Will an Arrest in My Past Affect My Path to U.S. Citizenship?

The path to U.S. citizenship can be complicated but adding any roadblocks along the way can make it even more so.

One of these roadblocks that can make it difficult for someone to obtain U.S. citizenship is a criminal record. However, how much does this affect your success in obtaining citizenship?

Proof of Good Moral Character

One of the requirements of citizenship is demonstration of “good moral character.”

Officials from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services will examine your criminal history to determine if you have any incidents in the past five years that would show that you do not have good, moral character.

If you are aware of anything on your record that will appear less than five years away from the date of your application, consider waiting longer so that you get past that time period.

Crimes That Raise Red Flags

Any crime is concerning when it comes to an application for citizenship, but certain crimes raise red flags that make it nearly impossible to be successful.

What crimes are these? Crimes that involve drug trafficking or prostitution are almost always included in the list, as well as other violent crimes, such as murder, manslaughter, or kidnapping.

Any crime that goes to your moral character also raises red flags.

The silver lining is that for many of these crimes, in order to make the immigrant deportable or not eligible for citizenship, a conviction needs to have been made and not just an arrest.

Arrest or Conviction?

In the U.S., you are deemed innocent until proven guilty, but an arrest can create a blemish on your record while you are trying to obtain full citizenship.

However, an arrest is not as serious as a conviction. If you are arrested for a minor offense and the charges are never pursued or if you are never convicted, you may have an easier time explaining the offense to immigration and having this overlooked in the process.

Being convicted of the crime after pleading guilty or receiving a judgment from a jury or judge can be much harder.

Full Disclosure Is Best

If you have an arrest in your history, the worst thing you can do is to not disclose this matter.

To apply for citizenship, you must fill out an Application for Naturalization or Form N-400, and one of the main questions on this form is “have you ever been arrested, cited or detained by any law enforcement officer (including any and all immigration officials or the U.S. Armed Forces) for any reason?”

You will also be asked if you have ever committed a crime for which you were never arrested.

Note that this question does not state that if the charges were dismissed you do not need to provide the information.

Even dismissed crimes need to be disclosed. Do not assume that by saying “no,” immigration will take your answer at face value and not investigate further.

Criminal records are easy to produce. You will be required to undergo a fingerprint check which will pull up your records, and if it is found that there is something on your record and you lied to officials about this matter, your application will be denied.

Even if you are granted citizenship and this lie is discovered later, your citizenship can then be taken away.

This question is serious so if you have any concerns or are unsure, consult an immigration attorney first.

Risk of Deportation

Depending on where you are in the citizenship process and the type of crime, you may put yourself at risk of deportation by disclosing your arrest record.

It is for this reason that many applicants will not fully disclose everything, hoping that perhaps it just will not be discovered.

No matter how tempting that may be, it is never advisable to purposefully hide something this important on your application.

If you have any concerns about what the consequences could be of giving your entire arrest record to immigration, contact an attorney first who can advise you on how best to handle the issue.

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