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Are felony convictions a barrier to legal immigration?

If you and your family are seeking to emigrate to the United States, or if you are already here and attempting to become a naturalized citizen or legal resident, having an unblemished criminal record is very important.

Immigrants generally face negative consequences for felony convictions. Just how serious the consequences are depend largely on the offense for which you were convicted, as not all offenses will automatically be deportable offenses.

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service has some discretion when weighing the factors about penalties immigrants with convictions face. In most cases involving aggravated felonies, it can be assumed that deportation will be a given.

Below is a summary of potential consequences facing immigrants of varying statuses with convictions for different types of aggravated felonies.

Legal permanent residents may be subject to deportation. They also can be detained throughout the removal proceedings, and can be sentenced to as many as 20 years of prison if they attempt reentry into the U.S. illegally after they have been removed. They may be barred permanently from immigrating to America. Even if they are not deported, legal permanent residents can be prohibited from becoming naturalized citizens.

Refugees who are not legal permanent residents can be deported if they get convicted, no matter if this places them in grave danger in their country of origin. Convictions for some felonies are subject to the discretion of the courts and can cause the refugees to be unable to become legal permanent residents.

Asylees without status as LPRs might get deported, but only if they have been convicted of a "particularly serious crime," that includes aggravated felonies. Other felonies can be subject to the discretion of the court, but could cause the asylee to not be able to obtain LPR status.

Non-citizens with temporary lawful status includes those who have temporary protected status and non-immigrant visas. They stand to lose their protected status and can be deported for felony convictions or being convicted for two or more misdemeanors.

Non-citizens without legal status are considered to be undocumented immigrants, and as such, have no authorization to be in the country. These individuals are the most vulnerable of all, as any criminal offenses can lead to them being deported.

Those whose status is questionable can confidentially consult an Arizona immigration attorney for information and clarification.

Source: Findlaw, "How Does a Felony Affect Immigration Status?," accessed July 29, 2016

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