How criminal history could impact your Green Card


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I am a green-card holder and I live in Illinois. About 12 years ago, I was charged and pleaded guilty (I was guilty) to a felony. I was dealing drugs and was set up and held by the police. Upon pleading guilty, I was sentenced to nine months in jail and, I think, one year’s probation.

That was a turning point in my life. Since then, I have not returned to Jamaica for fear that once I leave the United States (US), I will not be allowed to re-enter. One lawyer told me that, because of my felony record, it is a possibility I will not be allowed to return.

Is there anything I can do legally so I can travel outside of the US and not worry about being barred from re-entering?

Also, I own a small business and wanted to put my brother’s name on the documents. Actually, I would love for him to be here with me legally. He would be a big asset to my business. He is a Jamaican national and a permanent resident of Costa Rica. He is currently visiting me. He is concerned that doing that might affect his travelling to and fro where immigration is concerned.

  • S


Dear S,

You are right to be concerned about how your criminal history could impact your ability to re-enter the US. Many people do not realise the concept of admission and that, as a green-card holder, whenever you leave the US and return to the US border, you are asking for permission to enter the US.

entry not guaranteed

Each entry into the US by a non-citizen is a request to the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) office for permission to enter. Being in possession of a visa or green card does not guarantee you entry into the US. The CBP officer has wide latitude to admit you into the US, and in the case of green-card holders, many of your actions can render you inadmissible. Certainly, the existence of a criminal record is one reason that you can be deemed inadmissible.

In some cases, returning residents are taken into immigration custody at the airport and taken to see an immigration judge. Others are placed in ‘deferred inspection’ and told to return on a given date and time with their criminal record(s), to resume the entry attempt. During the deferred inspection process the resident is either admitted, referred to an immigration judge or taken into custody.

You indicate that you have spoken with an attorney about your situation and were advised that it is a possibility you might be barred from re-entering. I assume you took your criminal records to be reviewed by the attorney. If the attorney told you that it is possible that you will be inadmissible if you leave the US, it is probably best that you not travel outside of the States. When a person is an arriving alien, they have fewer opportunities for relief from removal from the US than if they were taken into immigration custody after being admitted.

With regard to your brother and your business, you should consult with an immigration attorney regarding the type of business you operate and your brother’s educational and work experience to determine whether your business could apply for your brother to live and work in the US. As a green-card holder you are not able to file a family petition for your brother – you would have to be a US citizen. However, because of your criminal past, you should not apply for US citizenship without first consulting with an attorney as that application could also lead to your being placed in removal proceedings.

Dahlia A. Walker-Huntington is a Jamaican-American attorney who practises immigration law in the United States and family, criminal and personal injury law in Florida. She is a mediator, arbitrator, and special magistrate in Broward County, Florida; and an adjunct professor at Miami Dade College’s School of Criminal Justice.

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