Nearly two-thirds of the immigrants who arrive in the U.S. each year intend to one day become United States citizens by going through a process known as naturalization. A naturalized United States citizen has all the rights of a native-born citizen, as well as all the responsibilities. The naturalization process is long, and sometimes problems arise, most often because of a past criminal conviction or irregularity. Therefore it is important to understand what may disqualify you from naturalizing before you spend time and money to try.
Deportable and Inadmissible Crimes and Conduct
In U.S. immigration law, there are two categories which crimes are usually sorted. The first comprises aggravated felonies which are serious crimes that Congress has deemed worthy of harsh immigration consequences. These crimes can be somewhat confusing because aggravated felonies need neither be ‘aggravated’ nor felonies in the jurisdiction where they were committed—they merely need to be on Congress’s list of crimes that qualify as aggravated felonies.
The second category is referred to as crimes involving moral turpitude (CIMTs). These are traditionally crimes that involve fraud or deceit—the accepted definition is “crimes which involve intent to cause great bodily harm, defraud or permanently deprive an owner of property.” They may be aggravated felonies as well as CIMTs. The difference is that crimes of moral turpitude may or may not be deportable offenses. To be deportable, one must have had to commit two or more CIMTs since admission, or to have committed one CIMT with a potential sentence of one year or longer within five years of admission.
It is important to remember that in rare instances, conduct that does not amount to a crime may torpedo a citizenship application. For example, a Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR) who owes back taxes has not specifically committed a crime, if he or she is working with the Internal Revenue Service to pay what is owed—but tax debts are specifically asked about on the N-400 (Application for Naturalization), and their existence is taken into account when evaluating a potential citizen’s application.
“Good Moral Character”
The reason that criminal records and borderline conduct are very relevant to potential citizens is that one of the requirements asked of all potential citizens is that they demonstrate ‘good moral character.’ Being ruled deportable or inadmissible is a black mark against your record, and even conduct described above that does not reach the level of a crime can play a role.
While there is no specific definition of good moral character in U.S. immigration law, certain crimes on your record are deemed to show that you do not possess the requisite good moral character. If you have ever been convicted of murder, or of an aggravated felony after November 29, 1990, you are permanently barred from seeking U.S. citizenship, for example. However, even a lesser crime such as simple assault may be used as a reason to deny your citizenship on character grounds. Much of the decision is subjective, unfortunately, unless you have been convicted of acts that result in an automatic bar.
Seek Professional Advice
If you have questions regarding whether or not you may be eligible for naturalization, it is best to consult with an Illinois legal professional. The experienced Chicago immigration attorneys at Mevorah Law Offices LLC will work with you to make sure you understand your options, and proceed accordingly. Contact us today for a free initial consultation.
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