Should I apply for citizenship if I was arrested?

You should not apply for citizenship on your own if you have ever had any kind of arrest or if you think that you have registered to vote in the past.  One of the highest reasons that someone is placed in deportation proceedings is for applying for citizenship when they did not qualify.  This is because officers will use reviewing your application as an opportunity to review whether or not you should have your green card in the first place and they also can use a determination of a lack of good moral character as a reason to refer you to ICE for the issuance of a notice to appear in immigration court.

What is good moral character?  Good moral character is one of those phrases that most people think that they understand, but it is actually a legal term of art.  This means that it means something specific to immigration law and most likely means a lot more than it seems.  Many things can institute a finding of a lack of good moral character.  Some of these things are automatic and can be found in the list of questions on the N-400 citizenship application that start with “Have you ever...?”  You probably looked at that long list of questions and laughed at them--why would someone who calls themselves a nazi or habitual drunkard apply for citizenship?  But there are more subtle questions in there that can get your application denied because you answered no when if you took a closer look you might have realized that you should have answered yes.

One common thing that comes up is that officers have broad discretion to decide that you lack good moral character even if you have never done anything in that list of questions.  Some marital issues can lead them to find that you lack good moral character, like reasons behind your divorce and whether or not you have paid child support or alimony when you were ordered to.  Other conduct can also get you into trouble, for instance if you have not been arrested but did something that you probably would have been arrested for had the police known that you had done that conduct and you discuss this with an officer during your interview you can pretty much count on a finding that you lack good moral character.  This can also come up for crimes where you were charged with a smaller offense but could have been charged with a larger crime because the underlying crime was a bad one.  When thinking about these issues, keep in mind that some immigration officers were former law enforcement officials.  They know that even though you were not convicted you may have still committed a crime.  If the conduct involved is typically difficult to prove like certain drug crimes or sexual misconduct, then you can expect them to probe more into what exactly happened and what was your involvement.  This is why it is important to consult with an immigration attorney or nonprofit before applying so that you do not make the matter worse for yourself during the interview.  Many of my clients are the nicest people who mean well and want to do the honest thing, so when they are in front of the immigration officer they answer each question in detail and come to me after the matter has been referred to immigration court for removal proceedings.  If you come to me or another immigration lawyer before hand we can prepare you for the questions that you might be asked about the incident, tell you whether or not it might be a deportable offense and even prepare a brief or memorandum of law to file with your application explaining the conduct and how you have turned your life around since.

As always, feel free to reach out to me if you have any questions about your immigration issues.