One can find themselves in trouble with the law at some point in their lives, and especially for immigrants who are not yet citizens of the U.S., the arrest or the conviction can be detrimental to their immigration status. For those that are undocumented, even a DUI can alert the immigration authorities of their presence in the U.S. For people who have DACA, a DUI usually will mean that they no longer can receive benefits under the DACA program. Even green card holders are not safe from our immigration laws. A domestic violence or a firearms offense can make a green card holder deportable from the U.S. Therefore, if a non-U.S. citizen is arrested, it is of utmost importance that they speak to an immigration attorney about the potential ramifications of a plea deal, and ultimate conviction on their record.
But, everyone makes mistakes! The California court systems allow one to rehabilitate themselves, and even dismiss cases. However, for immigration purposes, the Department of Homeland Security never forgets. DHS will and can look at criminal convictions, no matter how old they are. For example, if someone gets arrested for possession of drugs in 1982, and somehow gets their green card in 1992, when they apply for citizenship or even applies for entry at the border, DHS can put this person in removal proceedings and try to take away their lawful status. These convictions do not ever go away for immigration purposes, unfortunately.
California though, has some laws that make it easier for immigrants to protect their status. Most people look to expungements under CA PC 1204.3 to dismiss their cases, but unfortunately that won’t make the conviction undetectable by DHS. Rather, motions to vacate under CA PC 1473.7 could. Whether one qualifies to do so requires review by a knowledgeable attorney.
There are other narrow areas of the law that could also help. For example, the Federal First Offenders Act (FFOA) can shield an immigrant from the detrimental immigration consequences of a first time simple possession conviction. Generally, this would make one deportable, but if one qualifies under FFOA, that conviction would have no bearing on their immigration status.
Getting arrested is scary enough. Having to face an ICE hold or immigration consequences thereafter, is even scarier. However, you can be protected if you plan correctly and find the right attorney to represent you.