While the government sorts out the legal problems with the President’s proposed immigration changes, I am going to answer some common questions about immigration issues that my clients have recently had. Many of these problems relate to those with previous criminal issues.
The first and most basic question is: Can someone still qualify for immigration relief with a criminal history? Generally, the answer is yes. This past November, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced their “enforcement priorities” as it relates to deportations. They claim that they are mostly concerned with individuals who pose a danger to national security (aliens engaged in or suspected of terrorism), recent unlawful entries into the US and people convicted of felonies. DHS also places a higher priority on those convicted of three or more misdemeanors (NOT including traffic violations) or those convicted of a “significant misdemeanor” like domestic violence, sexual abuse, the unlawful possession of a firearm, drug distribution or driving under the influence. Basically, those crimes that they consider especially dangerous to our society and to those living here.
Typically, most immigrants in our community have criminal histories relating to traffic violations such as driving with an expired or no valid driver’s license and driving under the influence of alcohol. The first of these two crimes is not very serious and can be resolved without an approval being denied. The second, however, can be very difficult to overcome. Although I have had much success with gaining approvals for clients even with drunk driving records, it is not easy. The important thing to know with crimes is that many of them can be addressed in a filing in a way that immigration will still approve a request. Consultation with an attorney is critical for success.
A closely related question for those with criminal histories is: Should I pay the tickets from driving infractions or court costs associated with other crimes? I have been asked, will paying the $1,000 I owe help fix my papers? My answer is ALWAYS, yes. You should always pay your tickets and costs to the court or government (i.e. police). Not only is the right thing to do, but that is what it means to be an American; responsible and respectful of our society and its rules. When immigration is evaluating whether an individual deserves an approval, this is exactly what they are trying to determine. They are trying to decide if you are a productive and responsible member of our community and will add to the value of our country and culture. If someone refuses to pay the fines they are legally and morally obligated to pay, why would a government worker grant an approval? Most of the time they will not. So, the bottom-line is that you should always pay your fines, costs and taxes.
Another common question is: Could someone can apply for multiple benefits from immigration? In this case, we have someone who qualifies for two or more different processes most of the time because of a relationship with multiple family members. The easy answer is that there is no limit to the number of different processes someone can apply for, but there will only be one approval. The particular facts of your case will determine which process you can and should apply for. In these cases, it is critical to take the proper steps since the decision to apply for one process over another (or multiple processes) can be very tricky. In immigration, timing is everything and one process may be strategically more important than another. Like most of immigration law, it is important to consult a reputable attorney who specializes in immigration law to help you navigate this path.