What Happens If a Green Card Holder Pleads Guilty to a Misdemeanor?

The grounds of deportability both describe some crimes generally and name certain crimes specifically, which would in most cases make you deportable whether or not they were charged as misdemeanors or felonies.

By , J.D., University of Washington School of Law

When someone gets arrested in the United States, it is common for the defense attorney to attempt to work out a plea bargain or agreement where only a misdemeanor goes on the accused person's record and they don't have to go to jail. If, however, the person is here in the United States on a green card, that adds a layer of legal complexity. Here we'll discuss the question: Is a misdemeanor charge a small enough deal to avoid trouble with your U.S. immigration status?

A Misdemeanor Isn't Automatically Considered Minor Under U.S. Immigration Law

Whether the crime someone is charged with is labeled a "misdemeanor," "felony," or some other classification means little in the world of immigration law, which tends to assign its own definition to crimes.

A lawful permanent resident (with a green card) is right to be concerned about their immigration status if convicted of a crime. (And yes, a guilty plea counts as a conviction). If the crime matches one of the "grounds of deportability" found in U.S. immigration law, the immigrant could be placed into removal proceedings and ultimately deported from the United States.

In fact, if the misdemeanor crime is serious enough that it might be considered an "aggravated felony" in immigration-law terms the immigrant could wind up in expedited removal proceedings, and become ineligible for various types of benefits, such as one called "cancellation of removal."

For a rundown of what's in the law, see Crimes That Will Make an Immigrant Deportable. You'll notice in looking at that list that the word "misdemeanor" never appears. But other descriptions there could encompass a misdemeanor. For example, a misdemeanor theft conviction might be classified as a "crime of moral turpitude" under the immigration law, which is a ground of deportation if it occurred during the immigrant's first five years in the U.S. or if they committed two of them.

The grounds of deportability also name certain crimes specifically, which would in most cases make the immigrant deportable whether or not the crimes were charged as misdemeanors or felonies: for example, drug crimes, illegal firearms possession or sales, domestic violence, stalking, child abuse or neglect, and so on.

Will Applying for U.S. Citizenship Help or Hurt?

Assuming you get through the criminal courts without becoming deportable, applying for U.S. citizenship as soon as you are eligible would help to secure your status in the United States. However, if you've got a crime on your record, that could also stall or destroy your eligibility, as described in Crimes That Will Prevent You From Receiving U.S. Citizenship.

Hire Both an Immigration Lawyer and a Criminal Defense Lawyer

You need to tell your criminal defense lawyer about your immigration status as soon as possible. Then find out how much your lawyer knows about U.S. immigration law concerning crimes. It might not be much, in which case you should be sure to consult with an experienced immigration lawyer, as well.

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