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Can a Misdemeanor Have an Effect on Your Immigration Status?

In February 2022, Maryland lawmakers introduced a legislative proposal geared toward protecting the interests of hard-working immigrants in the Old Line State. Part of the bill’s name is “Probation Not Deportation,” and it seeks to defer prosecution of immigrants charged with misdemeanor offenses that could compromise their legal status in the United States. In essence, SB 265 gives courts permission to hold off on entering a conviction or admission of guilt into their information systems if the matter can be resolved with probation or community service.

The aforementioned bill was prompted by research conducted by the Chacón Center for Immigrant Justice at the University of Maryland. The research provided examples of immigrant families who have been separated from relatives with misdemeanor offenses on their records. In the American criminal justice system, misdemeanors can range from traffic infractions to trespassing, public nuisance, and possession of cannabis in small amounts. The majority of these offenses don’t result in prison sentences, but they could prompt U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to issue a Notice of Deportation.

Potential Consequences

For an immigrant, a single misdemeanor can derail his or her USCIS petition and application. It can even result in a removal order issued by a judge appointed by the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR). Some immigrants are surprised to learn their conditional or permanent green cards cannot be renewed because of misdemeanors they assumed weren’t relevant to their status. For immigrants in Southern California who are facing possible deportation for misdemeanors, the best course of action is to seek the advice of a San Diego immigration lawyer as soon as possible. While it’s easy to understand why felony crimes, such as murder, rape, sexual abuse, immigration fraud, and kidnappings, disqualify immigration, the argument is more complicated with regard to misdemeanors, and it all boils down to the nebulous matters of admissibility and moral turpitude.


Admissibility is the cornerstone of immigration in the United States. Foreigners who are determined to be inadmissible cannot enter or remain in the country. This determination can be made by consular officers abroad, officials from the Department of State, immigration agents at the border, USCIS case adjudicators, or EOIR judges. Considerations of admissibility can be related to health, security, political subversion, and crime. Instead of looking at the classification and disposition of offenses in the backgrounds of immigrants, those who determine admissibility consider whether the conduct amounted to moral turpitude.

Moral Turpitude

The problem with moral turpitude is that it has no clear frame of reference within USCIS regulations. Anything that runs counter to “morality norms” could be seen as moral turpitude, and this may include misdemeanors. Once moral turpitude is determined, admissibility is usually denied, thus leaving immigrants in difficult positions. What this means for foreigners applying for permanent residence is that they may not be able to get green cards even if their offenses were as innocuous as running poker games without gambling permits.

Immigrants who have misdemeanors on their records can get opinions and assistance from immigration law firms. USCIS rules provide for waivers to be requested whenever moral turpitude is determined. Moreover, admissibility is a legal concept open to interpretation by American judges, which means immigration attorneys can argue such matters in court for the benefit of their clients. 

If you need more information about misdemeanors and immigration status, make sure to seek the advice of experienced immigration lawyers. San Diego residents should reach out to the knowledgeable immigration attorneys at KS Visa Law. We can assist you with a wide variety of issues related to immigration, including residency requirements and family immigration. Call us today at 858-874-0711 to schedule a free consultation.

April 2024