Most people eagerly await their 5-year anniversary of permanent resident status (or 3 years for spouses of U.S. citizens) to meet the time requirement for applying for naturalization. Becoming a U.S. citizen is a lifelong dream for many, as it confers the right to vote, protection from deportation, and the ability to travel internationally without worrying about reentry. More importantly for some, citizenship is a source of patriotism and self-accomplishment. The added bonus is that the United States recognizes dual citizenship, i.e.citizenship from more than one country – meaning immigrants who are naturalized do not have to give up their citizenship from their native land.
When the time comes to apply for naturalization, many permanent residents opt to prepare Form N-400 without the assistance of a lawyer. The decision to move forward pro se (latin for “in one’s own behalf”) is mostly a financial one. However, if the applicant miscalculates the complexity of the naturalization process, self-representation is far from cost-effective.
This miscalculation generally arises from the assumption that law abiding immigrants are automatically approved for citizenship. Unfortunately, avoiding a criminal record is not enough to get applicants to the finish line. Aside from the fact that there are many requirements for naturalization other than good moral character – e.g. continuous residence, physical presence, understanding of U.S. history and government – the good moral character component is multi-faceted in and of itself. Below are some of the most common factors that immigration officials consider when determining whether a citizenship applicant is a person of good moral character.
Registration in Selective Service
Male Permanent Residents between the ages of 18 and 25 must register for selective service through the Selective Service System. Technically, the time to register in compliance with the law is 30 days after the subject’s 18th birthday or 30 days after entry into the United States. However, registering at any time between ages 18 and 25 is better than not registering at all.
Most immigrants are unaware of the selective service requirement and thus fail to register within the requisite time frame. After age 25, the immigrant can no longer register. Years later, when the immigrant attempts to file for naturalization, United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) requests proof of registration with the selective service. Naturally, for those who never registered, this is an impossible feat. This can come as a surprise to the applicant and become a source of anxiety.
If you are a male immigrant who was in the USA between the ages of 18-25 but did not register for the selective service, don’t panic. Although USCIS frowns upon failure to register, they normally forgive the transgression as long as you retrieve a Status Information Letter (SIL) from the Selective Service System. You can request a Status Information Letter here: https://www.sss.gov/verify/sil/. You will be required to explain the circumstances which prevented you from registering. In most cases, the interviewing officer will accept the SIL in lieu of proof of registration.
Being a “Good Parent”
We put these words in quotes because they are subject to interpretation and we are not here to pass judgment. However, for immigration purposes, being a good parent almost always means legitimation, being current with child support payments, knowledge of your child’s biographical information, and awareness of your child’s whereabouts. The N-400 application asks information about your children such as where they live, where and when they were born, and whether you have made all your court-ordered payments for them. If you leave some answers blank or if the answers are unsatisfactory to immigration officials, your application may be denied or delayed.
Filing and Paying your Taxes
Issues with taxes don’t need to rise to the level of fraud to trigger a red flag with immigration. Inadvertent mistakes on your tax returns, forgetting to file your forms, and struggling to pay your taxes can negatively impact your citizenship application. Before submitting your N-400, review your tax history. Did you file your tax returns each year? (The best way to confirm is to order your tax transcripts directly from the IRS website). If you owe taxes, have you established a payment plan with the government? Is the information on your tax returns accurate? Make sure you have proof of compliance with all tax requirements to avoid a problem.
Membership in a Particular Organization
The N-400 application requires applicants to list and describe every organization he or she has been involved with.
While you have the right to free speech and assembly, what you say and who you associate with can prevent you from becoming a U.S. citizen. Predictably, the most problematic groups for immigration purposes are those that promote Nazism, Communism, and Terrorism. However, less extreme organizations can also affect your naturalization application.
If you have been a member of a questionable organization, consider hiring an experienced immigration attorney for guidance. Though honest, your response should be carefully constructed to explain why your membership or past membership shouldn’t be cause for concern. An example of a good explanation could be that your home country forced you or threatened you into becoming a member; alternatively, you may not have understood the philosophy behind the organization or have since changed your views.
What’s wrong with being in the military? In the eyes of the U.S. government, military service is only admirable if it comports with our country’s democratic principles. If you have served in the military for a totalitarian country or a country known for human rights violations, terrorism, communism, or Nazism, your service is certainly not viewed as a positive. Immigration officials are even more concerned with your military service in these types of countries if you received specialized weapons training.
Similar to the question about memberships in organizations, a detailed response is required if you served in a foreign military. Again, a knowledgeable immigration attorney can help you navigate this question and avoid (pun intended) land mines.
Non-criminal, yet Undesirable Behavior
Whether or not a criminal charge is attached, the following behavior is not acceptable to immigration: gambling, drug or alcohol addiction, prostitution, and polygamy. Of course, the list goes on, but these are the most common behaviors that can affect your naturalization application. For people with an unconventional past, the best chance at approval is demonstrating rehabilitation.
Good Moral Character is Not Presumed
Contrary to the principles of criminal law, where the presumption of innocence prevails, immigration applicants are guilty until proven innocent. In other words, the burden of proving good moral character is on the immigrant. For this reason, it is not enough to submit a naturalization application; rather, the applicant should provide supplemental information and documents as part of the application packet.
We can Help
For a step as important as citizenship, don’t take any chances. Our Wellington immigration law firm can spot the issues and address them before they become an impediment to your citizenship case. Our attention to detail will contribute to a strong N-400 application. Contact Casanova Law today to discover how our team can help.