What Crimes Make an Immigrant Inadmissible to the U.S.?
There are various reasons why an immigrant may be denied citizenship in the United States. From health to misrepresentation to procedural errors, many non-citizens are faced with a rejected green card or visa applications every day.
If you’re attempting to secure lawful residence in the U.S. with a criminal record, you may be wondering what crimes can make you ineligible. Fortunately, not all crimes can result in the automatic rejection of a green card or visa.
When can an immigrant’s criminal record make them inadmissible to the U.S.? Keep reading to learn more about U.S. immigration laws, requirements, and eligibility.
What Is Inadmissibility?
According to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), individuals who are considered “inadmissible” are not permitted by law to enter or reside in the United States. The grounds for inadmissibility are established by the Immigration and Nationality Act, which outlines 8 general categories for inadmissibility:
- Inadmissibility due to health. Applicants are required to undergo a medical exam. If they are determined to be an addict or substance abuser, have a communicable disease, lack or refuse to receive required vaccinations, or suffer from a condition that makes them a danger to themselves or others, an applicant can face inadmissibility to the U.S.
- Inadmissibility due to criminal reasons. While it’s possible to secure lawful residence with a criminal record, certain crimes make you ineligible for U.S. citizenship.
- Inadmissibility due to national security reasons. If an applicant is determined to be a threat to national security, their request for citizenship can get rejected.
- Inadmissibility due to the likelihood of becoming a public charge. If the U.S. government determines an applicant to be a public charge (defined as an individual that “is primarily dependent on the government for subsistence,” or someone who has received one or more public benefits for more than 12 months in a 36-month period), they may be inadmissible.
- Inadmissibility due to lack of labor certification. This requirement asserts that non-citizens wishing to obtain citizenship for work purposes are inadmissible unless/until the Secretary of Labor verifies that 1) employment of the applicant will not adversely affect the wages and working conditions of U.S. workers and 2) there aren't enough U.S. workers willing, qualified, and able to do the same work.
- Inadmissibility due to fraud or misrepresentation. If an applicant lies on their application, falsifies documents, or attempts to use a sham marriage to obtain citizenship, they may be inadmissible to the U.S.
- Inadmissibility due to prior removals and/or unlawful presence. If an applicant entered the U.S. unlawfully or has prior removals, they may be inadmissible.
- Inadmissibility due to miscellaneous grounds. This includes outlying grounds for inadmissibility, including (but not limited to) applicants who failed to attend immigration and/or removal hearings, smugglers, student visa abusers, and unlawful voters.
Which Crimes Make an Immigrant Inadmissible?
Various crimes can make an applicant ineligible for any form of U.S. citizenship. Qualifying acts are listed in the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). Under U.S. Code 8 § 1182, the following criminal convictions can make a person inadmissible to the United States:
Crimes Involving Moral Turpitude (CIMT)
A “crime involving moral turpitude” (CIMT) is a federal term used to describe a “depraved or immoral act” or crime that is insulting to one’s moral compass. In other words, a CIMT is known to disrespect or antagonize societal norms.
Clarifying ambiguous boundaries surrounding CIMTs can be tricky. As an immigrant, you may be wondering which crimes are considered to be CIMTs. The Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) defines “crimes of moral turpitude” as acts that:
- Shock public conscience
- Are inherently depraved and vile
- Contradict societal rules
- Are conducted with evil intent
- Result from reckless behavior
- Are morally reprehensible
- Are intentionally wrong
As you can see, defining a CIMT isn’t limited to what crime was committed, but how a crime was committed. This is why designating a crime of moral turpitude is up to the BIA to determine. Variances in state law can also cause conflicting opinions regarding which crimes are CIMTs and which are not.
Generally, the following acts are considered crimes of moral turpitude:
- Manslaughter (voluntary or involuntary)
- Spousal abuse
- Child abuse
- Aggravated assault
- Animal fighting
Keep in mind that this is not a comprehensive list. Not only does the USCIS get the final say in which crimes are CIMTs, but they will ultimately decide which crimes bar non-citizens from obtaining lawful U.S. residence.
There are 2 exceptions to the crimes of moral turpitude rule:
- The exclusion of minors (under 18 years old). Minors who were released from confinement more than 5 years before applying for a green card, visa, or other form of U.S. citizenship may still be admissible.
- The exclusion of crimes where the maximum penalty was 1 year or less in prison. To be eligible for this exclusion, the person convicted must have served a sentence that was 6 months or less.
Controlled Substance Violations
Any drug-related crime can make an individual inadmissible to the U.S. This includes all violations, attempted violations, and the act of conspiring to violate a U.S. or foreign drug law.
The United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) offers a comprehensive list of controlled substances under federal law. In Florida, illegal drugs can fall into one of five categories, with Schedule I being the most severe and Schedule V being the most severe.
Examples of Schedule I Drugs
Examples of Schedule II Drugs
- Opium and salts
Examples of Schedule III Drugs
- Anabolic steroids
- Products containing less than 90 mg of codeine per dosage
Examples of Schedule IV Drugs
Examples of Schedule V Drugs
- Cough preparations with less than 200 mg of codeine per 100 mL
Multiple Criminal Convictions
If you’ve been convicted of multiple criminal offenses, you may face inadmissibility to the U.S.
The USCIS mandates that ineligible immigrants have two or more offenses on their record for which the aggregate prison sentence were 5 years or more, regardless of whether the convictions resulted from one trial or a series of separate ones.
Illicit Trafficking of a Controlled Substance
This includes the trafficking of any illegal substance or drug. Keep in mind that a formal conviction is not required to face consequences for illicit trafficking. The consular officer or Attorney General retains the right to determine if a person has been involved (or aided, abetted, or colluded with others) in illegal drug trafficking.
Benefitting From Illicit Drug Trafficking
Benefitting from illegal drug trafficking within the last 5 years can bar an individual from entering the U.S. Examples include an immigrant benefitting from trafficking via their spouse, son, daughter, or other relative.
There are two key things to keep in mind about this particular crime:
- Benefits aren’t limited to financial advantages; rather, they can exist in a non-monetary form.
- The crime entails that the person knew (or reasonably should have known) where the benefits were coming from.
Prostitution & Commercialized Vice
This applies to those who have engaged in or solicited prostitution within 10 years of applying for a green card, visa, or other form of U.S. citizenship.
It also includes anyone involved in procuring prostitutes, receiving proceeds from prostitution, or entering the U.S. to engage in any other unlawful commercialized vice.
Asserting Immunity After Serious Criminal Activity
If an applicant asserted immunity after involvement in serious criminal activity and departed the United States without submitting to the jurisdiction of the court, they may be inadmissible to the United States.
Severe Violations of Religious Freedom
If an applicant served as a foreign government official and engaged in serious violations of religious freedom, the USCIS may determine that they’re inadmissible to the U.S.
If an immigrant was involved in any way with human trafficking (regardless of whether the crime took place within or outside U.S. borders), they may be declared inadmissible.
Benefitting from Human Trafficking
If an applicant benefitted from human trafficking via a spouse, son, daughter, or other family member, they may be inadmissible to the U.S. assuming they knew (or reasonably should have known) that the benefits stemmed from human trafficking.
These benefits are not limited to monetary advantages.
If an applicant was engaged in money laundering (or aided, abetted, colluded, or conspired to engage), they may be inadmissible to the U.S.
Passionately Protecting Your Future
Given our team’s impressive background and extensive experience with both criminal defense and immigration law, our South Florida attorneys are highly skilled at navigating cases with parallel proceedings. If you’re an immigrant who has encountered one obstacle after another while navigating the complexities of U.S. immigration laws, you’re not alone—and our firm is here to help.
Our team takes pride in treating each and every client with respect and transparency. We believe in being straightforward, direct, and informative during your case to make sure you never feel left in the dark.
We understand that it can be hard to find reliable legal counsel when faced with criminal charges. When you have the right legal team in your corner, their guidance and knowledge can be a breath of fresh air. Rest assured that when you partner with Hubbs Law, P.A., you’re in good hands. We’ll see your case through until the very end and fight to obtain the result you desire.
If you're facing criminal charges or deportation, put your trust in real experience and real results. Call (305) 570-4802 or contact us online to learn how our South Florida attorneys can help with your criminal and/or immigration needs.