criminal-barsThere comes a time in the life of every lawful permanent resident (LPR) in this country to make a decision to become an American citizen.  When the country’s immigration situation is fraught with uncertainty and fear (imagined or not), such decision becomes a “no brainer.”

Recent U.S. immigration statistics showed a significant increase in the number of citizenship applications. The 2014-2017 period showed the following numbers of applications for naturalization: 2014 — 202,043; 2015 — 197,590; 2016 — 252, 254; and 2017 — 289,988. News reports indicate a 27.2 percent increase.

LPRs choose to become citizens because they want to be able to vote or avail themselves of more public benefits or, simply, to live to the fullest their American dream.  For residents with “clean slate” lives, becoming U.S. citizen is not difficult.  But those with criminal past, secret or otherwise, may be wracked with doubts.  The criminal cases could range from DUI (driving under the influence) to murder.

Do they have a valid reason to be afraid of filing citizenship application?

Lately, it was announced that meritocracy is the policy. This policy may not include the poor huddled masses, but we will welcome those who can contribute to the good of society and those who can adhere to the rules of law and order.

Grandiose statements but the requirements are not new.  The qualities they look for among applicants have been the same since the first “Rule of Naturalization” was issued in March, 1790.

One of the more sensitive and strictly followed standards in adjudicating an application for naturalization (N-400) is the applicant’s good moral character (GMC).  When one is arrested, charged or/and convicted of an offense, such record becomes very significant in deciding whether applying for a benefit, as important as obtaining U.S. citizenship, is an option to take.

There are “conditional and permanent” bars to good moral character. Conditional bars pertain to acts and/or omissions that were done within the last five years since the filing of the N400 application (statutory period).  An application could be denied if an act/omission occurred within the statutory period.  Needless to say, one can re-apply beyond the lapse of five years from the occurrence thereof.

Conditional bars to GMC may include non-criminal acts such as failure to file income tax returns or register in the Selective Service System (for males 18-26) or pay child support to dependent children.  Criminal arrests, charges and convictions per se can mean one is lacking GMC, if occurring within the statutory period.

Immigration officers have the discretion to decide lack of GMC and deny an application, even if the act was committed beyond the statutory period.  The list of acts and convictions that could be conditional bars to GMC is long and ranges from commission of crimes involving moral turpitude to being sentenced to a crime with an imprisonment of 180 days or more, from prostitution, bigamy, habitual drunkenness, adultery to having been sentenced to a total of five years or more, and controlled substance violations.

Applicants convicted of such crimes must  present proof of having been rehabilitated or reintegrated into societal norms of good conduct in order for their re-application (N400) to be considered.

Permanent bars to GMC prevent a LPR from ever obtaining U.S. citizenship.  Examples of permanent bars to GMC are convictions and acts such as murder, aggravated felony committed after Nov. 29, 1990, genocide or religious persecution of others.

Between 1988 and 1996, several amendments were introduced into the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) to broaden the definition of “aggravated felony”, and the list has gone up to 36 offenses.

Local standards of whether crimes should be classified as misdemeanor or grave offenses are not relevant as immigration law has specific definitions of an  “aggravated felony” that will make a person deportable and/or be permanently barred from applying for U.S. citizenship.

Legal advice for those with these types of predicament can clear the way for an otherwise rocky or lost path to citizenship.