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

Even someone with a green card (lawful permanent residence) can, upon committing certain acts or crimes, become deportable from the United States and removed.

By , J.D. University of Washington School of Law
Updated 11/28/2022

U.S. law contains a long list of grounds upon which non-citizens or immigrants may be deported (removed) back to their country of origin. (See Immigration and Nationality Act at I.N.A. Section 237.) It goes far beyond simply deporting people who are in the U.S. illegally. People who carry nonimmigrant visas or green cards, though they have certain rights to live and work in the United States long-term, can be deported if they don't follow certain rules and avoid certain types of legal violations. This article discusses the bases upon which a permanent resident can be deported.

Deportability Isn't the Same as Inadmissibility

First, let's get clear on which part of the law we're talking about. There's a whole separate list of problematic issues for people "seeking admission" to the United States. It's called the grounds of inadmissibility, and mostly applies to first-time applicants for visas or green cards. (See Inadmissibility: When the U.S. Can Keep You Out.)

However, in rare situations, even green card holders can end up in double trouble, facing inadmissibility. In particular, people who spend 180 continuous days or more outside the U.S., or leave the U.S. during removal proceedings, or have committed a crime, or who engaged in illegal activity outside the U.S., can be questioned by U.S. border officials upon their attempted return, and their records checked, to see whether they've become inadmissible. (See I.N.A. § 101(a)(13)(C).)

Even if such person are let back into the country, they are considered to be seeking readmission to the United States, so any reason for keeping people out of the U.S. in the first place can make them "inadmissible" as well as deportable.

Summary of Who Can Be Removed Based on Grounds of Deportability

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

  • Was inadmissible at the time of U.S. entry or of adjustment of status, or violated the terms of his or her visa, green card, or other status. (Again, permanent residents who have been absent from the United States for fewer than 180 continuous days don't have to worry about admissibility upon return except if they have committed certain crimes).
  • Had 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 this status was 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 had 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. 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's 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 someone else in severe forms of human trafficking; or who is the trafficker's spouse, son, or daughter and, within the past five years, knowingly received financial or other benefits from the illicit activity.
  • Failed to advise U.S. 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 U.S. 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 U.S. 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.

What Happens to Immigrants Who Match a Ground of Deportability

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 might provide a waiver (legal forgiveness) that you can apply for.

How Do I Protect Myself From Being Deported?

Only immigrants who have successfully become U.S. citizens are safe from the grounds of deportability. U.S. citizens cannot be removed unless they used fraud to gain their green card or citizenship. Thus it's worth applying to naturalize as soon as you are eligible.

Also, if you are ever arrested for a crime, be extremely cautious about dealing with it. Simply agreeing to plead guilty to avoid jail time could be the worst possible choice if it means admitting to a crime that makes you deportable. You'll want to consult both a criminal lawyer and an immigration lawyer for assistance in this situation.

And definitely get expert help from a lawyer if you are facing removal proceedings or believe you might have become deportable.

Talk to a Lawyer

Need a lawyer? Start here.

How it Works

  1. Briefly tell us about your case
  2. Provide your contact information
  3. Choose attorneys to contact you

Talk to an Immigration attorney.

We've helped 85 clients find attorneys today.

How It Works

  1. Briefly tell us about your case
  2. Provide your contact information
  3. Choose attorneys to contact you