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Is Permanent Residency Permanent?

December 2003
Is Permanent Residency Permanent?

Even before September 11, 2001, there has been heightened scrutiny over not only undocumented immigrants but foreign nationals here in the United States prompting a surge of new laws which clearly asks the question, is permanent residency permanent?

Just who is a lawful permanent resident (LPR) and what legal rights does an LPR have? A "Green Card" holder or a lawful permanent resident can live, work and travel abroad (for no more than 180 days) while residing here in the United States. In addition, a permanent resident has responsibilities such as filing taxes and registering for selective service (if you are a male between the ages of 18 and 25). However, permanent residents may not vote in federal and state elections nor claim to be United States citizens.

Although LPR's have great freedom while living in the United.States, they must walk a straight and fine line while categorized as such. If that line is crossed, the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), now USCIS (US Citizenship and Immigration Services) can and will initiate deportation or removal proceedings against an LPR regardless of the length of stay or residence here in the United States.

No LPR should assume because an offense or crime was committed that it is automatically a deportable offense. Whether an act is a deportable offense is determined by the record of the conviction and the interpretation of the law, not by the act itself. This is where good research and careful reading of the law comes into play.

There are two major classifications of deportable offenses where the LPR status may be revoked. The first is that of crimes involving moral turpitude. Moral turpitude is an ill-defined term. Generally, it refers to conduct which is morally corrupt. This includes obvious offenses such as robbery, fraud, and spousal or child abuse.

The second category of offenses for which a LPR may be deported is aggravated felonies. Aggravated felonies include crimes of violence for which the term of imprisonment is at least one year. These crimes include serious crimes such as murder and rape, but can also include less serious offenses such as shoplifting, petty theft, D.U.I. and simple battery. Many of these offenses may be misdemeanors or felonies under state and federal law, but have been elevated to an aggravated felony for immigration purposes. If an LPR is deported for an aggravated felony, the LPR is now barred or forbidden from ever returning to the United States. It does not matter if your spouse, child, or parents are U.S. citizens. These two categories are not the only categories of offenses, but are the broadest categories.

A lawful permanent resident may be concerned that their past acts will get them removed from the United States. This is not necessarily the case because there are waivers available, but every case is fact sensitive and case specific. Therefore, it is impossible to give general rules about waivers pertaining to deportation.

You may ask how can I safeguard my lawful permanent resident status? If you are a LPR and meet the requirements for citizenship, you can file for citizenship; it is not complete protection but it does ensure more protection than LPR status. It is not necessary that you have an attorney or accredited representative to file for citizenship. You can do it yourself. It is a wise idea to consult an immigration attorney, however, if you have ever been arrested, even if you believe the case has been dismissed, whether it happened 30 years ago or if it happened yesterday. This holds true even if it is something you think is inconsequential such as the non-payment of child-support or outstanding parking tickets. Most importantly, if you find yourself in the middle of a plea bargain and you are an LPR, it is a good idea for you to ask your defense attorney the ramifications of your deal with respect to your LPR status.

As you can see, the term "lawful permanent resident" can be misleading. Every LPR has legal and regulatory responsibilities placed upon them by Congress with which they must comply. To summarize, an LPR can lose status from staying abroad too long, committing offenses, or because the LPR status was obtained through fraud. If an LPR does not understand their rights and responsibilities, it is always best to consult an attorney.

The foregoing does not constitute legal advice but is meant for informational purposes only.

- Skeeter-Jo Francois, Esq.

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