Obtaining U.S. citizenship (also known as naturalization) is always an exciting time, but there are a number of things an applicant must consider before applying for the process since an applicant might not actually be eligible for one reason or another. Many people think that applying for citizenship is “easy” after looking at the application, but this is often far from the truth. We regularly speak with clients who try to complete the paperwork themselves and have no idea they have a problem that will result in a denial and possibly even the loss of their green card and deportation.
Citizenship is one of the most technical processes under immigration law since this is the final stop for immigrants on their long immigration journey. Since citizenship provides so many permanent benefits, the law is very strict and there are a number of different things an applicant must consider before safely moving forward with their requests. Potential applicants should know that immigration law has both temporary and permanent bars to obtaining citizenship.
Temporary bars apply to applicants for a 5-year period of time while the permanent bars lasting forever. Examples of problems that trigger the temporary bar would be an arrest committed that violates what the government refers to as a person’s good moral character. Typically, these are crimes of theft or deceit that result in a misdemeanor conviction. Minor drug convictions can also lead to a temporary bar. If either of these examples result in felony convictions, things get very problematic for the immigrant as they can trigger a permanent bar to citizenship or, if they fall under the “aggravated felony” rules of immigration law, could lead to the immigrant’s loss of their legal permanent residency and deportation. This is why careful consideration must be taken before making any decision to file for citizenship.
There are other minor issues people can have that might not trigger a bar, but will still prevent them from getting approved for citizenship. Examples of these are the non-payment of income taxes, having child support arrearages, or not being able to pass the English test. In some cases, it is possible for those without the ability to speak English to obtain a waiver and obtain citizenship, but that would be an important discussion to have with your immigration attorney.
Another area of concern for some naturalization applicants are problems that relate to violations of the terms of their legal permanent residency. One of the most common problems green card holders have, sometimes without realizing it, is that they have put their residency at risk due to extended or repeat travel outside the United States for longer than the permitted time. We have had clients come from living abroad for months or even several years to find out that their green card was canceled due to their abandonment of their residency. It is possible to fix this problem, but it must be done in the right way in order to be able to preserve their underlying residency. If this is possible, naturalization will again be an option, but it may take several years before an immigrant can move forward safely.
The importance of maintaining correct legal status and applying for citizenship at the right time cannot be stressed enough. Recently, this was brought to national attention due to the Biden administration’s use of tracking software that they are now using to invalidate or cancel a person’s citizenship. The software, called ATLAS, is being used by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to scan millions of immigrant records and then automatically flagging naturalized Americans for review to see if their citizenship should be revoked. ATLAS gathers information from immigrant files and then allows DHS to investigate personal relationships, backgrounds and biometric information for indicators that someone is dangerous or has been dishonest in their immigration history and may have committed fraud within the U.S. immigration system. In cases like this, no one is safe except those born in the U.S. since immigration fraud will follow someone forever.
If you have any questions about any existing immigration process or recent announcements from the government about new or changed processes, please schedule a consultation today by calling 616-805-3435.