Zulma Lopez

Zulma Lopez

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Three steps before applying for your citizenship

This election cycle has prompted a surge in permanent residents wanting to apply for citizenship to be able to vote in the November 2016 presidential election. I have seen this with my clients, and my colleagues nationwide are seeing the same with their clients. The citizenship process can take six months or more to complete from the time of filing your application to your citizenship oath ceremony. If you have been considering becoming a United States citizen to participate in this year’s general election, time is running short. Don’t wait any longer and file your citizenship application today. Learn more about the citizenship application requirements here

Now, in this article, I want to discuss the three steps you should take before applying for citizenship if you have a criminal record. The motivation for this article is a consultation I had recently with a family who had already filed their citizenship applications on their own, but were concerned about a prior criminal conviction their son had after he became a permanent resident. I cannot stress enough how important it is to evaluate criminal convictions before filing any immigration application. Criminal arrests or convictions have the potential of hurting your immigration status even at this late stage of your immigration journey. You not only risk getting your citizenship denied, but could also be even put in removal proceedings and deported for filing an untimely citizenship application. Follow these three steps before applying for citizenship if you have a criminal record: 

1) Get your background check: You can get a state background check by taking your fingerprints at a police station, or you can request your FBI background check by mail. There are also private companies that can take your fingerprints and produce your background check for a fee. Be mindful that once you file for citizenship, you will have to provide your fingerprints to immigration so that immigration can run its own background check. Also know that no matter how old an arrest or conviction is, it will show on your record and it could potentially affect your immigration status, or even your permanent residency. How about if you paid the fines, completed the community service and finished your probation? Your conviction will still be a conviction for immigration purposes and could negatively impact your citizenship application. Arrests and convictions do not disappear from your record just because you paid the fines and completed the conditions of your sentence. Also, the definition of what constitutes a conviction is different in an immigration context. Even a first offender plea that may have later been expunged for state purposes will still be considered a conviction for immigration purposes. It is your responsibility to be diligent when filing for citizenship to avoid a denial or even worse be put in deportation proceedings. Do not be dismissive of any prior criminal arrests or convictions, get your background check first. If you feel intimidated by going to a police station to get your fingerprints done, or if you are unsure how to go about getting your fingerprints, call us today

2) Get final court dispositions or sentences of all your arrests or convictions: One of the requirements to become a United States citizen is that you have to prove that you have been a person of good moral character for the applicable time-period (three to five years). However, an immigration officer may consider arrests or convictions outside of this period when reviewing your application. This is why is so important to get your complete criminal history, and evaluate how each incident on your record could potentially affect your immigration status. Once you get your criminal background check results, you will be able to tell exactly where were you arrested and which court decided your case. With this information you can easily locate those final court dispositions or sentences, which are crucial in evaluating whether you should move forward with a citizenship application. Why is this so important? Because even if you were convicted of a misdemeanor, that conviction could be deemed as a serious offense under immigration law. Lastly, if you are on probation, you will have to complete all the terms of your probation before you can become a citizen. 

3) Consult with an Attorney: An attorney consultation could save you from making a fatal mistake of filing an untimely citizenship application, and exposing yourself to a potential deportation for a past criminal conviction. An attorney can also offer you viable alternatives on how to deal with a criminal past incident and to ameliorate its immigration consequences. For example, if your conviction is more than five years old, you could potentially submit rehabilitating evidence with your application and at your interview showing that you should be considered a person of good moral character. In the case of the young man at my consultation, we are preparing to show that he is now in college, works, actively participates in his community, and has not had another instance of criminal conduct not even traffic violations for the past five years. Only a qualified attorney would be able to tell if you should file for citizenship after evaluating the proper documents from the court or arresting office. 

In conclusion, if you have a criminal record be careful when filing for citizenship. Follow the above three steps before you send your citizenship application to make an informed decision whether it is time to become a United States citizen.

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