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I Want to Become a U.S. Citizen, but I am not sure what Good Moral Character means

If you are a lawful permanent resident and you want to become a U.S. citizen, congratulations, you have made a wise decision. Becoming a U.S. citizen as soon as you are eligible is almost always the right choice for every lawful permanent resident. Becoming a citizen means no more renewing your green card, no more waiting in the longer line at Customs on the way back into the country and no more worrying about losing your status and getting deported.

Now that you have made the decision to apply for your citizenship, you must now determine if you are eligible. To apply for citizenship, you would use a form called an N-400 Application for Naturalization. The law on citizenship requires that an applicant meet the following criteria:

  • has been a lawful permanent resident for at least five years (three years if you obtained your green card through a U.S. citizen spouse and are still married);
  • has continuous residence in the United States for the last five years (three years if you obtained your green card through a U.S. citizen spouse and are still married);
  • has physical presence for at least three months in the state in which they live prior to filing; and
  • can establish good moral character for the last five years (three years if you obtained your green card through a U.S. citizen spouse and are still married).

Seems pretty easy right? Usually applicants will weed themselves out if they do not meet the requirements for 1-3 above; its always the fourth one, “good moral character,” that seems to get people.

Most applicants think, I am a good person, I pay my bills and take care of my family—of course I have good moral character. Unfortunately, its not that simple. The law requires that you only have to establish good moral character for the five years leading up to the application/oath. This is called the “good moral character period.” However, if you have anything negative in your past even before the good moral character period, like arrests, convictions, fraud, failure to pay taxes, etc., you can bet that the immigration officers will try to use that against you to deny your citizenship application.

So now that you know the basic requirements for citizenship, including good moral character, and for how long you must have good moral character, lets talk about what good moral character means. Immigration law is full of terms that appear at first glace to be easily defined, but in practice are extremely confusing and counterintuitive. Terms like “crime involving moral turpitude,” “continuous residence,” and “good moral character,” seem obvious enough, but they are not.

Good moral character is defined by law in INA § 101(f) and it says if you have done any of a list of things during the five years (or three years) leading up to your application, you definitely lack good moral character and your application will be denied. These things include: involvement in prostitution, alien smuggling, polygamy, controlled substance, theft, fraud or violent crimes, illegal gambling, providing false testimony for an immigration benefit, or serving more than six months in jail for a crime. There are other more serious things that can bar good moral character like committing acts of genocide or torture or being an aggravated felon. If you have done any of these things during the good moral character period, then you are going to be denied your citizenship.

There are also other things you may have done during the good moral character period that do not require, but make it more likely, that your application be denied. These things include claiming to be a U.S. citizen for almost any reason, voting in an election, registering to vote, failing to pay your taxes or failing to file tax returns when you are supposed to. There is also a “catch all” provision that immigration officers often uses to deny citizenship for other bad things you may have done that are not specifically listed in the law.

When the immigration officers look at your application for citizenship, they are also looking to see if you should be deported from the United States. Remember, you may technically qualify for citizenship, but if you are deportable from the country because of things you have done in the past, you very likely may have your citizenship application denied and be put in immigration court for removal proceedings.

Wow, this is scary stuff right? While you may have thought the time was right to apply for citizenship, after reading this, you may have changed your mind. You may be having second thoughts about applying for citizenship for fear that it will be denied and you will be deported. That is completely understandable, but there is no reason to fear, and every reason to consult with an experienced and hopefully Florida Bar Board Certified immigration attorney (like me: https://www.slgattorneysflorida.com/john-gihon.html) before your apply for citizenship. An attorney who knows this area of immigration law very well can talk to about all of the potential benefits, hurdles and risks of your specific immigration case.

An experienced immigration attorney has the knowledge to use the laws of citizenship to your advantage and to help you potentially win a citizenship case that you may lose if you filed it without an attorney. There are often arguments based upon the statutes and case law that experience attorneys can use to try and help you get your citizenship. Its always worth your time and the consultation fee to find out what you don’t know about your eligibility for citizenship.

If you need an immigration attorney anywhere in the United States, but certainly if you live in Orlando or Jacksonville, please call Shorstein, Lasnetski & Gihon.
If you want to apply for citizenship, call us today to set up an appointment to find out if you are eligible and if you should apply for citizenship.
Visit our website for more information about SLG: http://www.slgattorneys.com

You can reach John at John@slgattorneys.com
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