Will a Green Card Holder With a DUI Be Allowed to Reenter the U.S.?

By itself, a DUI shouldn't block reentry, but watch out for aggravating factors.

By , J.D.


I have a DUI on my record, and I am planning to go visit my parents overseas soon. As a green card holder, should I worry about being allowed back into the U.S.?


Most likely you will be fine. By itself, a conviction for a single DUI (driving under the influence) or DWI (driving while intoxicated) does not usually cause immigration problems for green card holders.

Nevertheless, it would be worth checking in with an experienced immigration attorney, because any issue that involves the overlay between criminal and immigration laws gets complicated fast, and the stakes are high. If you have more than one DUI conviction, or aggravating factors were present in your case (someone was injured, or you were driving with a suspended license, or there was a child in the car, for instance) then the consequences may be more serious.

We'll explain here the basic legal issues, which should help clarify why the issue is worth checking into further.

Any time a green card holder commits a crime, it raises two questions:

DUIs and Inadmissibility

"Inadmissibility" refers to a list of reasons within the immigration laws that someone can be barred from entry to the United States. (See Section 212 of the Immigration and Nationality Act, or I.N.A.) Your original application for a green card was approved only because you were found not to be "inadmissible" (unless you got a waiver of a ground of inadmissibility).

As a green card holder, your request to reenter the U.S. will be tested against the grounds of inadmissibility if you either stayed out of the country for 180 days or more, committed a crime before you left the U.S., or committed a crime while you were away. In a DUI case, the grounds of inadmissibility most likely to block your right to reentry are:

  • commission of one or more crimes of moral turpitude (CMT); usually defined as an intentional crime that was base, vile, or contrary to social norms, which a simple DUI is currently not considered to be
  • conviction of two or more crimes with a sentence of at least five years
  • drug or alcohol addiction (which could trigger inadmissibility on medical grounds), or
  • conviction of a crime involving a controlled substance; or even having personally admitted to a controlled substance violation, even without having been convicted.

Upon return to the U.S., the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer who greets you will run your fingerprints through law enforcement databases. If the search turns up information indicating that one of these grounds of inadmissibility applies to you, the officer could put you into "secondary inspection" and you could ultimately be denied reentry to the United States.

DUIs and Deportability

The immigration law also contains a list of grounds of "deportability," which apply to green card holders. (See I.N.A. § 237.) If something on this list matches you, you can be placed into immigration court (removal) proceedings and ultimately deported from the U.S. even if you haven't taken a trip and tried to return. Your travel, however, raises the chances that your file will be looked at and your deportability discovered. With an order of deportation on your record, you will be barred from returning to the U.S. for many years.

For a person with a DUI on record, the grounds of deportability to worry about include convictions for:

  • aggravated felony: a broad category that not only includes serious crimes such as rape, murder, and trafficking, but also various other types crimes such as theft, obstruction of justice, use of false documents, smuggling, or forgery, where the sentence was, or in some cases could have been, one year or more (a person's conviction may be called a misdemeanor under state law and nevertheless match the federal definition of an aggravated felony)
  • crime of violence (which a DUI which injures someone is NOT usually considered to be unless it involved intentional, not negligent use of force)
  • crime of moral turpitude committed within five years of admission to the U.S., with a possible sentence of one year or more (again, simple DUIs are usually not viewed as CMTs in the absence of aggravating factors)
  • two separate crimes involving moral turpitude, or
  • controlled-substance offense.

If you are found to be possibly deportable upon return to the U.S., you could be ordered to attend immigration court proceedings for possible removal from the United States.

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