Can the Green Card Renewal Process Lead to Removal Proceedings?
January 15, 2008

This is a question that has arisen with increasing frequency in the past year with hundreds of thousands of long time permanent residents facing the need to renew expiring permanent resident cards (aka “green cards”). The simple answers – for those without criminal issues: No. For those with criminal issues: Maybe.

Individuals who have accumulated one or more criminal convictions since the time they have become permanent residents are certainly advised to give serious consideration to seeking legal counsel prior to submitting their I-90 applications to renew their resident cards. That is because U.S. Department of Homeland Security is using the renewal process as an opportunity to review the applicant’s record for any criminal or terrorist activity and if they deem appropriate, seek to strip the resident of their status and place them in removal (formerly known as deportation) proceedings.

The type of scrutiny now being applied in the resident card renewal process is not unlike the screening process that takes place during the course of N-400 naturalization processing – for residents applying for U.S. citizenship, – or during the course of a resident’s inspection process when they seek to enter the U.S. following a trip abroad. The question DHS seeks to have answered appears to be the same: do new and improved post-9/11 federal government databases indicate that this resident has engaged in activity which should trigger further investigation and possibly the initiation of removal proceedings.

Here are some more questions and answers on issues that frequently arise in the green card renewal process (Form I-90):

What kind of criminal activity triggers the initiation of removal proceedings?

In all but the rarest of cases, it takes a criminal conviction, and not just an arrest or charge. Moreover, the conviction usually must be on the more serious side of the spectrum, although it is entirely possible that even a misdemeanor conviction can have removal consequences.

Can convictions for traffic offenses, such as Driving Under the Influence trigger removal proceedings?

Traffic offenses are generally harmless. Applicants with more than a couple of DUI convictions, or even a single Felony DUI conviction may, however, find themselves at risk of being placed in proceedings.

Does being placed in proceedings mean the permanent resident will be deported?

Absolutely not. Once placed in removal proceedings, permanent residents have an opportunity to present a defense. Depending on various factors, including the seriousness of the conviction, the number of years they have lived in the U.S. and potential hardships they or their family may face, the resident may very well be able to retain their resident status and remain in the U.S.

In some circumstances, it may be appropriate and/or necessary for the resident to seek to have their conviction vacated (as opposed to expunged) because they were not provided with effective counsel during the criminal proceedings and not advised of the immigration consequences of pleading guilty by their criminal defense attorney.

If I am placed in removal proceedings, does that mean I lose my resident status immediately?

Absolutely not. Residents who are fighting their case in removal proceedings remain permanent residents throughout the time their case is pending before the court, and even on appeal. Thus, the resident continues to retain all of their rights to live and work in the U.S., although it would be most unadvisable for them to attempt to travel internationally while removal proceedings are ongoing.

The discussion above is scary and serious. Thus again, with their life and liberty in the U.S. at stake, permanent residents with criminal convictions seeking to renew their resident cards are advised to seek legal counsel before starting the process. (Please note that the discussion above does not address the many separate and distinct issues faced by conditional-marriage based, 2 year resident aliens who are seeking to remove their conditional status and convert their status to that of a permanent resident.)

Copyright © 2008, By Law Offices of Richard Hanus, Chicago, Illinois