Debunking Myths and Misconceptions: Understanding the Impact of Criminal Records on Immigration Status

Though criminal charges can directly impact someone’s immigration status, it is a confusing area of the law for many people. Non-U.S. citizens who either have a criminal record or have been charged with a crime face uncertainties and confusion regarding how these affect their ability to remain in the United States. 

Criminal Convictions and Immigration Consequences

One widespread belief is that criminal convictions invariably lead to negative immigration consequences. This is only partially accurate. The impact of a criminal conviction on your immigration status depends on various factors, such as the offense’s nature, the sentence’s severity, and the individual’s immigration history. It’s crucial to understand that not every conviction leads to deportation or disqualification from obtaining an immigration benefit.

There is a common assumption that only felonies carry immigration consequences. In reality, certain misdemeanors can also affect immigration status. Examples of these misdemeanors include crimes involving moral turpitude, drug-related offenses, firearms offenses, and incidents of domestic violence. Therefore, the type of offense, rather than its classification as a felony or misdemeanor, often plays a more significant role in determining immigration outcomes.

Sealed or Expunged Records

Another area of confusion centers on sealed or expunged criminal records. Many believe that sealing or expunging a record removes it from consideration in immigration proceedings. However, immigration authorities can access criminal records, even if they have been sealed or expunged. Sealing or expunging a record in a state court does not guarantee immunity from immigration consequences.

Additionally, the belief that serving a criminal sentence eliminates immigration risks is inaccurate. Completing a sentence does not negate the potential immigration impacts of a conviction. Immigration authorities consider the nature of the offense and the individual’s overall criminal history when making decisions.

The Risks of Concealing Criminal History

A critical error some make is attempting to avoid immigration consequences by not disclosing their criminal history. Failing to disclose a criminal record to immigration authorities is considered a serious act of fraud. This can lead to severe consequences, including deportation and potential criminal charges. Being open and honest with your attorney about your criminal history is always advisable. Allow them to fight and advocate for you. Give them the information they need so they can protect you appropriately. 

Clarifying Common Misunderstandings

It is essential to clarify that the severity of a sentence is not always the deciding factor in assessing immigration consequences. The nature of the offense often holds more weight. Additionally, immigration consequences can vary based on the type of immigration benefit sought, such as differences between obtaining a green card and naturalization.

Not all criminal convictions are deemed “removable offenses” under immigration law. These are offenses that can lead to deportation. Even individuals with criminal records may still be eligible for certain immigration benefits, such as waivers of inadmissibility. The critical takeaway is to seek legal counsel, be honest, and allow them to develop an appropriate response so that you and your family can remain in the United States. 


Understanding the relationship between criminal records and immigration status is vital for those with criminal histories seeking to maintain or obtain lawful immigration status in the United States. We empower individuals to make informed decisions and protect their rights by addressing common misconceptions and explaining their options. 

If you are navigating the complexities of crimmigration law, consider scheduling a consultation with STERN Law. As the country’s first 100% Crimmigration law firm, we are dedicated exclusively to the defense of non-U.S. Citizens.


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