How A Driving While Intoxicated Conviction Affects A Green Card Holder

As DWI lawyers, we have to be concerned about the numerous potential collateral consequences to a DWI arrest.  The day non-U.S. citizens receive their Permanent Resident Card—more popularly known as a green card—is probably one they will never forget.  Being green card holders will finally allow them to enjoy benefits they’ve never had before, including sponsoring immediate family members to stay in the U.S. with them and traveling more smoothly in and out of the country.  However, green card holders can jeopardize their lawful permanent resident (LPR) status if they commit what’s referred to as “crimes of moral turpitude,” which can include Driving While Intoxicated or DWI.

For an American citizen, the consequences of a DWI conviction can be harsh enough. The potential for jail time, probation, heavy fines, driver’s license suspension or revocation, and ignition interlock installation are among the penalties that await DUI offenders.  For a green card holder, the outcome of a DWI can be so much worse.

Possible Deportation

A green card provides its holder with certain privileges, but it cannot protect them against deportation from the United States.  In short, a green card holder could face removal from the country if they commit a DWI, which is considered a crime in most states.  However, it’s worth noting that a single misdemeanor DWI offense isn’t likely to trigger immediate deportation proceedings against a green card holder.

What could make the wheels of deportation turn are multiple DW I offenses or a felony DWI conviction.  Deportation may also be in store for green card-holding DWI offenders whose charges include aggravating factors such as having minors in the car upon arrest, criminal damage, endangerment, driving under the influence of drugs, and causing injury or death.

Green card holders with DWI convictions have a chance to plead their case before an immigration court.  Should the court find that any of the grounds of deportability in immigration law applies to an LPR’s case, their green card could be taken away, and deportation could follow.

U.S. Citizenship Application Issues

For legal permanent residents who have had a green card for at least five years, applying for U.S. citizenship by naturalization is usually the next item on their to-do list.  However, having a DWI conviction on their record could cause problems with their citizenship application. After all, naturalization counts being of “good moral character” as one of its primary requirements, and being a DWI offender doesn’t exactly fit that description.

In all likelihood, the road to U.S. citizenship would be a difficult one for a green card holder with a DWI conviction. Still, there’s a ray of hope for green card holders with drunk driving convictions when it comes to obtaining U.S. citizenship, although it involves a little extra patience on their part.

Often, green card holders stand a better chance of obtaining citizenship if they apply for it at least five years after their DWI conviction.  Then again, a DWI conviction could still haunt a green card holder applying for citizenship even when five years or more have passed since it was handed down.

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will likely ask you to submit court documents pertaining to your DWI arrest and conviction and scrutinize them, which could mean delays and possible denial of your application.

Talk To An Immigration Lawyer

If you’re a green card holder and have a DWI conviction on your record, it would be best to talk with an experienced immigration attorney.

An immigration lawyer can study your case and work towards helping you retain your LPR status and keep alive your chances of becoming a U.S. citizen one day.

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