How to screw up your naturalization case.
Becoming a citizen is an exciting time. One that seems like the culmination of a long wait through residency. Your case may sail through the process without a hitch, but you could also end up in removal proceedings. This guide will help you determine if you need a lawyer.
Eligibility1. In order to be eligible to naturalize, you must have held your residency for 3 or 5 years. The length of time depends on how you became a resident, whether through marriage (3 years) or another route (5 years).
2. Residency actually inside the US. You must be very careful to document all of your trips abroad and report this. If you have spent too much time outside of the US, you will not be eligible to naturalize. Try to keep all trips under 6 months in length and spend more than half of the last five years actually inside the US.
File for naturalization without determining if you're ineligibleOnce you determine that you're eligible, the next logical step is to file. A quick visit to the USCIS website will encourage you to do so. Show you where to find the forms and provide step by step instructions on where to send them. HINT**no one will stop you from screwing up your case but an immigration attorney. Before you do something that you can't take back, read step 3.
STOP! Don't file that application until you've checked these things.1. CRIME. Not all crime is treated equally. Don't make the mistake of mixing criminal and immigration law. They aren't even close to the same. Also, don't make the mistake to think that the number of days in jail, or length of sentence will tell you how bad your immigration situation is. If you have any crime at all, consult an immigration attorney. I've seen a client who came to me too late. This person went from resident to naturalized to in removal proceedings in 4 months because of a miscalculation in this criminal area.
2. Good moral character. This is a term of art, with no specific definition to point to. A thorough consultation with an immigration attorney is advised if you have any of these: divorce and child custody/support, a court judgement against you for damages, problems with alcohol or drugs or multiple aliases.
This list is not exhaustive and you will notice that the agency website for naturalization is less than clear that there is danger in applying for naturalization if you are prima facia eligible. What you won't be told is that you CAN be placed into removal proceedings under certain circumstances. Clients don't usually get the opportunity to explain things in order to clear them up, and often they are stuck with statements that they've made to an officer which are less than accurate due to a misunderstanding of legal terms.
A consultation with an immigration attorney will give you the answers specific to your case and give you the peace of mind to make your decision with confidence.