The Coveted Green Card

“Green Card” is a common, well-known term in American vernacular, esteemed for the status it signifies, namely that of lawful permanent resident. What is less known, however, are the limits of the status, and the hidden dangers to the uninformed, particularly in the current political climate of fear and security.

Though the color of the issued card has changed from green to its current pinkish hue, the benefits of the status have remained the same. “Permanent residents” – those with lawful permanent resident status – are permitted to work, own property, travel outside the United States, and obtain government benefits, so long as they maintain their status; in short, they are entitled to virtually all of the practical benefits of citizenship.

Permanent residents are not, however, citizens, and as a result are not entitled to vote, to hold political office, to live abroad for extended periods, or to entry into the United States without examination. Their status is an entitlement that may be taken away from them. Many permanent residents take their residency for granted, unconcerned about the potential impermanence of their “permanent” status.

Permanent residents who are outside of the United States for more than one year may be deemed by the U.S. to have abandoned their permanent resident status and that status taken away from them. As a practical matter, permanent residents who have been outside of the United States for longer than several months are likely to be subjected to heightened scrutiny in the port or at the border upon their return, and if at any time it is determined that they have lost their intent to permanently reside in the U.S., could be put into removal proceedings to take away their status and remove (deport) them from the United States.

A more common occurrence is the removal of permanent residents who have committed certain crimes. These include conviction for “crimes of moral turpitude,” which refer to conduct “inherently base, vile, or depraved, and contrary to the accepted rules of morality and the duties owed between persons or to society in general.” Such crimes include certain assault crimes, weapons crimes, DUI crimes, domestic abuse crimes, robbery, murder and certain manslaughter crimes, certain sex crimes, property crimes, fraud against the government, and certain drug offenses.

Removal of a murderer does not seem like such a bad idea to the average citizen, but it is often with offenses that appear less serious that permanent residents are often trapped, and the list above contains offenses that, while inexcusable, certainly wouldn’t normally lead a person to reasonably suspect that he or she could be removed as a result.

A young adult having been charged with a fairly innocuous drug possession crime, or involved in an altercation with his girlfriend or boyfriend that leads to prosecution, will often be induced to strike a plea bargain in order to avoid extensive process before the court or high legal fees, and plea bargains are commonly used by the prosecution and defense attorneys alike to allow the system as a whole to function more efficiently.

However, by pleading guilty to crimes without knowing the immigration consequences, permanent residents may find themselves removed from the United States and stripped of their green cards. This is particularly a shock to individuals who have lived their whole lives in the United States, not feeling it necessary to take the next step and file for naturalization. Even to the casual citizen this would appear to be “double jeopardy,” or paying twice for the same crime, something prohibited by our Constitution, though because the government considers removal a civil, and not criminal, proceeding, many Constitutional protections are considered inapplicable.

It is important, therefore, for those eligible for citizenship to strongly consider application, and for those permanent residents who have fallen afoul of the law to strongly consider contacting an attorney knowledgeable in immigration law.

The “Green Card” remains a useful and valuable status; Citizenship, however, is the only true permanent status. For business and immigration related questions about your debt collections, please call Boris Parker at (612) 355-2201 for a free telephone consultation.