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Three Risky Immigration Mistakes

Immigration law is complicated because so much of it doesn’t follow logic. Consequences for seemingly harmless actions can be quite severe, while punishment for things that seem much worse is not nearly as extreme. The following mistakes will likely prevent you from lawfully immigrating to the United States.

1. Lying About Being a United States Citizen

Never lie about being a U.S. citizen. As of October 1996, people who have lied about being a U.S. citizen cannot immigrate through family members. For example, if you use someone else’s birth certificate in attempts to cross the border into the United States or try to get a drivers license, you cannot get lawful permanent residency through a family member.

Another easy way to be caught in this lie is if Immigration ever requests copies of your I-9’s. This is the form you fill out whenever you get a new job, which asks for proof that someone can lawfully work in the United States. If you untruthfully claim to be a U.S. citizen on an I-9, you will never get lawful permanent residence through a family member, including a spouse.

Also, until you are a U.S. citizen you should never vote or register to vote in the United States. Neither should you apply for a United States passport nor serve on a jury. If you get a form to be on a jury, don’t lie about being a United States citizen.

2. Unlawfully Crossing the Border into the U.S. too Often

In the mid 1990’s, Congress made strict changes to immigration law. One of these changes is commonly called “the lifetime bar.” Basically, anyone who stays unlawfully in the United States for more than one year and then leaves the country cannot cannot come back for ten years. If that person unlawfully returns to the United States a second time, he or she must leave for ten years. There is no way around it. Marriage to a United States citizen will not change anything, and neither will having children who are U.S. citizens. If your crossing in and out to the U.S. happened before the law changed you do not have to worry. Be very careful of the dates.

3. Controlled Substance Violations

This is a simple rule that can have devastating consequences. Anyone who has a criminal conviction for a controlled substance may never get lawful permanent residence through a family member. This includes using marijuana, cocaine, and prescription drugs without having a prescription. It doesn’t matter to Immigration if your conviction is considered a misdemeanor or felony. You will not get a green card as a result.

If you have a drug or controlled substance arrest on your record, insist that your criminal defense attorney work with a competent immigration attorney before you accept any plea deal. The State of Wisconsin and U.S. Immigration define “criminal conviction” very differently. Often times, the State would say you do not have a criminal conviction but Immigration would disagree. Consequently, people can have a criminal conviction and not even realize it.

Furthermore, if you have an arrest for a controlled substance, do not travel outside the United States before speaking with a good immigration attorney. This is critically important. A criminal conviction for a controlled substance could mean that you cannot get back into the United States regardless of how long you have been a lawful permanent resident or how many of your family members are either United States citizens or lawful permanent residents.

Last updated: 4-30-2019

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.