The Effect of Being Served a Restraining Order in New Jersey on Immigration Status

Being served with a restraining order in New Jersey is a serious matter, even more so if you are an immigrant. And while naturalized citizens in the U.S. have better protections than any other category of foreign-born individuals, they, too, may face more risk than natural-born citizens, especially if they are found guilty of violating the terms of the restraining order regarding violent crimes and are convicted of criminal charges.

If you are an immigrant and have been served with a restraining order in New Jersey, it is important that you speak with an experienced attorney as soon as possible—your immigration status may be at risk. The Lento Law Firm Criminal Defense Team has vast experience across the state of New Jersey helping immigrants navigate the challenges associated with restraining orders, and they can put their experience and knowledge to work for you. Call 888-535-3686 to discuss your case, or use this online form.

Restraining Orders in New Jersey

A restraining order, also referred to as a personal protection order, is a court order issued to protect the petitioner, known as the plaintiff, from possible harm from the individual the plaintiff names in the order, known as the defendant. For a plaintiff to be eligible to apply for a restraining order, these conditions are necessary:

  • The plaintiff must have a current or past qualifying domestic relationship, such as marriage, cohabitation, or a shared child with the defendant.
  • The defendant has threatened to commit an act of violence against the plaintiff.
  • The order is necessary to prevent the defendant from committing an act of violence against the plaintiff in the future.
  • The defendant is at least eighteen years of age or an emancipated minor.

The restraining order sets guidelines for the behavior of the defendant, such as barring them from visiting the plaintiff's workplace or attempting to contact the plaintiff. The restraining order may also mandate that the defendant undergo a mental health evaluation or counseling or move out of the home if the plaintiff and defendant share housing.

In most cases, the court reviews the plaintiff's application, and if it finds there are grounds for it, it issues a temporary restraining order. The court notifies law enforcement and schedules a final restraining order hearing in the next ten days.

At the final restraining order hearing, the judge decides whether to make the restraining order permanent. While the defendant is not present when the plaintiff applies for the restraining order, both parties appear at the final restraining order hearing, and they may each present evidence and call witnesses to testify. It is not a requirement to have legal representation at a restraining order hearing, but given what may be at stake for an immigrant defendant—possibly their right to remain in the country—it is advisable to have experienced legal representation at the hearing and for every stage of the restraining order process.

In the case of either a temporary or permanent restraining order, if the defendant violates any provision, law enforcement can intervene. A restraining order is a civil violation in New Jersey, but violating the terms of a temporary or permanent restraining order is a criminal violation, which can have extremely serious consequences for an immigrant.

Under the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act (PDVA) of 1991, New Jersey law defines nineteen criminal offenses that restraining orders are used to prevent:

  • homicide
  • assault
  • terroristic threats
  • kidnapping
  • criminal restraint
  • false imprisonment
  • sexual assault
  • criminal sexual contact
  • lewdness
  • criminal mischief
  • burglary
  • criminal trespass
  • harassment
  • stalking
  • criminal coercion
  • robbery
  • contempt of a domestic violence order
  • any crime involving risk of death or serious bodily injury
  • cyber harassment

Types of Immigrants and Immigration Status in New Jersey

Residents of New Jersey who are born outside the United States are an important part of the state's culture and economy. Of the more than 9.29 million Garden State residents, about 23.2%—more than 2.15 million—immigrated from other countries. Of these, about 1.27 million are naturalized citizens, and about 917,000 are non-citizens, also known as aliens.

More than half the non-citizen residents in New Jersey are lawful permanent residents or refugees, and there are more than three dozen U.S. State Department visa categories for these individuals; they include au pair, business visitor, domestic employee, or nanny of a foreign national employer, journalist, physician, student, temporary agricultural worker, tourist, and victim of criminal activity or human trafficking. There is also a special visa, known as the “fiancé(e) visa,” for a non-citizen engaged to a U.S. citizen. About 475,000 non-citizens are undocumented.

The top five countries represented among New Jersey's immigrants are India, the Dominican Republic, Mexico, the Philippines, and Colombia.

Many immigrants to the U.S. experience one or more changes in status over their time in the U.S. that require applying for a new visa, and if they do not complete all paperwork requirements with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, there can be serious consequences that become even more dire if they are convicted of violating a restraining order. For example, an individual enters the U.S. on a visa that allows them to work here, and then they meet and marry an American citizen. Unlike the scenario portrayed in many movies, this does not result in automatic citizenship—if the non-citizen has not filed for the appropriate visa with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, they may be found in violation of the conditions of their visa. Their spouse may even threaten to file a restraining order as a means of control if they know that violation of a restraining order creates a risk of deportation.

Issues Immigrants in New Jersey Face if Convicted of Violating a Restraining Order

The U.S. Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) defines “alien” as “any person not a citizen of the United States.” This includes foreign nationals with legal status in the U.S., either as permanent residents (Green Card holders) or visa holders. The INA includes a section on the ramifications of an alien violating a protection order, known in New Jersey as a restraining order:

“Any alien who at any time after admission is enjoined under a protection order issued by a court and whom the court determines has engaged in conduct that violates the portion of a protection order that involves protection against credible threats of violence, repeated harassment, or bodily injury to the person or persons for whom the protection order was issued is deportable. For purposes of this clause, the term ‘protection order' means any injunction issued for the purpose of preventing violent or threatening acts of domestic violence, including temporary or final orders issued by civil or criminal courts (other than support or child custody orders or provisions) whether obtained by filing an independent action or as a pendente lite order in another proceeding.”

The grounds for deportation are both conviction for violating the terms of a restraining order—which is a criminal violation—and conviction for any violent crimes a restraining order is used to prevent. However, having a restraining order filed against you—a civil violation—is not in itself a deportable offense.

In most cases, a naturalized citizen would not be subject to deportation for violating a restraining order unless the violation occurred before citizenship had been granted.

Restraining Orders and Your Application for a Green Card (Permanent Resident Card) or Naturalized Citizenship

Although the color of the Permanent Resident Card has changed over the years, it began to be colloquially referred to as the “Green Card” after World War II, when, as part of a new distinction made in identification cards for non-citizens, the cards issued to permanent residents were green. While a restraining order is a civil offense and will by itself not lead to deportation, you may encounter problems with your application for a Green Card if there is a restraining order in place against you.

As noted above, if you are in the process of applying for a Green Card—which can take up to three years or so—and you are convicted of one of the violent crimes a restraining order is used to prevent, you may be deported. Even if you are not deported, you may be found ineligible for a Green Card on the grounds that the crime you are convicted of is one of “moral turpitude”—a subjective category referring to crimes committed with “evil intent” to inflict bodily harm or defraud someone.

As with a Green Card application, your application for naturalized citizenship can be jeopardized by a restraining order-related criminal conviction. For example, you may need to wait five years after the date of the crime before applying for citizenship. You may even be deported.

While the filing of a restraining order against you is not reported to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, failing to completely report your criminal history on the application form for either permanent resident status or naturalized citizenship can lead to denial of your application. It may even lead to loss of citizenship if U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services finds out about the omission after you have been granted citizenship.

Restraining Orders and Your Status Under DACA

Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), a status available since 2012, applies to qualified applicants who immigrated to the U.S. as children. While qualifying for DACA does not provide lawful status, it protects immigrants with DACA status from removal action by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services for two years; the status must be renewed every two years. Individuals convicted of crimes related to violation of a restraining order can lose their DACA status and may be deported.

Restraining Orders and Immigrants: A Summary of Takeaways

As with many legal issues, the possible impact of a restraining order on your immigration status and applications for permanent resident status or naturalized citizenship can be complicated and multi-faceted. Here is a summary of key points to keep in mind.

  • Keep your immigration status current—if your circumstances are going to change and your current visa will no longer reflect your actual status, take steps to file the appropriate paperwork with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
  • Threats to obtain a restraining order may be used by individuals to intimidate or harm an immigrant. Seek legal counsel immediately if anyone threatens you in this way.
  • Deportation is a real possibility if you are convicted of violating a restraining order.
  • In some circumstances, conviction of crimes that a restraining order is designed to prevent may make you ineligible to apply for a Green Card or naturalized citizenship. They may at least affect the review of your application, or you may need to wait five years after the date of the crime before applying.
  • The hard truth is that immigrants have fewer legal protections than natural-born citizens, and it is important to have the best representation possible if you face a legal issue.

Hire the Lento Law Firm for a Legal Team Experienced in Helping Immigrants With Restraining Order Issues

The Lento Law Firm Criminal Defense Team can provide the representation you need if you are an immigrant and have been named as a defendant in a restraining order in New Jersey. The possibility of a criminal conviction for violating a restraining order is serious for anyone, but for an immigrant, the consequences can go as far as deportation. You need to have an experienced, knowledgeable attorney advise you on your rights and responsibilities, as well as the best course of action in your situation. Do not delay—your application for permanent resident status or naturalized citizenship, your immigration status, or even your right to stay in the country may be at risk. The Lento Law Firm Criminal Defense Team has years of experience helping immigrants in New Jersey with restraining order issues, and they understand the urgency of your situation. Let our team help you navigate these serious challenges and regain your peace of mind. Call 888-535-3686 to discuss your case, or use this online form.

​​​Contact The Lento Law Firm Today

When it comes to criminal defense cases, you need the right person in your corner. To learn more about how Mr. Lento can help you, call the Lento Law Firm today at 888-535-3686. or contact him online.

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