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Potential Hazards in Applying for U.S. Citizenship

It is typical for Immigration Lawyers to encourage legal permanent residents (LPR’s) to apply for citizenship as soon as they qualify for Naturalization. Only Naturalization will give you the full protection and rights of an American Citizen. Legal Permanent Residents can lose legal status and be placed in removal proceedings for a myriad of reasons. Therefore, without any complicating factors, as an LPR you want to Naturalize as soon as you meet the statutory requirements. You may be eligible to apply for citizenship after three years if you received your green card based on a marriage to a U.S citizen Petitioner. If your permanent residence status was not based on a marriage petition, then you are eligible in 5 years after the date permanent residence was established. You may submit your N-400 application within 3 months of the eligibility date (whether it is 3 or 5 years), and you will be interviewed at the local USCIS Naturalization office, where you must pass an English exam and a U.S. government test. However, LPR’s should be mindful that submitting an N-400 Naturalization application to the USCIS can bring unintended consequences as drastic as losing permanent residence status and /or being placed into removal proceedings.

To be eligible for Naturalization, you must meet the following criteria:

  1. Must be a lawful permanent resident for 5 years (3 years if married to USC)
  2. Must be 18 years old or older
  3. Must meet continuous residence and physical presence requirements
  4. Must meet the Good Moral Character Requirements for the 5 year period proceeding your application.
  5. Must demonstrate knowledge of the English language, U.S, history and Government.

The irony is that even though you meet the eligibility requirements for Naturalization, by filing the N-400 you have brought yourself to the attention of the USCIS. In doing so you may have put yourself in jeopardy of losing your legal status because of committing some error, such as inadvertently registering to vote before you become a citizen, or by pleading guilty to or being convicted of a crime that makes you removable or inadmissible under the Immigration Laws. If you have ever been arrested for any reason, you should consult an experienced immigration attorney before attempting to naturalize. Certain crimes, even minor ones may put you at risk for deportation, even if they happened a long time ago. The following aliens are permanently barred from naturalization and could be subject to removal:

  • convicted of an aggrevated felony, on or after November 29, 1990;
  • convicted of murder at any time;
  • an alien who requested exemption from military service on account of alienage; and
  • an alien convicted by court martial of desertion during time of war.

Other issues that could bar naturalization or result in deportation

  • have been convicted of one or more crimes involving moral turpitude
  • have been convicted of two or more offenses for which the total sentence imposed was 5 years or more;
  • have been convicted of any controlled substance violation, except for a single offense of simple possession of 30 grams or less of marijuana;
  • have been confined to a penal institution for an aggregate of 180 days or more as a result of a conviction;
  • have been convicted of two or more gambling offenses;
  • have earned your principal income from illegal gambling;
  • have been involved in prostitution or commercialized vice;
  • are involved, or have been involved, in smuggling illegal aliens into the United States;
  • are, or have been, a habitual drunkard;
  • are practicing, or have practiced, polygamy;
  • have willfully failed or refused to support dependents;
  • have given false testimony, under oath, in order to receive a benefit under the Immigration and Nationality Act;
  • are an individual involved in subversive activities;
  • are, or have been, a member of the Communist Party;
  • are, or have been a deserter during war time, unless you received a pardon or general amnesty;
  • are an alien who has removal proceedings pending against you or are subject to an outstanding order of deportation or removal, unless you are eligible for citizenship due to military service;
  • have failed to register with the selective service; or
  • have any other criminal history.

Aggravated Felonies:
Pleading guilty to, or being convicted of and aggravated felony has very serious immigration consequences, especially if your conviction took place after April 24, 1996. Some examples of aggravated felony offenses include drug trafficking and some some drug possession offenses, crimes of violence or theft/burglary where the sentence is one year or longer, , fraud, deceit, or tax evasion, alien smuggling, certain prostitution offenses, murder, rape, and sexual abuse of a minor.

Crimes Involving Moral Turpitude (CIMT):
United States Immigration laws have defined a category of crimes as CIMT. Generally, these are crimes of theft, fraud, certain assault offenses, and most sex offenses. Even though these can be minor offenses (such as shop lifting) and even misdemeanor crimes, you are deportable for a CIMT if you:
(1) committed the CIMT within the first five years after your admission to the United States, and this is an offense for which a sentence of one year or more could have been imposed (even if your actual sentence included no jail time); OR (2) committed two CIMTs not arising out of a single scheme at any time after your admission to the United States, regardless of the potential or actual sentence imposed.