Yesterday, a Client’s naturalization application was approved, despite several arrests and criminal convictions in the past.
My client was very scared to file for citizenship because of her old arrest record and convictions. While her convictions were serious, after I reviewed the criminal court papers, I explained to her that under immigration law, she was not deportable for her convictions, and therefore she should not fear pursuing citizenship. Additionally, her convictions occurred more than five years ago, so the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service could not merely deny her application on the basis that she lacked a showing of “good moral character” during the 5-year statutory period required for naturalization. There were no other negative “triggers” during the 5-year statutory period that would have allowed the USCIS to look beyond the five years (under the law, if there are negative factors during the statutory 3 or 5 year period when filing for naturalization, USCIS has the right to look beyond the 3 or 5 year period in exercising discretion).
Even after explaining all this, my client was nervous to apply for citizenship. She first wanted to do post-conviction relief to see if she could vacate the convictions. I explained to her it was not necessary for her immigration case. However, due to the nature of the conviction, she felt that her case would be better if she did not have the convictions on her record. I informed her she would nonetheless be required to disclose, and for immigration purposes, even if a conviction were vacated, it would still be a “conviction” (unless vacated on legal or constitutional basis).
She spent 4 months trying to decide whether she wanted to try to vacate her old convictions. I again reassured her that they would not make her deportable. She finally decided to go ahead with the naturalization application, and we filed the case in June 2015.
My client was interviewed on her naturalization application in early October 2015. I went with her to the interview, so that she would feel more comfortable having a familiar face in the room with her. She had to discuss her convictions, and she was forthcoming about what happened. The interview went very well and yesterday, she was scheduled for an oath ceremony to be sworn in as a United States citizen!
It is not impossible to become a U.S. citizen if you have criminal history! However, it is important to consult with an immigration lawyer to see how the conviction(s) may impact your eligibility for naturalization, as well as your ability to maintain your green card (because if the conviction is a deportable offense, filing a naturalization case can trigger removal proceedings in some cases).
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