A DUI (Driving Under the Influence) can have no effect or a negative effect on an application for a green card or citizenship. The specific charge, criminal history of the applicant, and any additional charges beyond the DUI determine how U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will view the application.
A first-time, simple DUI case that does not involve other charges is unlikely to affect an application for a green card or citizenship. Note that applications for greencards can be denied by USCIS as a matter of discretion, hence it is important to have a qualified green card attorney on your side to better your chances at obtaining your greencard. If an applicant is placed on probation, he or she may not become a citizen until the probation has ended. Additionally, an applicant for citizenship must prove that he or she has demonstrated good moral character for the previous five years. Even in the case of a simple DUI, it is important to have a qualified attorney on your side to argue the strengths in your case in order to better your chances that your application for naturalization (“citizenship”) won’t be denied for lack of good moral character.
If the current DUI can be charged as a felony, or the applicant faces additional charges beyond the DUI, the applicant may experience the following negative effects: delays, denial, and removal. In California, a DUI can be charged as a felony in three instances: the DUI caused injury or death to another person; the offender has three or more prior DUI or “wet reckless” (reckless driving involving alcohol) convictions in ten years; or the offender has at least one prior felony DUI conviction.
A DUI that involves additional charges, specifically those that cause USCIS to categorize the DUI as an “aggravated felony,” will trigger a strict review by USCIS. Aggravated felonies also include crimes of violence and thefts for which the period of imprisonment is at least one year. A conviction for an aggravated felony is grounds for removal or “deportation”.
It is important to note that if you file for citizenship and you have a conviction for an aggravated felony you may be placed in deportation proceedings. Hence, the uninformed filing of an application for citizenship can have very negative consequences for some individuals.
USCIS also scrutinizes cases in which an applicant acted in a manner contrary to the accepted standards of society. USCIS looks for evidence of Crimes Involving Moral Turpitude (CIMTs). USCIS pays close attention to CIMTs because green cards can de denied by USCIS as a matter of discretion and applicants for citizenship must make a showing of good moral character. Again, an applicant for citizenship must prove that he or she has demonstrated good moral character for the previous five years.
Since there is no single answer as to how a DUI can affect an application for a green card or citizenship, an applicant should consult an immigration attorney before resolving a criminal case or as soon as possible. It is important for the applicant to know how different options could affect his or her choice to remain in the United States.
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