Many immigrants work hard to eventually become citizens of the United States. The first step toward citizenship is obtaining permanent residence which, for many people today, is either impossible or a very long process (which is why we are fighting so hard for immigration reform). For those fortunate enough to be eligible and approved for permanent residence, however, applying for U.S. citizenship is highly recommended.
Not only are U.S. citizens eligible to vote, but they can sponsor certain family members which permanent residents cannot (like parents). Most importantly, U.S. citizens cannot be deported.
With a few limited exceptions, an individual who wishes to become a U.S. citizen must have lived in the United States continuously for five years from the date he or she became a permanent resident. The wait is only three years for applicants who are married to and have been living with their U.S. citizen spouse. Applicants must also have been physically present in the United States for at least half of the continuous residence period. The law allows applicants to apply three months prior to completing their required continuous residence period as well.
In addition to the application waiting period, applicants for U.S. citizenship must show that they have been a person of good moral character during that period, and must demonstrate an understanding of English, including an ability to read, write, and speak words in ordinary usage. Meeting these requirements alone, however, is not the only concern in determining whether to apply. When consulting with individuals interested in pursuing their citizenship, the immigration attorney reviews not only whether the individual meets these requirements but also to confirm there are no other issues in the applicant’s past that may get him deported from the United States. Believe it or not, there are people who are eligible for BOTH U.S. citizenship AND removal from the United States. When confronted with these two choices, the U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services most likely will not approve the citizenship application. Instead, the officer will first send the case to the Immigration Judge so he or she can determine whether the applicant should be deported.
For these reasons, it is critical that the applicant be completely honest with his or her attorney, especially regarding past encounters with the police (before and after getting residence), absences from the United States, and all marriages, divorces and children. In some cases, the attorney may even advise the applicant not to apply for citizenship due to the risk of being put into deportation proceedings without a defense.