Do I have to leave the country after being convicted of a crime?

Every day, immigrants, legal and illegal, are arrested on charges such as drunk driving, driving without a license or breaking into a store. Such an event can be frightening, especially when you do not know what it means for your future.

You may be notified that you have to leave the country, but the fact is that you might qualify for a waiver. This waiver enables you to stay in the United States for as many as 10 years as you apply for legal status.

Hardships suffered

If you are married to or related to a U.S. citizen or legal U.S. resident, would that person suffer a hardship if you were separated or if the person had to return to your home country with you? The answer is probably yes. It is important to note, though, that “hardship” in this case does not mean the typical emotional pain that comes with a separation. The nuances are more complicated but can usually be proven.

For instance, if you are the sole caretaker of an elderly parent who is a U.S. citizen, your parent’s standard of living might deteriorate seriously if you were deported. To give another example, suppose you are the parent of a young U.S. citizen with a disability. How would a move or separation affect the child’s progress in school?

Process of citizenship

Assuming your waiver is granted, you can proceed with applying to become a permanent resident or citizen. To become a citizen, it helps to be a fluent English speaker and to have ways of proving your moral character that offset your criminal convictions. If you have a green card, you must have lived in the United States for five years before becoming a citizen.

Having a criminal record does not necessarily prohibit you from staying in the country or becoming a U.S. citizen. It is easy to become discouraged and fearful of deportation after a criminal conviction. However, an attorney may be able to help keep you in the country via a waiver of grounds of inadmissibility. 

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