Tips on Naturalization / Citizenship from Boston AILA Conference

In Boston, Massachusetts, I recently spoke at the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) Conference on Immigration Law.  The topic was citizenship and naturalization.

Several immigration lawyers from Massachusetts have sent me follow up questions. In response, here are a few tips that will help you successfully handle an application for naturalization, N-400.

Research your client’s criminal history before submitting the N-400 application for naturalization by requesting an FBI rap sheet or Interstate Identification Index (“III”) and a Massachusetts CORI.  The FBI III is based on fingerprints.  My office fingerprints immigration clients in-house using this kit.  The Massachusetts CORI is based on name and date of birth, which is why it is essential to list on the form every possible spelling of your client’s name, as well as aliases. Keep in mind that these records are notoriously inaccurate.  The final step is to track down criminal dispositions for all court appearances.  Remember: your job as an immigration lawyer isn’t done until you have closely reviewed court-certified final criminal dispositions showing all docket sheets for each court appearance.

Selective Service and Citizenship.  For male naturalization applicants, failure to register for Selective Service for permanent residents between the age of 19 and 26 bars a finding of good moral character during the requisite three or five year period but only if the applicant knowingly or willfully failed to register.  In my experience as an immigration lawyer, many clients mistakenly believe that they forgot to register for Selective Service when, in fact, they actually did.  If your client says that he never registered with Selective Service, you should double check to make sure he’s right.  You can use the Selective Service Online Registration Verification available here. If your client’s Selective Service information is not found, this does not necessarily mean that he failed to register. You should then call the agency at 888-655-1825 to see if his registration is in the system. And, finally, to prepare for the naturalization interview, you should request a status of information letter from Selective Service.

Fill out the N-400 with meticulous attention to detail to avoid “false testimony.”  Even the smallest mistake on the N-400 form could be used as an excuse to deny your immigration client’s N-400.  As a matter of good moral character, an applicant for citizenship can be denied if, during the requisite period of time, he or she knowingly provides false or misleading information to an immigration officer for the purposes of obtaining an immigration benefit.  Using this legal standard, USCIS could construe inaccurate information on the naturalization application as a deliberate lie and, therefore, a ground for denial. This comes into play particularly when disclosing adverse information such as criminal appearances.

Good Moral Character: how to determine whether your client has met the standard.  To obtain US citizenship through the naturalization process, you ordinarily must show good moral character for 5 years or for 3 years if your claim is based on marriage to a US citizen.  If your client has a criminal conviction, it may be necessary to wait to file the N-400 until the date the offense was committed is outside the 3- or 5-year period.

Good luck.  If you need help from a Boston immigration lawyer who enjoys complex citizenship cases, call me at (617) 722-0005 or contact me anytime.