Deportation letter from Immigration not a bar to green card, but a judge’s deportation order can create a problem


If a judge has issued a deportation , or ‘removal’, order, the recipient needs to get the deportation case reopened, or apply abroad for a green card.

Q: Can a person who receives a deportation letter, but never leaves, ever get a green card? This person applied for permanent residence, but U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services denied the application.
Mr. Tandia, Staten Island

A: If the “deportation” letter came from USCIS, it may not be a big problem. If it is an order to depart after a deportation (now called “removal”) hearing from the Executive Office for Immigration Review, the person may have a difficult time getting permanent residence.
When USCIS denies permanent residence, it sends a letter that threatens deportation if the applicant doesn’t leave. If the person can’t claim another legal status, he or she could be placed in deportation proceedings. Having received that letter alone does not create a bar to permanent residence. On the other hand, if the person was ordered to appear for removal proceedings and a judge ordered deportation, then the person needs to either get the deportation case reopened, or apply abroad for a green card and get the USCIS to grant “Permission to Reapply for Admission after Deportation or Removal.”
Q: I was arrested and charged with soliciting a prostitute in 2004. The judge agreed to dismiss that charge if I pleaded nolo contendere (no contest) to disorderly conduct. The judge sentenced me to probation, which I completed without problem. In 2007 USCIS granted me permanent residence knowing about my record. I would like to apply for U.S. citizenship. Will my conviction be a problem? How do I answer the questions on the naturalization application about whether I was arrested?
Jose, Monrovia, CA
A: Your criminal record shouldn’t keep you from naturalizing. Still, you should answer “yes” to questions about whether you were arrested and convicted. The new N-400, Application for Naturalization, asks whether you have ever “procured” a prostitute. Soliciting a prostitute for one’s own behalf is not procuring so you can answer “no” too that question.
You were, however, convicted of disorderly conduct. U.S. immigration law defines “conviction” to include a situation where the person pleaded nolo contendere (no contest) and a judge has ordered some form of punishment, penalty, or restraint. That includes serving probation. Since your conviction was before becoming a permanent resident, USCIS already has determined it did not bar permanent residence. So, it shouldn’t be a problem when you go to become a U.S. citizen.


Allan Wernick is an attorney and director of the City University of New York’s Citizenship NOW! project. Email questions to

A permanent resident card, or “green card”, along with a Social Security card

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