New York City owes much of its energy and excellence to the foreign citizens living and working here. Unfortunately, a visa or green card holder's right to remain in the United States can be seriously jeopardized by a Desk Appearance Ticket, even when the charges are comparatively minor misdemeanors. Many visa holders fail to take these arrests sufficiently seriously because the charges seem minor (like marijuana or subway fare theft) or because the arresting officer tells them "it's no big deal." Truthfully, though, career, educational, and family plans can be completely devastated by even a minor case of walking through the subway gate without paying, so it is absolutely critical that a foreign person arrested and issued a Desk Appearance Ticket retain competent counsel immediately.
In many ways, a Desk Appearance Ticket does not feel like such a big deal. The arrested person is usually handcuffed and taken to a police station where they are fingerprinted. They typically wait a few hours in a holding cell until they are given a piece of paper telling them the date and location of their appearance in court. Before Desk Appearance Tickets became routine, criminal defendants could expect to get "sent downtown" and spend the night in jail before seeing a judge. Obviously, Desk Appearance Tickets are preferable for criminal defendants because they spend less time in custody and also have the opportunity to choose counsel for themselves prior to going to court.
Make no mistake, however: the issuance of a Desk Appearance Ticket is in fact an arrest – it is not "just a ticket". More importantly for visa holders, this event is not going to "fly under the radar" with the immigration agencies. If you were arrested and given a Desk Appearance Ticket, your fingerprints and the arrest charges have been sent to a New York state agency (the Division of Criminal Justice Services) and to the FBI, which maintains a federal nationwide law enforcement database of all arrest events across the United States (the Interstate Identification Index). Visa and green card holders should understand that the immigration agencies, in processing visa renewal requests, access this database to investigate whether the visa applicant has an arrest record. Indeed, some visa holders actually receive emails from Department of Homeland Security (Immigration & Customs Enforcement) agents after their arrests, because the agency was notified of the arrest via the fingerprint database.