Being convicted of a DWI can change several aspects of one’s life dramatically—from serving jail time, losing driving privileges, dealing with increased insurance rates, and potentially losing one’s vehicle, for example. People who are in the country illegally could face even more serious problems including possible deportation.
While a DWI conviction per se may not result in deportation, other criminal convictions could. Generally, violent crimes and other aggravated felonies may trigger deportation proceedings; however, each state has its own criteria for determining whether someone should be sent back to his or her own country. Many state legislators are currently examining enacting certain measures to address the deportation process for illegal immigrants who are convicted of a serious crime, including drunk driving.
When a DWI conviction can lead to removal proceedings
While a simple DWI will not always result in deportation proceedings, aggravating factors can, indeed, exacerbate the matter and lead to removal. Such aggravating factors can include driving with a suspended license, having multiple prior convictions, or in cases where injury to another or death occurred. In such cases, in addition to consulting with a DWI defense attorney, noncitizens should also consult with an immigration lawyer.
It is also important to remember that noncitizens can still face immigration consequences even if they are not actually convicted of a DWI because the proceedings may alert Immigration and Customs Enforcement who may, in fact, start deportation proceedings. This process may take some time and can result in the person being detained for weeks or months in jail while awaiting resolution or fighting deportation. Further, a DWI conviction may make it more difficult to obtain any type of immigration bond.
Other consequences of DWI for noncitizens
A DWI conviction may make someone inadmissible to the US. This means the person is unable to obtain a green card or visa whether s/he is applying for a visa for the first time, or for a renewal, change, or status adjustment while already in the US.
Generally, noncitizen individuals are considered inadmissible if they have committed crimes of moral turpitude, have been convicted of two or more offenses that carry sentences of at least five years, are drug and/or alcohol addicts, or have committed any offense involving controlled substances. Thus, a single DWI conviction absent any aggravating factors is generally not serious enough to make a person inadmissible to the US.
Even lawful permanent residents can be found to be inadmissible back into the US if out of the country for some reason. Similarly, a permanent resident can become deportable. If a noncitizen permanent resident with a green card is convicted of an aggravated or violent felony, one or more crimes of moral turpitude within five years of being admitted to the US, or a controlled substance-related crime then s/he may be deported. As is always the case, however, the specific circumstances of the case come into play and determine whether deportation proceedings will even arise.
Can a DWI affect naturalization?
To become a US citizen, one must be naturalized. In order to do so, that person must prove that s/he has good moral character for the five years preceding the naturalization process. A DWI on one’s record can complicate matters. If this is the case, then it is important to comply with all court-ordered terms and waiting before applying for citizenship.
It is also critical to realize that attempting to hide a conviction from immigration authorities can have far-reaching consequences—including deportation. Thus, honesty is the best policy, and if there are any concerns, consulting with an immigration attorney in addition to a criminal defense attorney is the best course of action.