You Don't Have to Be a “Mother Theresa”
To become a U.S. citizen, one must possess “Good Moral Character.” What that means is rather vague and subjective. The legal definition reads: Good moral character is character that measures up to the standards of the average citizens of the community in which the applicant resides. However, you don’t necessarily have to be a “Mother Theresa” to become a U.S. citizen. In fact, there are many who have attained citizenship even after a stint on criminal probation.
What Were You Up to These Last Five Years?
In a naturalization or citizenship proceeding, an immigration officer will back-check law enforcement records for at least the five years preceding your application. Will your name pop up? A short list of offenses that could raise a red flag include: Incarceration for 180 Days (or Longer), certain Gambling Related Charges, perjury (Lying Under Oath), Habitual Drunkenness, Aggravated Felony, Prostitution, Polygamy
Those with a “Background” Need Legal Advice
Are you safe if your bad conduct background extends to more than five years ago? It depends. The immigration officer could indeed consider earlier malfeasance. If the officer feels that you have not reformed, or feels that the charges are pertinent to other circumstances regarding your application, you may very well be penalized. Can you be deported? Absolutely. Applying for citizenship should never be done without the support of an attorney, especially if you bear the onus of past criminal charges.
Little White Lies Can Become Big Black Marks
Fudging the facts a little to obtain immigration benefits is often seen as normal. But be careful on this one. If false testimony is made orally, under oath or affirmation, and with intent to obtain any immigration benefit; you can get nailed. Take your time to carefully recall your past history. Go slow, be sure that your facts line up. If you’re concerned about any past misconduct, check with an immigration attorney to help you avoid misrepresenting yourself.
Perform Your Own Background Check
Even if you have a long list of past offenses, don't be discouraged; that does not necessarily mean denial. Go back to the courts that processed your convictions and obtain a certified record of disposition for each. The immigration officers will want to see these dispositions to ensure that your cases have been resolved. Your attorney should see these as well.
Officers Demand Excruciating Detail
A good attorney will scrutinize each of your past offenses and have you recount your stories. The facts of each offense, why they happened, and how the court system dealt with them, are very important. With this knowledge, an attorney can help you prepare for the inevitable immigration interview. In the interview, a seasoned immigration officer will painstakingly require you to recall all the facts that led to your convictions – in excruciating detail.
Dress Rehearsals for Immigration Interviews
A typical story involved a client who had eight convictions within the ten years prior to his application. Luckily, the convictions were minor. Along with his attorney, he reviewed and examined each conviction and rehearsed how he should answer any possible questions. One slip, or one not so thoughtful answer, could have led to his detention and even deportation. The client’s application for citizenship was granted because of our careful preparation.
Good Reasons for Citizenship Do Not Negate Bad Records
Many people with a criminal record arrive in our office with a vague understanding that filing a naturalization application may lead to removal proceedings, or even mandatory detention for certain convictions. Grounds for mandatory detention are included in §236(c)of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 (INA), Pub. L. No. 82-414, 66 Stat. 163, (codified as amended at 8 U.S.C §§1101 et seq.), with reference to INA §§212(a)(2), (3) and 237(a)(2), (3).Some people are shocked that a simple criminal offense, or even a very old offense, may cause them to lose permanent residence. No matter how good their intent or how great their need for making application, bad records won't disappear.
Know Your Stuff
Regardless of the reason why a person may want to become a U.S. citizen, be very aware that the Immigration Service will conduct a thorough background check on each applicant. At the time of the interview, every speck of information that could be in variance with “Good Moral Character” will show up. It’s best to be prepared and ready to adequately explain your spotty legal history to ensure that the interviewing officer sees that you are presently above reproach, and that you are a decent candidate for U.S. Citizenship. ***
Lazaro Law Group, Managing Attorney