A conviction for driving under the influence (DUI) can be a big problem for any United States citizen. Depending on the circumstances of the case, an American citizen convicted of a DUI could face serious consequences that include hefty fines, loss of driving privileges, and jail time.
Upon conviction, non-citizens arrested for a DUI will also face the same consequences, or even worse penalties if the case required the expertise of aggravated DUI lawyers. However, on top of paying fines, getting their driver’s license suspended, and spending time in jail, a non-citizen convicted of a DUI may also be deported or declared inadmissible.
Then again, deportability and inadmissibility after a DUI conviction is not an automatic thing. There are certain factors that authorities need to consider before taking any action on one’s immigration status.
The Immigration and Nationality Act or I.N.A says a non-citizen convicted of a crime of moral turpitude may be deported from the United States or declared inadmissible for entry.
A single DUI conviction, however, is not necessarily a crime that involves moral turpitude. For a non-citizen convicted of a DUI to be considered as having committed a crime of moral turpitude, there must be other elements within the DUI like driving on a suspended license.
However, if a non-citizen was arrested for a DUI with aggravating factors, or have multiple DUIs, authorities may deem them sufficient to meet the grounds of inadmissibility laid out in Section 212 of the I.N.A. If that happens, a non-citizen may be deported or declared inadmissible.
DUI and Naturalization
If you’re a green card holder and you were convicted of a regular DUI for the first time, there’s a very distinct possibility that you won’t be deported or deemed inadmissible. However, that DUI conviction might affect your application to become a naturalized U.S. citizen.
An applicant for U.S. citizenship must have “good moral character,” especially within the last five years before applying for naturalization. Chances are, the officer of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) processing your application won’t see the DUI in your record as an indication of having good moral character, and will likely lean towards denying you a chance to become a U.S. citizen.
Of course, the denial won’t be automatic, mainly because no U.S. immigration law provides for a definitive standard of “good moral character.” Still, the USCIS officer will likely pry about your DUI case, and ask you questions about your level of impairment during your arrest, if there was anyone hurt, were there any aggravating circumstances, and just about anything that will give them something to weigh when considering your application.
While your DUI conviction is a strike against you in your application for U.S. citizenship, you can still do something to somehow redeem yourself in the eyes of the USCIS. You can, for example, provide the USCIS officer with evidence that you have been an upstanding, law-abiding citizen all your life, and that DUI conviction was the exception. Proof of involvement in charitable works and the community where you live in general, and that you’re a productive employee and a wonderful family man, has the potential to impress upon the USCIS officer that you are, indeed, a person with good moral character.
Whatever your immigration status, a DUI conviction is going to give you problems that may lead to the end of your American Dream. Avoid drinking and driving if possible, but if you do find yourself at the receiving end of a DUI charge, make sure you get the services of an experienced DUI lawyer to improve your chances of getting the best possible result.