Not everyone has a perfect record. Unfortunately, most guides on the Internet when it comes to an adjustment of status focus on simply acknowledging that you should not have a criminal record if you are about to file your I-485 adjustment of status. But this is a problem because although such guides give a good preventative framework for what to expect from the USCIS, they fall short in properly addressing those who need counsel on what to do if they do have such a record.
First off, there are many types of crimes we could discuss, but for the purpose of this guide, let's focus on incidents that are less severe. It is not a good idea to file paperwork with the USCIS (which is an agency of the Department of Homeland Security) if you have committed a major crime—your application will be denied and also if you have not been found guilty already, you are openly admitting to the government that you have committed to such a crime.
Your Biometrics appointment serves a purpose in the I-485 process, and that is to run a standard background check. Your record will be highlighted through this process, so it should be known immediately that if one is trying to receive a green card for lawful permanent residence, their entire history will be open for the DOH.
Petty Traffic Violations and DUIs
The criminal justice system in America does not differentiate resident aliens from citizens when it comes time to arrest an individual. If you are seeking a green card in the United States and have committed traffic violations, you need to be current on all of the tickets and/or fines that you have collected over the years. In addition, although it is not a criminal act to receive a speeding ticket from a police officer, a judge may eventually issue a bench warrant for your arrest. If you are going to file an adjustment of status, it is important to recognize if you have outstanding tickets that need to be paid or not.
DUIs are a bit trickier because a DUI will go on your record forever if you do not take the case to court in order to have it expunged. After doing some quick research, the average retainer to hire a DUI lawyer is $1500 dollars upfront, following at least one or two more incremental payments. On average, those who have a first time DUI on their record spend an average of $5000 dollars trying to get it expunged.
Still, if you want to receive a 10 year green card as a single individual, you will need a notice from the court to ensure that the USCIS will most likely approve your I-485 application.
For other I-485 applicants that are unsure if their record will hold past a Biometrics appointment, here is a brief list of other misdemeanors, including:
- Petty theft
- Wreckless driving
- Possession of cannabis
- Public intoxication
In most cases, the arresting law enforcement agency must file a petition within 90 days of the arrest in question for there to be a possibility of expungement on one’s record. Individuals who are planning on becoming LPRs or starting their I-485 process should know this, as they must not miss this window of time to act on their misdemeanor crime.
Additionally, if one has committed a crime, has been arrested, but has since had their arrest expunged, and has moved along in the I-485 process, the other tricky aspect might be the green card interview.
In such a circumstance, a reviewing officer will absolutely ask the applicant to explain the crime, the nature of what happened, and the situation regarding their arrest, and applicants should be well versed in knowing how to respond to such questions. If an applicant is worried about this portion of the application, they should know they have a right to an attorney during the actual meeting, but of course, once lawyers are present in the room it starts to get expensive very quickly.
Overall, the USCIS officer is looking for consistency in these interviews, so bringing copies of documents to the interview and making sure one is well equipped is the best way to prepare.