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Washington - Justin Bieber's run-ins with the law could potentially get him kicked out of the United States, the nation where the Canadian-born teen idol struck it rich, immigration lawyers said on Friday.
Bieber, 19, kept a low profile a day after he was charged with driving under the influence after police caught him drag racing in Miami Beach, Florida, allegedly after drinking and smoking marijuana.
On Twitter, the voice behind hits Baby and Boyfriend kept an uncharacteristic silence, leaving his 49 million followers to rally behind him with the trending hashtag #WeWillAlwaysSupportYouJustin.
Instead, Bieber let a picture tell 1 000 words with an Instagram of himself in a dark hoodie, waving outside jail, alongside an image of Michael Jackson a decade ago when the King of Pop was fighting child molestation charges.
“What more can they say,” read the caption.
Besides the DUI charge, Bieber - released on a $2 500 (about R25 000) bond - also faces charges of resisting arrest and driving with an expired Georgia state license behind the wheel of a yellow Lamborghini sports car.
He was already under investigation for allegedly hurling eggs at a neighbour's house in Los Angeles - an incident that led police to search his mansion, where they seized illicit drugs and arrested one of his associates.
By late afternoon (2100 GMT) on Friday, nearly 8 000 people had signed an online petition on the official White House website calling for Bieber's deportation.
“He is not only threatening the safety of our people, but he is also a terrible influence on our nation's youth,” said the petition, which needs 100 000 signatures by February 22 to elicit a White House response.
Like many non-American entertainers, Bieber - who, says Forbes magazine, made $58-million in 2013 - lives and works in United States under a so-called O-1 visa, according to the Hollywood Reporter, a showbiz trade journal.
“To qualify for an O-1 visa, the beneficiary must demonstrate extraordinary ability by sustained national or international acclaim and must be coming temporarily to the United States to continue work in the area of extraordinary ability,” says the US Citizenship and Immigration Services on its website.
Diana Scholl of the American Civil Liberties Union in Washington suggested that Bieber could dodge deportation on account of his fame and fortune.
“If convicted, another immigrant in his situation would very likely languish in immigration detention before being deported,” she said on the ACLU.org website.
“That person - like 84 percent of people in immigration detention - would also likely not have an immigration attorney, let alone a high-priced one.”
In their incident report, posted on gossip website TMZ.com, the Miami Beach police department gave Bieber's citizenship as “USA” - apparently a mistake.
It also named Toronto as his birthplace, rather than the smaller Ontario city of London, and listed his occupation as “other.”
Immigration lawyer Stacy Tolchin, quoted in the Los Angeles Times newspaper, said Bieber's alleged offenses in Miami Beach, while “not good,” were unlikely to add up to a violation of his O-1B status.
But Tolchin added: “Let's say if it's assault, a felony assault, and he's convicted, that's a big problem... He really needs to get excellent criminal defence and an excellent immigration attorney.”
A drug conviction would equally pose “a big problem,” she said.
Under the Immigration and Nationality Act, violation of any US or foreign drug law - apart from the possession of a small personal amount of marijuana - is grounds for deportation.
So too is “moral turpitude,” a catch-all term that can include anything from homicide, robbery and kidnapping to gross indecency, lewdness and adultery, a rarely-prosecuted crime in 23 states.
“If ICE wanted to go after him, they could make a case,” New York immigration lawyer Michael Wildes told ABCNews.com, referring to the Department of Homeland Security's Immigration and Customs Enforcement unit.
“That and the eggs is opening files in multiple government agencies and states, and could make it more likely,” he said.
In the event that Uncle Sam gives him the boot, Bieber won't be alone.
One in 10 deportees are legal permanent residents, or “green card” holders, a majority of whom had merely committed “minor, nonviolent crimes,” said the Immigration Policy Centre in Washington in a 2010 report. - Sapa-AFP