To become a US citizen, one must possess “Good Moral Character.” What that means is not clearly defined. However, you don’t necessarily have to be a “Mother Theresa” to become a US citizen. In fact there are many who get their US citizenships after a stint on criminal probation. Here is the legal definition: good moral character is character that measures up to the standards of average citizens of the community in which the applicant resides.
In a naturalization or citizenship proceeding, the immigration officer would first review the last five years preceding your application. What did you do? The officer would be looking for the bad acts. Here is a short list of offenses that may raise a red flag: habitual drunkards, incarcerated for 180 days or more, those with certain gambling-related issues, those who have given false testimony and those who have committed aggravated felonies, prostitution, and practiced polygamy.
Are you safe if the bad conduct is outside the five years? It depends. The immigration officer may take into account the prior bad acts. If the officer believed that you have not reformed after your prior bad acts then those will be counted against you. If the officer believes your prior bad acts are relevant to the current application, you can get penalized. Can you get deported? Yes. For this reason it’s not a good idea to apply for citizenship without checking with an attorney if you’re concerned about a prior bad act.
Giving false testimony to obtain any immigration benefit is often taken for granted. Be careful on this one. If the false testimony was made orally, under oath or affirmation, and with intent to obtain an immigration benefit, you can get nailed. Don’t take anything for granted. Take your time to recall your past history. Go slow. If you’re concerned about a past misrepresentation check first with an attorney.
Immigration Service will conduct a background check on each applicant. At the time of the interview, the bad and the good will show. It’s best to be prepared and ready to explain your prior bad acts and let the officer know that you have a good moral character.