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Will Criminal Convictions Affect Eligibility for U.S. Citizenship?

 Posted on December 15, 2022 in Immigration

Dallas Immigration LawyerApplying for citizenship in the United States is a complex process that should not be taken lightly. In order to become a lawful citizen of the country, an individual must meet certain criteria that are defined in U.S. immigration laws, including residency requirements, knowledge of United States history and government, and the ability to speak, read, and write English. A person must also be able to show that they have good moral character, which may be affected by their previous criminal history. It is important to understand how criminal convictions that took place in the past may affect a citizenship application. 

Criminal Convictions That May Affect Good Moral Character

Certain types of offenses are severe enough that they are considered to be "permanent bars" to establishing good moral character. These include murder and other "aggravated felonies," such as sexual assault, drug trafficking, possession of child pornography, money laundering, and theft-related offenses or violent crimes that resulted in a prison sentence of at least one year. A person who was involved in genocide, torture, or similar activities will also be permanently barred from U.S. citizenship.

Other offenses are known as "conditional bars" to establishing good moral character, and they may be considered if a conviction occurred within an applicable statutory period. For most people, the statutory period is the five years prior to the date they filed an application for naturalization. For some spouses of U.S. citizens, the statutory period is three years. A person will be required to show that they have had good moral character during this statutory period and until the date of naturalization. Offenses that may be considered conditional bars if a conviction occurred during the statutory period include:

  • Drug crimes, including any violations of laws related to controlled substances, with the exception of possession of less than 30 grams of marijuana.

  • Prostitution-related offenses, including solicitation.

  • Polygamy.

  • Smuggling people into the United States in violation of immigration laws.

  • Two or more convictions for operating a vehicle while under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

  • Crimes involving moral turpitude, which may be any offenses that are considered shocking or depraved to the general public. These may include sexual offenses, fraud, robbery, domestic violence, aggravated battery, bribery, counterfeiting, criminal recklessness (such as reckless driving that resulted in serious injury or death), or other crimes that may be considered to be morally reprehensible. However, exceptions may apply for "petty offenses" in which a person was sentenced to no more than six months in prison for a crime with a maximum sentence of one year.

  • Two or more convictions for other criminal offenses that resulted in a total prison sentence of at least five years.

Since the laws do not provide a specific definition of "good moral character," it can sometimes be difficult to determine whether certain criminal offenses will disqualify a person from applying for citizenship. Applications are handled on a case-by-case basis, and other factors may be considered when evaluating specific convictions and other aspects of a person's life and history. Evidence may be provided to demonstrate a person's moral character and show that they will not be a threat to the safety and well-being of other people in the United States.

Contact Our Plano Citizenship and Naturalization Attorney

Becoming a United States citizen can provide many advantages, but naturalization is a complicated process that comes with a unique set of eligibility requirements. If you are seeking to apply for citizenship, but if you are concerned about how criminal arrests, convictions, or other issues could affect you, Law Office of Jae Lee can help you determine your options. We will assist with the application process and help you compile and submit the required documentation and evidence of good moral character. Contact our Dallas citizenship lawyer at 214-295-3014 to set up your free consultation today.



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