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What are the immigration consequences of old criminal convictions?

Legal permanent residents (LPRs) who are not citizens in the United States face serious immigration problems in addition to criminal penalties when charged with a crime. Any criminal conviction has serious consequences on a person’s immigration status. A person’s application for a visa may be denied or a person with legal status can lose it and be deported.

The immigration issues resulting from criminal convictions impact a person’s family and community. For example, a legal permanent resident (LPR) lived in the U.S. since 1974. In 1989, at the age of 18, he was convicted of possessing marijuana and placed on probation for two years. Due to his status as a LPR, he was notified in 2011 - nearly 27 years after his conviction - that he was being removed because he is an alien convicted of a violation of the law relating to a controlled substance.

Having entered the U.S. over forty years ago, the man has become a husband, a father, and a valued and contributing member to his church community. If he were deported, it would create significant hardship for himself, his family and his community.

In some instances, a person can avoid deportation through a process called “Cancellation of Removal.” To qualify for cancellation of removal, a person must establish at a hearing in immigration court that:

1. He has been a legal permanent resident for at least five 5 years;
2. Prior to committing the offense, he had at least 7 years of continuous residence in the U.S. after having been lawfully admitted in any status; and
3. He has not been convicted of an aggravated felony.

Non-citizens are always subject to removal. The best way to avoid any risk of deportation is to naturalize. For information about immigration legal assistance available at Legal Aid, see or call 1-888-817-3777 to apply for help.

By Samerra Allooh and Luis Martinez

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