The Immigration and Nationality Act, Section 318, requires a naturalization applicant to show that he or she has been lawfully admitted to the United States as a permanent resident in accordance with all applicable provisions of the INA in effect at the time of the admission or adjustment. If the LPR status was not lawfully obtained, for any reason, regardless of whether there was any fraud or willful misrepresentation by the applicant, the applicant is ineligible for naturalization, even if the applicant was admitted as an LPR and possesses a Legal Permanent Resident Card. See USCIS Policy Manual, Volume 12, Part D, Chapter 2 Lawful Permanent Resident Admission for Naturalization.
How does this play out in real life? In 2010, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the Immigration Judge and Board of Immigration Appeals decision to remove Manuel Estrada-Ramos from the United States after he had been a Legal Permanent Resident for over 10 years! See Estrada-Ramos v. Holder, 611 F.3d 318 (7th Cir. 2010). How could ICE remove someone from the United States after being an LPR for so long? This happened because Mr. Estrada-Ramos left the US to visit Mexico in 2006, and upon his return, he was served a Notice to Appear by Customs and Border Protection for a controlled substance conviction from 1991 in California! His case was appealed up to the Seventh Circuit, but the Seventh Circuit affirmed the Immigration Judge’s and Board of Immigration Appeal’s order of Removal.
This case is relevant to our discussion of INA Section 318’s requirement to have obtained your LPR status lawfully, even if USCIS made a mistake by originally granting you a Green Card. This is exactly what happened to Mr. Estrada-Ramos. USCIS (INS at the time) should not have issued him the Green Card in 1997 because of the controlled substance conviction from 1991. Despite their mistake, Mr. Estrada-Ramos was deported anyways.
If you have a crime in your past that has not been noticed by USCIS, they could catch it when you apply to naturalize as a U.S. Citizen, and depending on that crime, USCIS could refer your case to the Immigration Court to begin removal proceedings against you.
Please contact our office so we can advise you on the impact that past crimes could have on any future immigration benefits, even if that crime has been expunged or sealed by state law. Sending an application to USCIS or leaving the United States with past crimes in your background could result in you being removed from the US.