Q: Was charged firs time for shop lifting 12 years ago would it prevent me from applying for a green card
You are not applying for citizenship; a green card only grants permanent residency. While theft is considered a "crime of moral turpitude", which usually is a deal breaker, there are exceptions and other points to reveal to INS that can mitigate the situation and help you get that green card. But bear in mind that the political climate under Trump is very unpredictable regarding immigration issues so unfortunately, at this time, there are no hard and fast rules, but this is how it generally has been playing out, so far:
A person convicted of a CIMT may still be granted a green card if the crime meets at least one exception:
- You were under the age of 18 when you committed the offense, it has been five years since the date of arrest, and you are no longer in jail. This would apply in your case ONLY IF you were under 18 at the time you were caught.
- You were convicted of a crime for which the maximum possible penalty is no more than a year (misdemeanor) and the actual term of imprisonment was no more than six months or none at all. This is called a “petty offense” exception. Most shoplifting offenses are misdemeanors and sentences to jail time are quite rare for first time offenders, if that sounds like you, you're in good shape.
If your conviction was for felony you are out of luck, but you can still ask for a "waiver" which is not easily granted, but sometimes is depending upon the nature of the crime, your rehabilitation (if you did jail time or probation this comes into play), a criminal free history since you were convicted, or connection to family members who are U.S. citizens or permanent residents.
You should speak with a competent immigration attorney. You do not need to hire them, but consider the cost for an initial consultation as good insurance (some lawyers do not charge for an initial consultation). Get your question answered, giving the complete story, i.e., more detailed information than what is in your question here. Then file the paperwork yourself if you feel comfortable doing so, but if you don't, don't! Paying for a good lawyer relieves you of the responsibility for error and an experienced lawyer, who routinely handles these kinds of things, does not need the learning curve you would suffer through and if situations arise that require further action, a good lawyer will know how to handle them.
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