One of the main questions we receive from those with citizenship applications has to do with the crimes that should be reported on their naturalization application. If you are in the process of applying for U.S. citizenship and have a criminal record in your home country or in the U.S., we always recommend approaching the process with honesty and transparency. We are often asked, should I report every offense I have committed? Do I have to report traffic offenses? And what time period applies to the good moral character I must prove for naturalization?
Good Moral Character
In order to naturalize, an applicant must p[rove that they have “good moral character,” among other things. The concept of good moral character is ambiguous, but in short, you must prove that your behavior conforms to that of an average person in the community in which you reside. Your criminal history is one part of this evaluation.
If you conceal any crimes you have committed, this can be a very serious fault in the evaluation of your moral character. USCIS officials generally do not take a good look when an applicant conceals the truth, and simply concealing a crime may cause more harm than admitting it. Keep in mind that officers have access to a database of your offenses, so it does not make much sense for you to omit past offenses.
Also, many ask, can very old offenses be omitted? All crimes committed must be submitted; however, not all will be relevant because the evaluation period varies according to the seriousness of the crime committed. The officer has broad discretion to consider all crimes that an applicant has committed during his or her lifetime. An aggravated felony or an offense punishable by long-term imprisonment may prevent an applicant from naturalizing forever. However, USCIS generally focuses on the five-year period prior to filing the application (or three-year period if applying as the spouse of a U.S. citizen). If you committed a crime, received a conviction, or were subject to detention or probation in that time frame, you will most likely have to defend your good moral character to the officer. We recommend that you consult an attorney if you have any criminal record, especially if it involves arrests or convictions during the five-year period prior to your naturalization.
Keep in mind that simply having arrests – even if they have not been decided against you – on your record can create a complexity in your case. For example, if the officer has reason to believe that you abuse or have abused alcohol in light of multiple past arrests. A common case is presented by those who have been arrested several times for driving while intoxicated. Often in these cases, suspicions are raised that the applicant has a drinking problem, so you should consult with an attorney to determine the best strategy.
What kind of documents do I need to bring to prove my criminal record?
At a minimum, you must submit the arrest report, the indictment, and the disposition. If for some reason you were subject to probation or a rehabilitation program, the officer will most likely ask for proof of completion of the program. Sometimes, USCIS will request additional documents.
You may also present any evidence of extenuating circumstances, provided they occurred prior to the illegal acts. For example, if you committed theft, you can present proof that you were going through an eviction, foreclosure, or any other compelling circumstance at the time. USCIS officers consider this type of evidence when deciding whether to grant citizenship.
Do I have to itemize traffic offenses?
You should report minor traffic offenses, even if you have not been arrested or prosecuted. However, normally only criminally prosecuted traffic offenses or violations with fines over $500 are reported. USCIS indicates that you do not need to report a traffic violation if it does not involve an arrest and only carries a fine of under $500.
In summary, transparency and truthfulness are always an important policy when dealing with criminal issues in naturalization proceedings. An experienced immigration attorney can help you analyze the best strategy for achieving citizenship, even if you have a criminal record.
If you wish to apply for U.S. citizenship, we can help. Call us at 954-241-4209 to receive a consultation about your immigration case.