Although the technical name for people who have U.S. green cards is “lawful permanent resident” (LPR), their residence may turn out not to be so permanent after all if they are convicted of a crime, including a crime of domestic violence. Green card holders, as well as nonimmigrant (temporary) visa holders are subject to removal (deportation) from the U.S. for commission of certain crimes.
Certain minor crimes may not cause problems for noncitizens, but every criminal conviction must be compared against the federal grounds of deportability to see whether it matches a type of crime listed there. If it does, the green card or visa holder may be placed into removal proceedings by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Ultimately, an Immigration Judge may order the person deported from the United States.
Under Section 237 of the Immigration and Nationality Act (I.N.A.), any noncitizen convicted after September 30, 1996 of domestic violence, stalking, child abuse, child neglect, or child abandonment, is deportable.
It doesn’t matter how long the person has held the visa or green card—committing the crime at any time after being admitted to the U.S. is sufficient to make the person deportable.
The meaning of domestic violence under this law covers crimes of violence committed by a current or former spouse of the victim, a co-parent of a child, a live-in or domestic partner or ex-spouse, or anyone else who acts against someone who is legally protected by local or federal domestic or family violence laws.
To understand what’s meant by “violence,” one must turn to 18 U.S. Code Section 16, which defines it a as either:
Violations of protection orders can also make an immigrant deportable under this section of the immigration law. A "protection order" is, according to the I.N.A., any court-issued temporary or final injunction issued to prevent domestic violence or threats.
Not every type of crime receives individual discussion under the immigration laws. Many crimes fall into the broad category of a “crime of moral turpitude” (CMT). Immigrants can be ordered removed from the U.S., according to Section 237 of the I.N.A., if they have either been convicted of either:
Domestic violence can be considered a crime of moral turpitude.
Yet another portion of Section 237 of the I.N.A. states that an immigrant can be deported for having been convicted of an aggravated felony at any time after being admitted to the United States. Some crimes of domestic violence may, depending on their facts and circumstances, be considered aggravated felonies. That’s because the definition of aggravated felony found in Section 101(a)(43) of the I.N.A. includes crimes of violence punished by at least one year in prison.
Being found guilty of an aggravated felony leads to especially severe consequences for a green card or visa holder. Removal from the U.S. is virtually guaranteed, and will lead to a permanent bar upon returning.
Under a program called the Priority Enforcement Program (PEP), the fingerprints of people arrested or booked into custody are sent to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) for a criminal background check. This information is transmitted to ICE so that ICE can determine whether the person is a deportation priority.
During President Barack Obama's administration (current as of early 2017), an offense of domestic violence is considered a "significant misdemeanor," a second-level deportation priority.
Even if someone isn’t apprehended by ICE, any application for a renewal of a green card or U.S. citizenship will require the person to submit fingerprints, which will reveal arrests or convictions.
As should be clear from the above, the intersection of criminal and immigration law is extremely complicated. If you are a noncitizen and have been arrested for domestic violence or any other crime, see not only a criminal defense lawyer but an experienced immigration lawyer as soon as possible.