What Types of Crimes Put You at Risk of Losing Your Immigration Status?


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No nation on Earth is associated with immigration more profoundly than the United States. That born Americans will proudly rattle off laundry lists of ethnic backgrounds is a testament to the “melting pot.” But the state of immigration has traveled a long way (so to speak) since the days of grainy film footage of Ellis Island. Thanks in no small part to a century’s worth of leaps and bounds in technology, science, and information, the days when identities or even crimes could be swept under the technological rug have all but vanished. What types of crimes put you at risk of losing your immigration status?

Crimes Against Citizenship

Becoming a United States citizen isn’t easy. There are tests for reading, tests for writing, and tests for speaking, not to mention a whole slew of documents, interviews, and applications to top it off – oh, and a civics test. The point is, becoming a U.S. citizen takes a lot of time and effort, and botching your efforts in one fell criminal swoop would be a terrible waste. Here are some crimes that can undo months or even years of toil. 


To be a permanent resident of the United States, you must have a document called a green card. When it comes to applying for a green card, there are several factors which can disqualify candidates, including something called “Crimes Involving Moral Turpitude,” or CIMT. (Turpitude means “depravity” and “wickedness,” FYI.) It may sound like a holdover from the eighteenth century, but the modern consequences are very real. A “normal” DWI (driving while intoxicated) is unlikely to be categorized as a CIMT, as there’s nothing particularly “wicked” about being intoxicated. However, an aggravated DWI – for example, knowingly driving without a license, or injuring somebody – is another story.


Avvo.com is a website where laypeople ask, and real attorneys answer. One question reads, “Can a person apply for citizenship through naturalization if convicted of assault and battery?” The answers are a wall of resounding “maybes.” It simply depends on other factors in your criminal background, such as: Was the crime committed recently, or years in the past? Have you “cleaned up your act” since then, or do you have a history of other violent crimes? While an assault conviction does not automatically disqualify someone from obtaining citizenship, it certainly has the potential to.

Aggravated Felonies

Unlike assault and DWI where there is, at least, a little wiggle room, convictions of aggravated felonies are a surefire way to be barred from citizenship (provided the conviction happened on or after November 29, 1990). An aggravated felony is a violation of GMC, or “Good Moral Character.” Like CIMT, it may sound old-timey, but meeting the standards for GMC, and in turn naturalization, is critical to obtaining and maintaining U.S. citizenship. Under USCIS (United States Citizenship and Immigration Services) policy, examples of aggravated felonies include drug trafficking, prostitution offenses, smuggling illegal aliens, passport fraud, theft, racketeering, tax evasion, and failure to appear in court. (From the USCIS policy manual: http://www.uscis.gov/policymanual/PDF/PolicyManual-Volume12-PartF-Chapter4.pdf )


About the Author: Brett Skidmore is a Utah criminal defense attorney at Phillips & Skidmore LLC.  He represents individuals who have been arrested and charged with all types of crimes, including those considered “crimes against citizenship”.


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