Deportation Defense for Green Card Holders

Green card holders, or lawful permanent residents, can be deported for both minor and serious criminal convictions. First we will discuss what crimes can put a green card holder in deportation, then we will talk about how you can sometimes fix the problem.

Background Image: Fabric, Benin

Published: 10-4-2019

Immigration law is always changing. We will do our best to keep our website as up-to-date as possible, but the latest information might be more readily available at These pages were written to help you better understand your legal options, however, none of the information published by Catholic Charities Milwaukee should be considered legal advice. If you plan to open your own immigration case, hire an immigration attorney to consult you personally.

Deportable Crimes

 Some deportable crimes are pretty serious, and some much less so. For example, writing a bad check could be deportable because it is considered a crime of moral turpitude, or going against good values. Many terms used to define these crimes are confusing. This is why it is important for you to have a good criminal lawyer who is willing to work with an experienced immigration attorney. 

This is not a complete list of crimes that can lead to the deportation of a lawful permanent resident, but they are the most common:

1. Violating a restraining order

Courts can give you a restraining order, which forbids you to have contact with someone. This includes asking someone else to contact the person who filed the order against you. The United States takes restraining orders very seriously. If you violate a restraining order you can be deported, even if you have been a lawful permanent resident for decades.

2. Domestic violence

Although many countries do not prosecute domestic violence crimes, the United States does. If you are convicted of a domestic violence crime, you may be deported. A prosecutor or judge will not treat you less harshly simply because a conviction could lead to your deportation. Even if the crime is not charged as domestic violence, Immigration may consider it to be a domestic violence crime if it involves actions that fit the definition.

3. Child abuse, neglect, or abandonment

What might be appropriate child discipline in your home country might be considered domestic violence in the United States. You can be criminally charged for hitting your children, or using a belt or a stick to discipline them. If convicted for child abuse, you could be deported. This does not mean you cannot discipline your children, but hitting them is not legally acceptable in the United States.

4. Stalking

You may not engage in any actions directed at a specific person that would cause a reasonable person to fear for his or her safety or the safety of others or suffer substantial emotional distress. If you do, you can be criminally charged with stalking and if you are convicted, you could be deported.

5. Falsely claiming United States citizenship

Many applications may ask if you are a United States citizen, including job, housing, and immigration forms. NEVER say that you are a United States citizen unless you are actually a United States citizen. Even if you have passed the citizenship test, you are not a United States citizen until your oath ceremony. Never lie about being a United States citizen.

6. Voting before you are a United States citizen

Never vote or register to vote unless you are a United States citizen. Sometimes before elections, people will try to help others register to vote in their district. However, if you are a lawful permanent resident and you register or vote, you can become deportable.

7. Conviction for a controlled substance

There are multiple ways that you can become deportable for controlled substance crimes:

If you have more than one offense for possession of 30 grams or less of marijuana, you are deportable.

If you have one offense for possession of 30 grams or more of marijuana you are deportable.

Even though a number of states have legalized marijuana use, it is still considered illegal by Immigration and the U.S. federal government.

8. Drug abuse or addiction

If you abuse drugs or are addicted to drugs you can become deportable even without a criminal conviction for a controlled substance.

9. Failure to tell Immigration that you have moved, and have a new address

If you change addresses, you must tell Immigration within ten days of moving or you are deportable. This does not happen often, but if you are a lawful permanent resident and have not told Immigration of your new address, tell them now. Until you become a United States citizen, you must inform Immigration every time you change your address. Lawful permanent residents can update their address with USCIS on their website.

10. Failure to register as a sex offender

Certain convictions require you to register as a sex offender and keep your registry current. If you have been convicted of a crime that requires you to register as a sex offender and you do not, you can be deported. 

11. A conviction for a crime involving moral turpitude

Moral turpitude means that someone has done something so bad that their community would consider it shocking, or evil. The term confuses most people, but examples of crimes of moral turpitude include: murder, kidnapping, robbery, and aggravated assault (threatening someone’s safety).

You may become deportable for committing crimes of moral turpitude in one of two ways:

1. If you are convicted of a crime of moral turpitude within five years of receiving your green card and the sentence could* be for one year or longer; or

2. If you are convicted of more than one crime involving moral turpitude, you can be deported. Even if you are only arrested once and you only have one trial, as long as you are charged with and convicted of more than one crime involving moral turpitude, you may considered deportable.

*NOTE: You can be deported even if your sentence is shorter than one year, as long as it be COULD be longer than one year. These small details can make a huge difference in your case. This is why it is critical that your criminal attorney work with a good immigration attorney. The overlap of criminal law with immigration law is unique. Not all immigration attorneys practice in this area.

12. Aggravated felony

A lawful permanent resident can be deported if they are convicted of an aggravated felony at any time after receiving their green card. However, the State of Wisconsin often defines aggravated felony very differently than Immigration. In other words, just because the state did not charge you with aggravated felony, it does not automatically mean that Immigration will not.

For Immigration, a deportable, aggravated felony can include any of the following convictions:


  • burglary or theft offenses, including receipt of stolen property, for which the term of imprisonment could be at least one year;
  • racketeering (taking money or property through intimidation or force);
  • commercial bribery, counterfeiting, forgery, or trafficking of vehicles, or altering vehicle identification numbers, for which the term of imprisonment is at least one year;
  • an offense relating to laundering of money or monetary instruments if the amount of the funds exceeds $10,000;
  • fraud or deceit in which the loss to the victim(s) exceeds $10,000;
  • tax evasion in which the revenue loss to the Government exceeds $10,000;

Weapons and Drugs

  • any offense relating to explosive materials;
  • trafficking in firearms or destructive devices, or selling guns or destructive devices such as bombs;
  • certain firearm crimes of violence for which the term of imprisonment could be at least one year;
  • trafficking in a controlled substance, or making or possessing a large amount of drugs;

Sex and Violence

  • peonage, slavery, involuntary servitude, and trafficking persons;
  • murder, rape, or sexual abuse of a minor, (having a sexual relationship with a child is not allowed in the United States, even if both parties are children);
  • child pornography;
  • owning, controlling, managing, or supervising a prostitution business;
  • transporting someone for the purpose of prostitution, if committed for commercial advantage;


  • gambling offenses for which a sentence of one year imprisonment or more could be imposed;
  • an offense for demanding or accepting ransom;
  • failure to appear in court for sentencing if the associated crime could be punishable by imprisonment for a term of five years or more;
  • obstruction of justice, perjury or subornation of perjury (telling lies under oath), or bribing a witness, for which the term of imprisonment is at least one year;
  • an offense relating to a failure to appear before a court pursuant (order) to answer or dispose of a felony charge for which a sentence of 2 years’ imprisonment or more could be imposed.


Cancellation of Removal for Lawful Permanent Residents

The most common deportation defense for green card holders is asking the judge to grant cancellation of removal for a lawful permanent resident. To qualify for cancellation, you have to show that you meet the following three requirements.


First, you must show that you have been a lawful permanent resident for at least five years. You will simply have to provide copies of your green card to submit as evidence.

Continuous Residence

Second, you have to show the judge that you have resided in the United States continuously for at least seven years after having been admitted through any status. It is really important to know that you stop accruing time toward your minimum seven years required as soon as you commit a crime that triggers your deportation or you get a notice to go to court. For example, if Peter is arrested for having a small amount of cocaine two years after getting his green card, he can only show that he had two years as a lawful permanent resident. This means he is deportable and not eligible for cancellation of removal for lawful permanent residents.

Learn more in our Proving Continuous Residence blog post.

NOT an Aggravated Felon

Third, you have to show the judge that whatever your criminal conviction was, it was not a conviction for any aggravated felony. This is something your lawyer needs to explain to the judge, so it is very important to get your lawyer all of the court documents they need.


You cannot get cancellation of removal twice. It is a one time thing. So if you got your green card through cancellation of removal for undocumented immigrants, or if you had a previous deportation proceeding as a lawful permanent resident, you cannot try this again.

Discretionary Relief

Technically, you do not have a legal right to cancellation of removal because it is a form of discretionary relief. In other words, even if you meet the qualifications for cancellation, the court is not required by law to give it to you. They must feel motivated by your story and character enough to want to help you. This means you have to not only think about how you present your case in court, but also how you present yourself.

It will help to have detailed written statements, or affidavits, from family and friends who can vouch for your character. They need to give specific examples demonstrating what kind of person you are. Generic statements claiming that you are a nice person will not be good enough. Your lawyer can help you prepare for these important details of your case.

Find a Good Immigration Lawyer

Now More Than Ever

If you do not qualify for cancellation of removal, or the court decides not to give it to you, a good lawyer can help you find your next best defense. Immigration law is detailed and complicated, and you are much more likely to win your deportation hearing with the help of an experienced immigration attorney.


Detained Immigrants with Lawyers are:

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Additional Resources

When you have to depend on your lawyer to help you navigate and understand your options, it is especially important to find someone trustworthy and competent.

Some immigration applications require you to prove either continuous residence, continuous presence, or both. The difference between the two terms is confusing, but, you can prove both requirements using the same evidence.

If you are at risk for being arrested by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) you need to prepare yourself now. Making arrangements ahead of time will save you and your family a lot of stress if you ever become detained.