if you meet these basic eligibility requirements, you should know that immigration officers and judges will still have a lot of discretion to deny your waiver request on other grounds if any other fact in your background puts you in a bad light. And, if your waiver request is denied, you will not be able to appeal the decision.
So, given the difficulties you are likely to encounter in your case, you would greatly benefit from speaking with an experienced immigration attorney.