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How criminal convictions can impact naturalization

California is a very popular state for those who have been granted permanent resident status by U.S. immigration authorities. Green card holders must live in the United States for five years before they can apply for naturalization, and many of them worry that their path to citizenship could be a rocky one if they get into trouble with the law. Permanent residents may be denied citizenship and face deportation agreements if they are convicted of serious crimes like murder or armed robbery, and even seemingly minor drug possession charges could cause them trouble.

Green card holders seeking naturalization must complete and submit form N-400. Question 23 asks applicants if they have ever been arrested or detained by police, and making false statements could lead to their applications being denied. While most drug-related convictions will lead to an automatic denial, exceptions are made for those with a single marijuana conviction provided that they possessed 30 grams or less of the drug.

All is not lost for permanent residents who face deportation proceedings after their applications for naturalization have been denied. Judges sometimes allow those with criminal records to keep their green cards if they have not committed serious crimes, and permanent residents will once again be able to apply for citizenship if they prevail in the deportation proceedings initiated against them.

Experienced immigration attorneys may be able to provide permanent residents seeking citizenship with some measure of assurance by performing the same kind of background checks as immigration authorities. Attorneys could then help their clients to complete form N-400 accurately and completely. When applications for naturalization submitted by their clients are denied, attorneys may file the necessary appeals paperwork and advocate on their behalf during immigration hearings and deportation proceedings.

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  • American Immigration Lawyers Association
  • State Bar of California | California Board of Legal Specialization
  • Avvo
  • Orange County Bar Association
  • Irvine Chamber