This blog topic has been one of our most popular blogs over the years. It was almost seven years ago that we published this blog and since then many people from across the country have called us for help on this issue. If you want to read the original blog, which is still very useful, click here: 2016 blog. This blog is intended to provide an update on what I have seen over the last seven years representing clients from numerous states who have registered to vote when they were not U.S. citizens.
People who are not U.S. citizens are not eligible to vote in federal elections (elections for President and members of Congress) and in many states, non-U.S. citizens cannot vote in state or local elections.
It is a federal crime to vote in a federal election if you are not eligible to vote, even if you did not know you were not eligible. It is also a reason to deport any non-citizen and a reason to deny someone U.S. citizenship.
Doing consultations with non-citizens who have registered to vote is complicated. I have consulted with people from all over the United States who registered to vote when they were in high school or at the DMV or at the post office or even through social media. Unfortunately, it almost doesn’t matter where you registered to vote, the immigration consequences are almost always the same.
In recent years USCIS has officially acknowledged that people who were registered to vote at the DMV may deserve a break and not be punished for registering to vote in certain circumstances: https://www.uscis.gov/sites/default/files/document/policy-manual-updates/20210527-VoterRegistration.pdf
We have been successful in getting citizenship approved for lawful permanent residents who registered to vote through the DMV. In those cases, it usually important that the person did not actually vote in a federal election, as that complicates matters. However, USCIS notes in this policy update, “USCIS will not penalize an applicant who unknowingly or unwilfully registers to vote.” That is great news, but not always carried out in practice by USCIS.
During a consultation with an LPR (lawful permanent resident/green card holder) who has registered to vote, it is important to ask a few key questions. 1) did you claim to be a U.S. citizen when you registered to vote; 2) did you fill out the registration form yourself or did someone fill it out for you; 3) did you sign a registration form or just sign an electronic pad without knowing what you were signing; and 4) did you actually vote in an election, and if so, was it a federal, state or local election?
These questions can help us determine the negative immigration consequences for a person who registered to vote but is not a U.S. citizen. We have consulted with people who registered to vote and were issued voter’s registration cards even though they checked the box saying they were not U.S. citizens. We have helped people who simply signed the electronic keypads at the DMV and were registered to vote without filling out any form whatsoever. We have talked with people who were registered to vote after clicking on a social media advertisement and received a voter’s card in the mail.
The most important thing to remember is that if you registered to vote and you are not a U.S. citizen. please go see an experienced immigration attorney as soon as possible. An attorney who knows this area of the law, like me John Gihon can help non-citizens do damage control in a situation that can potentially lead to the denial of immigration benefits and deportation.
During a consultation, we need to determine if during your voters registration, you claimed to be a U.S. citizen and if you actually voted in a federal or state election. If you are still registered to vote, we will advise you to immediately contact the supervisor of elections to remove yourself from the voter’s registration lists. After that, we need to determine if you are eligible for citizenship.
Claiming to be a U.S. citizen when you are not and voting in an election are actions that can prevent you from establishing good moral character, which is required to qualify for citizenship. The good thing is, when you apply for citizenship, you need only establish good moral character for the past three or five years, depending on how you became a lawful permanent resident. So if you claimed to be a U.S. citizen and registered to vote and voted, but everything was more than five years in the past, you may still be able to become a U.S. citizen.
Over the years, we have seen USCIS deal with these cases in many different ways. Some clients who registered to vote but did not vote were approved for citizenship. Some clients who registered to vote and voted were placed in removal proceedings and faced deportation. Those are the two extremes of what can happen. Consulting with an experienced immigration attorney about the facts of your case before you apply for citizenship is the key to providing you with the best chance to become a citizen and avoid deportation.
If you need an immigration attorney anywhere in the United States, but certainly if you live in Orlando or Jacksonville, please call Lasnetski Gihon Law.
If you are not a citizen and you registered to vote or voted, call us today to set up an appointment to find out how to try and protect your immigration status.
Visit our website for more information about LGL: www.LGLawFlorida.com