Green Card Holders Can be Deported for Committing Minor Offenses Even After Serving Their Time
Many green card holders do not realize that under U.S. law, even after they serve their time and punishment for felony offenses committed, they could be arrested and deported from the country. The applicable law, the 1996 Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act, among other things, expanded classes of deportable aliens to include permanent residents who had committed minor offenses, including: any conviction for violation of a controlled substance law other than a single offense involving possession for one’s own use of 30 grams or less of marijuana, “drug abusers and addicts”, and “Any alien who, within five years after the date of entry; has become a public charge from causes not affirmatively shown to have arisen since entry.” Previously, immediate deportation was triggered only for offenses that could lead to five years or more in jail. IIRIRA applied retroactively to all those convicted of deportable offenses at the time of its passing. However, in the 2001 case of Immigration and Naturalization Service v. St. Cyr, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the law’s retroactive applicability to those who pled guilty to a crime if they would not have been deportable at the time that they pled guilty. The Court concluded that the law did not clearly state that the law was meant to apply retrospectively. The wider reach of IIRIRA can be seen in the case of Mickel Mesa, recently chronicled in the Voice of America. Mickel, who has lived in the United States for the past twenty years, was arrested by Customs and Border Protection in late 2013 after a visit to the Dominican Republic for a guilty plea to felony possession of marijuana with intent to distribute in 2006. He had received a sentence of community service and five years of probation, both of which were completed before the trip. After being held in a correctional facility, he was deported to the Dominican Republic in January 2015, where he has remained since. One of the best ways to avoid such a situation is to apply for citizenship as soon as possible. A Green Card can generally be acquired through an immigrant’s connections to family members that are U.S. Citizens, through a job offer or investment, as a refugee, or through the Diversity Immigrant Visa Program (often referred to as the “Green Card Lottery”). A permanent resident (green card holder) has the right to live permanently in the United States as long as he/she does not commit a deportable offense, legally work in the United States, and be protected by the laws of the states. A permanent resident can apply to become a citizen through the naturalization process if they meet certain specific requirements after three years in the country in some cases, or for five years in the country in others. It costs about $680, which includes a $595 application fee and a $85 biometric services fee. As this process can become quite complicated, it’s good to have an experienced immigration attorney on your side to assist you. A Look Back at the Recent History of Immigration Laws The United States recently celebrated the 92nd anniversary of an infamous and controversial Immigration law, which thankfully, has since been replaced with an improved system. Although Immigration Laws in this country can be quite complicated and difficult to navigate at times, it’s good to look back and remember how far our country has come from the backward and blatantly discriminatory immigration laws of the past. The Comprehensive Immigration Act, also known as the Johnson-Reed Act, was passed into law on May 26, 1924. The Act limited the number of immigrants allowed into the United States by putting into place strict quotas restricting the number of people from each country allowed to obtain immigration visas. No immigrants from Asia were allowed to receive visas or enter the United States under a provision that excluded from entry any “alien” who was ineligible for citizenship due to their nationality or race. The immigration quotas set in place allowed for immigration visas for two percent of the total number of each nationality of people in the United States as of the 1890 national census. Basing quotas on the 1890 census in particular meant that fewer southern and eastern Europeans such as Italians or Bulgarians were allowed into the U.S. than would have been if a more recent census had been used as a baseline. So where an average of 200,000 Italians had entered the U.S. during each year from 1900-1910, the annual quota for Italians was set at 3,845. 51,227 immigrants were allowed from Germany but only 131 from Spain and 100 from Greece. This horrific law was the result of many factors. World War I had raised national security concerns in the country. Congress had passed a restrictive immigration law in 1917 that increased the tax paid upon arrival by new immigrants (almost all immigrants had to pay an $8 tax, which equals about $163 today) and required immigrants over 16 years to pass a literacy test (in which immigrants had to show basic reading comprehension in any language), among other things. The Act completely excluded any immigrants born in the “Asiatic Barred Zone,” defined as “any country not owned by the U.S. adjacent to the continent of Asia.” Those who were able to enter the country were almost all required to pay an $8 tax (equal to over $163 today). The Quota Act of 1921 limited immigrants from each nation to three percent of that nationality’s makeup in the U.S. population as of the 1910 census. Such laws were also influenced by the rise of the eugenics movement, which tried to improve the genetic quality of the human population by promoting genetic superiority of white Europeans. The 1927 law reflected this viewpoint in its restriction on the immigration of “undesirables,” including "idiots, imbeciles, feeble-minded persons, epileptics, insane persons…paupers; professional beggars…contract laborers” among others. In 1965, the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 (also known as the Hart-Celler Act) got rid of the Immigration Law of 1924 and replaced the national origins quota system with the system we have today, which looks at immigrants’ skills and their family relationships with U.S. citizens or residents instead. The Act also allowed people to migrate from Asia to the United States.