Obtaining a U.S. citizenship is a daunting task, and recent events surrounding the presidency and the administration’s new immigration policies have made the process more difficult. Unlike legal U.S. citizens, the basic DUI Penalties don’t apply to immigrants. Immigrants are more likely to get a DUI conviction, especially if they are undocumented. However, the laws around DUI and immigration are murky and broadly depends on your immigration status, whether you are legally present or not, and how the court chooses to interpret the governing law. Additionally, whether you face deportation or inadmissibility as a result of your DUI as an immigrant also depends on several factors.

Effects of DUI on Admissibility

Admissibility refers to the set of laws that allow non-citizens entry when applying for immigrant/non-immigrant status, renewal, change, or adjustment status. These laws also apply to green card holders coming in and out of the country. Crimes that might render one inadmissible in the eyes of the immigration authorities include:

  1. Crimes of moral turpitude within five years of entry
  2. Most drug-related crimes
  3. Two or more crimes with an accumulated prison sentence of 5 or more years
  4. Crimes that demonstrate a general lack of good character

The notion of crimes of moral turpitude varies, and not all courts apply the same factors. Nevertheless, the state of California considers the presence of aggravating factors or the language of the statute to determine whether the incident fits the bill for a crime involving moral turpitude. Aggravating factors are those that increase the severity of the act. For example, drinking and driving as a 1st offense can have penalties as minimal as fines. However, if the driver hits a pedestrian or had a child in the car at the time of the incident, these both would be considered factors that aggravate the situation.

The statute defining that DUI must set forth specific criminal intent. In this case, unless defined in the Immigration National Act, DUIs don’t fall under the category of aggravated offenses; hence, your green card should remain relatively intact. In the eyes of the law, your first non-serious DUI conviction is not enough to revoke your green card status. Still, immigration authorities have these records, and this might make the process of naturalization difficult and your visa privileges could be revoked. Please note that these conditions apply to documented immigrants since immigration bodies hold the general assumption that all immigrants within the country should be documented. 

Can I be deported for a DUI?

Unfortunately, undocumented immigrants live with the constant fear of getting deported. Even if your DUI charges are not severe, an arrest will likely put you on the radar of immigration bodies like ICE. What happens next depends on the level of discretion used by the authorities, arresting police, and immigration department. For documented immigrants, the grounds for deportation are relatively similar to those for inadmissibility and include either one or more of the following:

  1. Convicted with a DUI as an aggravated felony
  2. Offenders are convicted of crimes involving moral turpitude within 5 years with one or more sentences
  3. Offenders are engaged in violent crimes
  4. Individuals are involved in crimes related to controlled substances
  5. The offender is involved in 2 separate crimes of moral turpitude. 

Unquestionably, documented immigrants have more privileges than illegal immigrants, but that doesn’t negate the fact that they can still potentially lose their green card and all the opportunities that come with it. In a nutshell, a first-time DUI offense (without compounding factors) shouldn’t affect your immigration status if you are in the country legally. Only those with alcohol and aggravating factors involved carry the weight of possible deportation.

How to avoid deportation

The first step towards evading deportation is to avoid a DUI altogether. You can read all about that in our “Top 7 Ways to Avoid Getting Pulled Over for a DUI” article. Secondly, arm yourself with an experienced lawyer. California is home to thousands of immigrants who are all looking to live the American dream. One such dream is the right to legal and competent representation. For legal immigrants caught in the web of DUI charges, contact an experienced DUI lawyer who also knows his or her way around immigration. Attorney Don Hammond, The DUI Attorney, offers the best legal representation and with no bias on one’s immigration status. For those who are still waiting to get their papers in check, we urge you to avoid drinking and driving because your rights are limited in regard to your citizenship or lack thereof.

The DUI Attorney Don Hammond


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