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The Golden Door

News and views on immigration law

Expungements: What you need to know before you expunge.

April 30th, 2013 by Djung Tran

For most people who acquire a minor criminal record that conviction becomes both a professional and a personal thorn in their side.  On the career-side, having a criminal record can make landing a job more difficult or might prevent you from doing the work you want to do altogether, whether that’s lawful on the employer’s part or not.  On the personal side, you may feel ashamed that you have this record that shows that you broke the law, or were convicted of breaking the law, and having to explain it whenever it comes up.

After experiencing the ramifications of having a criminal conviction, most people want to eliminate this from their record if they can, which usually means requesting that the record be expunged.  Expungement means that the record is destroyed, and anyone looking up your name in the jurisdiction in which it the record was generated should come up empty-handed.  Once an expungement petition is granted, the court administrator (usually the clerk of courts) where the record was originally generated should notify any other agencies to which the criminal record was sent, requesting that this information be removed from those databases as well.  In reality, such requests may or may not be made by the original keeper of the records, and the other agencies that received the criminal record information may or may not update their files in a timely manner, so information about your conviction may still show up in other databases, such as the FBI database.

In terms of immigration, before you expunge your record you should know this:  USCIS and the federal immigration courts often require that you disclose whether you have ever been arrested or detained by a law enforcement officer, charged with a criminal offense, convicted, and what your sentence was if you were convicted.  They require this information regardless of whether the record has been expunged.  And they expect you to provide certified records of these events, or a statement from the relevant agency stating that no record is available.

This means that once you record has been expunged there is no way for the record-keeping agency to issue you a certified copy of that record.  And, not infrequently, when you then request a statement that the record is no longer available due to expungement, the agency may not comply with this request for various reasons, including not understanding the request, or due to a policy of declining to verify the prior existence of a record that has been expunged.

Then you are stuck.  You have admitted to immigration authorities (in the course of, for example, applying for citizenship or for cancellation of removal) to having a criminal record, as the law requires, and yet you cannot provide verification of what happened, also as required.  It is because of this conundrum that I often advise clients to delay having their criminal records expunged until after they become naturalized.  A “clean” criminal record procured through the expungement process can be a headache in immigration proceedings because of the requirement to disclose ALL, even expunged criminal records.

This is an example of when consulting an attorney earlier rather than later is the wiser course of action.  Sometimes you don’t know what you don’t know!  Sometimes a consult early on the process can alert you to potential pitfalls before you commit them.  At Tran Law Associates, we aim to make the immigration process as painless as possible, including warning you of actions that may negatively impact your application for benefits.


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One Response to “Expungements: What you need to know before you expunge.”

  1. Djung Tran says:

    One other thing. Even if you don’t admit to immigration authorities that you have an expunged criminal record it may show up anyway in your background check (e.g., because the FBI didn’t expunge when it should have, or didn’t receive proper notice to do so). Then you are perceived to have either misunderstood the instructions to disclose even expunged arrests and/or convictions, or deliberately withheld required information. The second scenario, especially, is not a good place to be in when you are applying for a benefit.

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