Permanent residents applying to become U.S. citizens often overlook the requirement of good moral character. There have been stories of applicants going to the interview only to be arrested and later deported.
Lack of good moral character is a ground for denying a naturalization application. As to what constitutes good moral character is a question for the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) examiner to determine.He has to evaluate the applicantís claim of good moral character on a case-by-case basis.
The applicant must measure up to the standard of the average citizen in the community where he resides. He has to prove that he has good moral character during the five years (or three years if married to a U.S. citizen) immediately preceding the filing of the application and up to the time of the interview and the oath-taking.
His conduct prior to the statutory period may be taken into account if such conduct during the statutory period does not reflect that there has been reform of character from an earlier period or if the earlier conduct and acts appear relevant to a determination of the applicantís present moral character.
The law says that there is lack of good moral character if during the statutory period the applicant committed one or more crimes involving moral turpitude, or committed two or more offenses for which the applicant was convicted and the sentence actually imposed was 5 years or more.
In one case, an applicant was denied naturalization because he had been convicted of petit larceny and sentenced to 11 months.
Violation of any law of the U.S., any state, or any foreign country relating to a controlled substance as well as giving false testimony to obtain immigration benefit also show lack of good moral character.
Prostitution, human smuggling, two or more gambling convictions and being a habitual drunkard also constitute lack of good moral character.
Unless there are extenuating circumstances, lack of good moral character can also be found if the applicant willfully failed or refused to support his dependents or he had an extramarital affair which tended to destroy an existing marriage.
Conviction for murder at any time or conviction for an aggravated felony on or after November 29, 1990 definitely constitutes bad moral character.
Although it is not in the law or in the regulations, failure to register with the Selective Service between 18 and 26 years old also constitutes lack of good moral character and may trigger a denial of the application if the applicantís failure was willful. But this conduct is not a permanent bar to U.S. citizenship.
According to a USCIS memo, failure to register has a bearing on good moral character, attachment to the principles of the Constitution, and the willingness of the applicant to bear arms on behalf of the United States.
Editorís Note: REUBEN S. SEGURITAN has been practicing law for over 30 years. For further information, you may call him at 212 695 5281 or log on to his website at www.seguritan.com