How a Drug Crime Can Impact Your Ability for US Citizenship

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How a Drug Crime Can Impact Your Ability for US Citizenship

Becoming a US citizen is already challenging for many immigrants, but it becomes even more complicated when faced with a drug conviction.

Recent studies estimate that nearly 68,000 non-citizens with prior convictions are in the United States, with a significant portion having drug-related offenses. 

This article will dive deep into the impact of drug crimes on an immigrant’s ability to obtain US citizenship in Arizona and how a skilled criminal defense lawyer from the Shah Law Firm can make a world of difference.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll cover the following:

The Consequences of Drug Convictions on Immigration Status

The Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) is the primary law governing immigration in the United States.

Drug crimes, addressed in Arizona Revised Statutes (ARS) Title 13, Chapter 34, can severely affect a person’s immigration status.

A drug conviction can result in deportation, inadmissibility, and denial of naturalization for those seeking US citizenship.

Deportation is the forced removal of a non-citizen from the United States

Inadmissibility, conversely, prevents a non-citizen from entering the country or adjusting their status to that of a lawful permanent resident (LPR).

Lastly, denial of naturalization occurs when a non-citizen cannot become a US citizen due to failing the requirements for naturalization.

Inadmissibility and Waivers for Drug Offenses

According to INA § 212(a)(2)(A)(i)(II), a non-citizen may be deemed inadmissible if they have been convicted of a drug offense.

However, obtaining a waiver for certain drug offenses is possible under INA § 212(h).

This waiver can grant relief from inadmissibility, but it is not guaranteed and depends on several factors.

Immigration authorities consider various factors when granting waivers, such as the nature of the offense, the amount of time since the conviction, evidence of rehabilitation, and any potential hardship to the applicant or their US citizen or LPR family members.

Additionally, they may evaluate the positive contributions the applicant has made to society or any other compelling circumstances.

Does a Criminal Record Affect My Green Card Application?

Yes, a criminal history can significantly affect your green card application.

When applying for a green card, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) evaluates your admissibility, including assessing your moral character.

Certain criminal convictions, such as drug offenses, crimes involving moral turpitude, aggravated felonies, or crimes with a potential sentence of one year or more, can render an applicant inadmissible under the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) §§ 212(a)(2)(A)(i)(I) and (II).

Inadmissibility may lead to denying your green card application or even deportation if you are already in the United States.

However, in some cases, you may be eligible for a waiver or other forms of relief, depending on the nature and circumstances of your conviction.

An experienced criminal defense attorney, like those at the Shah Law Firm, can help you understand the potential impact of your criminal record on your green card application and advise you on the best course of action.

Drug Convictions and Deportation

Deportation can be a harsh consequence of a drug conviction, and INA § 237(a)(2)(B)(i) outlines the grounds for deportation based on drug offenses.

Aggravated felonies, as defined in INA § 101(a)(43)(B), significantly increase the risk of deportation for non-citizens.

In Arizona, specific drug laws can result in deportation, such as ARS § 13-3407, which addresses possessing dangerous drugs.

It’s crucial for non-citizens facing drug charges to understand the potential immigration consequences and seek the help of an experienced criminal defense attorney.

Can I Be Deported Over a Traffic Offense?

Generally, traffic offenses are considered minor infractions and do not typically result in deportation.

However, certain traffic offenses can be deemed more serious.

They may have immigration consequences, especially if they involve aggravating factors or are classified as crimes involving moral turpitude (CIMT) under the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA).

An example of a traffic offense that could lead to deportation is driving under the influence (DUI), mainly if it results in bodily harm, property damage, or involves repeat offenses.

Deportation can also occur if the traffic offense is classified as an aggravated felony under INA § 101(a)(43).

For instance, imagine a hypothetical situation where a lawful permanent resident (LPR) has been convicted of multiple DUI offenses in Arizona.

According to ARS § 28-1383, an individual with a third DUI conviction within a seven-year period can be charged with aggravated DUI, a Class 4 felony.

In this case, the LPR may face deportation due to the severity of the offense and its classification as an aggravated felony under INA § 101(a)(43)(F), which includes crimes of violence resulting in a term of imprisonment of at least one year.

It is essential for non-citizens to be aware of the potential immigration consequences of traffic offenses and to consult with an experienced criminal defense attorney, like those at the Shah Law Firm, who can help navigate the complex intersection of criminal and immigration law.

Drug Crimes and Naturalization

Drug convictions can harm the “good moral character” requirement for naturalization under INA § 316(a).

Failing to meet this requirement may result in denial of naturalization, delaying or preventing the applicant from becoming a US citizen.

However, there are potential steps that can be taken to address the negative impacts of drug convictions on naturalization eligibility.

These may include providing evidence of rehabilitation, demonstrating a period of good conduct, or presenting other mitigating factors that show the applicant’s good moral character.

Legal Strategies for Defending against Drug Charges and Protecting Immigration Status

When faced with drug charges in Arizona, it is essential to understand the common defenses and strategies that can be employed to protect one’s immigration status.

Consulting an experienced criminal defense attorney, like those at the Shah Law Firm, is crucial for navigating this complex process.

Some common defenses against drug charges in Arizona include the following: 

  • Challenging the legality of search and seizure: Asserting that the search and seizure violated the Fourth Amendment rights.
    • Example: A non-citizen’s vehicle is searched without probable cause, and drugs are found in the trunk.
  • Disputing possession or ownership of the drugs: Arguing that the accused was unaware of the presence of drugs or that the drugs belonged to someone else.
    • Example: A non-citizen is arrested for drugs found in a shared apartment, but the drugs belong to their roommate.
  • Questioning the accuracy of drug testing: Contesting the reliability or validity of drug tests, including improper handling or testing procedures.
    • Example: A non-citizen is charged with drug possession, but the lab results were mishandled or contaminated, leading to a false positive.
  • Arguing personal use and not for sale or distribution: Asserting that the drugs were intended for personal consumption and not for sale or distribution to others.
    • Example: A non-citizen is found with a small amount of marijuana, but there is no evidence to suggest they intended to sell or distribute the drugs.

The importance of working with a knowledgeable criminal defense attorney cannot be overstated.

They will fight for the best possible outcome in your criminal case and consider the immigration consequences of any potential plea agreement, diversion program, or expungement.

By doing so, they can help minimize the impact of drug charges on your immigration status and future prospects for US citizenship.

An Experienced Attorney is Essential When Faced With A Drug Conviction

Top Arizona DUI Defense Attorney Arja Shah The implications of a drug crime on a non-citizen’s ability to obtain US citizenship in Arizona can be severe and life-altering.

Deportation, inadmissibility, and denial of naturalization are just some potential consequences.

Understanding the various aspects of the INA, Arizona Revised Statutes, and the factors considered by immigration authorities is essential in building a solid defense. 

Don’t let a drug charge define your future—contact the Shah Law Firm today and receive a free consultation at (602) 560-7408.

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