For immigrants, the day they become lawful permanent residents is one of the happiest moments of their lives.
For some, the day they lose their green card holder status is one of their worst.
When immigrants win permanent residency, a future with great promise lies ahead.
The ability to live, work, and go to school legally in the United States opens many opportunities for the new green card holders and their family members.
Yet, even while my clients are celebrating, as their immigration lawyer, I have to remind them that these privileges are not absolute.
Some lawful permanent residents will move ahead. They will seek, after their green cards, U.S. citizenship. Many will choose to remain lawful permanent residents.
Sadly, still others will lose their status.
In the last 15 years, this issue has become a serious problem for immigration attorneys and their clients.
How Lawful Permanent Residents Lose Their Green Card Status
Joe became a lawful permanent resident (LPR) at the age of 14. Joe’s father had earned legal status in 1990. Joe’s father quickly filed filed legal papers to immigrate his wife, Joe, and Joe’s younger sister. Within a few years, they were granted green cards.
Shortly after turning 19, Joe began to hang around with some friends who would get into occasional trouble. Joe was convicted of two minor offenses. He spent less than 5 days in jail. He paid a fine. He completed probation successfully. The convictions were misdemeanors.
Joe had learned his lesson. He vowed to stay out of trouble. Three years later he married Martha, his sweetheart since high school. He became a manager at a local grocery store. They had three children, bought a house in the Perris area of Riverside County, and became active members of their community church.
One day, as they had done for many years, Joe and his family drove across the U.S. border to visit relatives in Mexico. He was questioned, as usual, on the way back to Riverside. However, this time the immigration agents took him into custody due to his past convictions.
Now 30, Joe was sent to immigration court to face deportation and removal charges.
His past offenses, though minor, were deemed aggravated felonies at immigration court leading to automatic removal from the U.S.
Families Of Lawful Permanent Residents At Risk
Unfortunately, Joe is not alone.
As an immigration attorney in Riverside, I have seen too many green card holders trapped in similar situations.
Far too often, lawful permanent residents, with old convictions, are picked up because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Sometimes, like Mike, a permanent resident living in Moreno Valley, a person is detained after a being stopped for a minor traffic citation such as a left signal light not working.
Other times, like Jane from Corona, an individual might be arrested at a co-worker’s birthday party when a ruckus occurs and the police are called to the scene.
As unfair as it seems, these types of situations lead to a permanent resident being placed in deportation proceedings at immigration court.
Once placed in immigration court, they face being separated from those they love the most – their spouses, children, sisters, brothers, and parents. They risk losing their friends, communities, and employment.
Often the separation caused by deportation is forever.
A Lost Decade: Immigrant Family Separation
The magnitude of this danger to lawful permanent residents is staggering.
A recent joint law school study by the University of California at Berkeley and the University of California at Davis provides fresh insight into the negative impact of current deportation policy on LPR families.
According to the study, between 1997, when immigration rules for criminal convictions were tightened, and 2007, approximately 60,000 lawful permanent residents were deported for minor, non-violent offenses.
This means 6,000 were deported per year, 500 per month.
The permanent residents who were deported had lived in the U.S., on the average, 10 years before they were deported.
At the time of their removal, they had a total of 103,000 children. 88,000 of these children were U.S. citizens. 44,000 were under the age of 5.
Many of these children live the rest of their lives without their deported parent.
These numbers show the potential danger for lawful permanent residents who have been convicted at any time in their lives.
The numbers only tell part of the story.
As a deportation and removal defense lawyer, I have witnessed the devastation of LPR families caused by our country’s misguided immigration policies.
If you are a permanent resident in a situation facing deportation based on past convictions, you simply cannot take your LPR status for granted.
Consult with an experienced attorney, as soon as possible, to determine what actions need to be taken to protect your green card benefits.
The risk of family separation is all too real.
By Carlos Batara, Immigration Law, Policy, And Politics