How To Expunge Your Criminal Record as a DACA Applicant

In a Nutshell

The U.S. government will check your criminal record for any crimes that disqualify you from getting the immigration benefit you’re applying for. It may be possible to take these crimes off your criminal record; this is called expunging your criminal record. Your crimes that would otherwise disqualify you from immigration benefits will no longer count against you. The U.S. government will still see your expunged records, but they possibly won’t harm your application. This article explains disqualifying criminal convictions for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and how to get an expungement of your criminal record to apply for DACA.

Written by Jonathan Petts
Written August 4, 2021

What Crimes Prevent You From Getting DACA Status?

Three different crimes, or criminal bars, will stop you from getting Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). The first crime is a felony, such as murder or rape. The second crime is a significant misdemeanor. A misdemeanor is any crime that the court could punish with five days to one year in jail. It doesn’t matter what your actual sentence was. A significant misdemeanor is a misdemeanor with a severe offense, such as domestic violence or burglary. The final criminal bar is three or more regular misdemeanors. The three have to come from different incidents. 

In immigration law, two rules make a criminal offense a conviction. First, if you plead guilty or the judge finds you guilty, and second, if you suffer any punishment for your crime, your offense is a conviction. Punishment could include paying court fees, a fine, or probation.

What Is an Expungement?

Expungement is when the court takes a criminal conviction off your record. However, this can only happen at the state level. Courts cannot expunge convictions for federal crimes.

There are two different ways you can get an expungement. First, the state can take away the limitations you face because of your record. For example, you may be able to apply for public housing again. The state may also want to help convicts rehabilitate. So some states may expunge your convictions if you complete probation and are a first-time offender. They may want to give you a "second chance." Second, the state law may expunge your conviction if there was a legal flaw. For example, if the court wrongfully convicted you, your conviction may be expunged. 

What Counts as a DACA Expungement?

Criminal history expungements improve your DACA immigration application’s chances. You would have a better chance of approval during a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) background check. USCIS, through law enforcement like the FBI, has the right to examine your sealed records. USCIS will consider the nature and severity of your criminal offense. They will decide whether you are a threat to public safety. 

For DACA immigration purposes, USCIS won’t automatically disqualify you for an expunged conviction. For instance, in California and Arizona, USCIS has given DACA to people with expunged DUI convictions. Expungements are still considered convictions for other immigration statuses. For example, rules are different if you apply for a green card, lawful permanent resident status, or naturalization to become a U.S. citizen. 

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Policy

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has a different policy for expunged convictions. They assess conviction records or arrest records on a case-by-case basis. They want to determine if you are a priority for deportation. 

Generally, ICE and USCIS consider expungement a good sign. Expungement can help your chances when law enforcement decides your immigration consequences. So you should seek legal advice from a lawyer or law firm about your specific immigration case.  

How Can I Get an Immigration Expungement?

Your eligibility for expungement depends on the state where your conviction happened. Different U.S. states have different rules. So, expungement is a hard process to go through alone. You should talk to an immigration attorney. Here are the rules for the states with the highest immigrant populations:

CaliforniaYou can get expunged for certain crimes. These include minor felonies and some misdemeanors. Being expunged will give back most of your rights and remove most limits.
TexasThe state will not expunge any criminal convictions. However, you can get relief for certain offenses. These offenses do not include DUIs or violent crimes. Relief can include dismissal of charges, no conviction, and sealing your records.
FloridaThe state will not expunge convictions. However, a judge could “withhold adjudication of guilt.” If you plead guilty or no contest, or if a trial found you guilty, the judge can decide to “adjudicate guilt” or “withhold.” If they withhold, you won’t be a formally convicted criminal. You won’t lose certain rights or face certain limits from a criminal record.
New YorkThe state will not expunge convictions. However, you can seal your records for certain offenses. You may also apply for a “Certificate of Relief from Disabilities” or a “Certificate of Good Conduct.” These can remove many of the criminal record limits.
New JerseyThe court can give you a certificate that is evidence of your improvement. This certificate can act as a waiver for some limits or bars to employment.

If you live outside of these states, talk to immigration or criminal defense lawyers. They can help you decide if you qualify for criminal record expungement.