America is the land of dreams and opportunity. That’s why so many people from outside the US are so keen to make it their home. Most individuals take the legal route and apply for a Green Card in the hope of securing legal permanent residence (LPR). Still, others take a different approach and enter or live in the US illegally.
Acquiring a Green Card takes considerable time, effort, and money, and at the end of the process, your application may be denied for any number of reasons. You may be refused a Green Card because of a criminal record, health issues, insufficient financial resources, national security concerns, or prior immigration violations.
You might think that if you’ve been found guilty of an immigration violation that there’s no chance of getting a Green Card. In many cases, that’s true, but in certain circumstances, there may be a work-around.
Read on for a review of the different types of immigration violations, their legal consequences, and how you might be able to secure a Green Card despite your infringement.
What Is Considered An Immigration Violation?
Immigration violations take various forms, including illegal entry, overstaying a visa, marriage fraud, and using false information or documentation. If you commit a crime when you’re living temporarily in the US, you may also fall foul of immigration law. Employers who hire illegal aliens should also be aware that their actions may result in civil penalties.
Let’s now examine the consequences of the different types of immigration violations.
If you enter the US illegally - hidden in a car, as a stow-away, via an unofficial border crossing, or by using false papers - you’re committing a serious offense. If you’re caught, you could be looking at a fine, a prison sentence, deportation, or all three. There’s also a sliding scale of heavier penalties for repeat offenders.
Tempting as it might be to stay on after your visa has expired, it’s not a good idea. You may find it impossible to extend your last visa, but worse than that, you may be barred from entering the US for a set number of years. Plus, your violation will count against you if you ever apply for a Green Card in the future.
People from overseas who marry a US citizen can apply for citizenship themselves after three years. That has led some couples into a sham marriage, where the only goal is to secure citizenship for the non-US national. If fraud is proven, a non-US national is probably looking at deportation. Correspondingly, the US citizen faces substantial penalties of up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000.
Unsurprisingly, it’s illegal for anyone to use false or counterfeit documentation in the US to enter the country or support a Green Card application. The US immigration authorities have a highly sophisticated system of checking for fraudulent documentation, meaning there’s a good chance they’ll catch up with you in the end. A range of significant civil and criminal penalties await those who are caught. The same goes for those who assist in the preparation of the false documentation.
If you’ve ever been convicted of a crime, there’s no doubt that this will make it harder for you to secure a Green Card. However, leniency may be shown if it was a minor felony, you were young, or it was a one-off offense. Under no circumstances should you be tempted to cover up a felony: even convictions that have been struck off your record may still be visible to the authorities.
People who offend while living temporarily in the US - say on a short-term visa or when seeking asylum - are likely to feel the total weight of the law. This especially true if you commit a serious offense like murder, rape, drug-dealing, or money-laundering.
Deportation is the ultimate sanction for people who’ve broken US immigration law. Whether a violation results in deportation depends on the seriousness of the violation, the number of prior violations, your refugee status, and more.
There are many complex rules and regulations around deportation. So if you’ve been arrested for an immigration violation, you should always speak to a lawyer to confirm your exact rights: you may be able to appeal a deportation decision, for example. You should never sign any documents unless you fully understand the implications of what you’re doing.
Any infringement of immigration law is a serious matter and will inevitably impact a current or future Green Card application. There’s no getting away from that fact. But the immigration authorities can show some flexibility and discretion. There’s a difference between someone who mistakenly overstayed their visa by a couple of days and a person who entered the US illegally and committed a significant crime before being deported.
The problem for anyone guilty of a violation is that immigration law is complicated at the best of times - but with a conviction, it becomes doubly so. Fortunately, there’s an answer to working your way through the complexity and understanding what your options are.
An experienced lawyer can help you with all legal aspects of the immigration process, including Green Card applications, appeals, court appearances, asylum, violations, deportation, and more.
Immigration lawyers spend much of their time working on Green Card applications, and you can benefit directly from their practical knowledge and experience. If you do already have an immigration infringement to your name, an attorney may be able to suggest ways to lessen its impact, such as through the use of waivers.
An immigration violation is a serious offense - with severe consequences. A qualified immigration lawyer can often increase your chances of securing a Green Card in the first place before any convictions. Still, if you’ve already committed a violation, they can advise you if there are any potential ways to overcome the impact.