- Lawfully Admitted for Permanent Residence
- Continuity of Residence
- Residency: Jurisdiction
- Physical Presence
- Good Moral Character
- Attachment to the Constitution
- English language proficiency and knowledge of United States history and government.
Naturalization applicants are required by law to appear in person before an USCIS District Adjudications Officer (DAO, formerly called an “Immigration Examiner”) for an “examination under oath.”
District Adjudications Officers (DAO) must make a determination whether the applicant possesses the requisite Good Moral Character for purposes of naturalization. In making this determination, DAO’s will primarily focus on the 5-year statutory period prior to filing of the N-400 application. Part 7 of the N-400, entitled Additional Factors of Eligibility has 15 questions which contain most of the grounds for finding a lack of GMC. In addition, DAOs “should always ask” the applicant the following questions, if applicable:
- Have you ever failed to pay, or refused to pay, alimony, or failed to comply with a court order to pay alimony?
- Have you ever failed to pay, or refused to pay, child support or failed to comply with a court order to pay child support?
If an applicant admits to having committed or been arrested, sentenced, or convicted for any crimes or offenses in violation of the law, or if the file contains evidence of any crimes or offenses, DAOs will focus on the number and type of offenses to determine whether the applicant lacks GMC based on this evidence.
A person will always lack GMC if, during the 5-year statutory period, he has committed one or more “crimes involving moral turpitude”(CIMT). The most common definition of a CIMT is “an act of baseness, vileness or depravity in the private and social duties which a man owes to his fellow men or to society in general, contrary to the accepted and customary rule of right and duty between man and man.”
If the applicant gives an affirmative response to any of the questions involving GMC in Part 7 (Questions No. 8, 9, 12, and 15) or if the cases involves CIMTs, DAOs will refer the applicant to a secondary officer for a traditional interview format.
A list of crimes involving moral turpitude: This checklist is designed to provide a quick reference to the types of offenses which the Board of Immigration Appeals has found to be “Crimes Involving Moral Turpitude.” This list is not exclusive and DAOs will consult with Service counsel for more in-depth information.
Crimes Against The Person
- Murder/Intentional Homicide
- Voluntary Manslaughter
- Homicide by Reckless Conduct
- Involuntary Manslaughter w/ Reckless Disregard
- Attempted Murder
- Kidnapping Mayhem
- Assault or Attempted Murder Upon Government Officers
- Carrying a Concealed Weapon w/ Intent to Use Against the Person of Another
- Assault w/ a Deadly Weapon
- Assault w/ Weapon Likely to Produce Bodily Harm
- Interfering w/ a Law Enforcement Officer w/ Use of Deadly Force
- Attempting to Obstruct/Impede the Progress of Justice
- Aggravated Assault Against a Peace Officer
Crimes Against Property
- Attempted Arson
- Uttering a Forged Instrument/Forged Prescription
- Making False Statements of Financial Condition
- Grand theft
- Petty Theft
- Receiving Stolen Property
- Concealing Assets in Bankruptcy
- Encumbering Mortgaged Property w/ Intent to Defraud
- Fraudulently Issuing Check w/ Insufficient Funds
- Fraudulently Issuing Worthless Check
- Illegal use of ATM or Credit Card
- Passing Forged Instrument
- Attempted Fraud
- Using Mails to Defraud
- Making False Statements in Acquisition of Firearm
- Securities Fraud
- Welfare Fraud
- Transporting Stolen Property
- Obtaining Money by False Pretenses
- Malicious Trespass
Sexual and Family Crimes
- Assault w/ Intent to Commit Abortion
- Attempted Assault w/ Intent to Commit Carnal Abuse
- Statutory Rape/Rape
- Indecent Assault/Sexual Battery
- Gross Indecency
- Contributing to the Delinquency of a Minor/Sexual Acts
- Taking Indecent Liberties w/ a Child
- Oral Sexual Perversion
Crimes Against the Government
- Falsely Issuing a Narcotic Prescription
- Offering a Bribe
- Making, Passing, or Possessing Counterfeit Coins
- Conspiracy to Violate IRS Laws
- Securities Fraud
- Smuggling Merchandise
- Impersonating Federal Officer
- False Statements/Firearm
- False Statements or Entries
- Harboring a Fugitive
- Using False Names & Addresses to Violate Postal Laws
- Uttering/Selling False/Counterfeit Immigration Documents
- False Statements to Obtain a Passport
- False Statements in LPR Application
- Theft from U.S. Mail
- Taking Kickbacks
- Receiving Funds by False Statements
- Trafficking in Narcotics
- Failing to Report Income
- Union Official Unlawfully Accepting a Loan
- Kickbacks on Government Contracts
- False Statements/Selective Service
- Falsely Representing Social Security Number
- False Statements/Unemployment Benefits
(a) General Criteria . One of the most important basic requirements in naturalization is that of good moral character (GMC). An applicant for naturalization must show that, during the statutorily prescribed period, he or she has been and continues to be a person of good moral character. This period includes the time between the examination and the oath of allegiance. Although the law specifies that the good moral character requirement applies to the statutory period, conduct prior to that period may impact the adjudicator’s dec ision regarding whether or not an applicant meets the requirement. Consideration of the applicant’s conduct and acts outside the statutory period is specifically sanctioned by law if the applicant’s conduct during the statutory period does not reflect reform of character or the earlier conduct is relevant to the applicant’s present moral character. See section 316(e) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (the Act) and 8 CFR 316.10(a)(2) . Thus, when addressing the issue of good moral character, the examination should be broad enough and sufficiently detailed to disclose all relevant adverse conduct or activity. Although the focus should be on conduct during the statutory period, the inquiry should extend to the applicant’s conduct during his or her entire lifetime.
Good moral character should be determined on a case-by-case basis. Section 101(f) of the Act and 8 CFR 316.10 specifically provide that certain criminal conduct precludes a finding of good moral character. Section 101(f) also provides that an applicant may lack good moral character for reasons other than those described in 101(f)(1) – (f)(8). The courts have held that good moral character means character which measures up to the standards of average citizens of the community in which the applicant resides. Any conduct or acts which offend the accepted moral character standards of the community in which the applica nt resides should be considered, without regard to whether the applicant has been arrested or convicted.
(b) The Record and GMC . Although a GMC issue can arise at any time during the naturalization interview, the N-400 contains questions in Part 7 which are keyed directly to the good moral character requirement. See Chapter 74.2(g) of the AFM for a detailed discussion of each question in part 7. Some offenses which may preclude a finding of good moral character such as controlled substance violations, prostitution, smuggling, gambling, and habitual drunkenness which are not mentioned in this section, are discussed in detail in Chapter 74.2(g) of this manual. In general, these questions represent an effort to obtain a complete record of any criminal, unlawful, or questionable activity in which the applicant has ever engaged, regardless of whether such information eventually proves to be material to the moral character issue. The previous version of the N-400 falls short of this objective in relation to the arrest-related question (question 15B of Part 7). For example, many applicants will not mention arrests in which prosecution was declined or resulted in suspended sentences or not guilty verdicts, based on their own interpretation of what the arrest question means. The arrest-related questions on the revised N-400 were expanded in an effort to obtain a more complete arrest record.
Even with the expanded arrest-related questions, a mere reading of the question to the applicant does not always mean that accurate and complete testimony will be forthcoming. In each case, you should take into consideration the education level of the applicant and his or her knowledge of the English language. Then, based on these factors, you should rephrase the question in simple language, supplementing it with additional questions to the extent required for complete understanding by the applicant. The em phasis should always be in the direction of over-simplification and explanation, and the scope of the inquiry should always be clearly reflected in the record. Examples of clarifying questions include, “Have you ever been arrested, anywhere in the world?” “Has a police officer ever questioned you?” “Have you ever been handcuffed by a police officer?” “Have you ever been in a police station?” “Have you ever been in court?” “Have you ever been in jail, even if just for one night?” “Have you ever had a crimina l record diverted, expunged, or dismissed?” “Have you ever had a record sealed by a judge and been told that you did not have to reveal the criminal conduct?” An applicant, when confronted with a false statement in a subsequent legal challenge, may claim that he or she did not understand what the officer meant when pertinent questions were asked during the interview.
In addition, a well-documented record of proceeding will strengthen the case in the face of a subsequent legal challenge. The record should be clearly and thoroughly documented so that anyone reviewing the file knows exactly what happened at the interview without need for the interviewing officer’s explanation. It is of vital importance that you mark, in red ink, the questions in Part 7 that you ask during the interview. The check or circle marks must be made next to the answers to the questions. In particular, questions (15A) and (15B), relating to criminal history, capture information central to naturalization eligibility and must always be annotated during the interview.
Notations of the applicant’s testimony should be made on the N-400 to provide for a more complete record of the examination. Clear and legible notations will have more probative value in subsequent legal proceedings. For example, you may note, “admits to one arrest for petty theft in (year), one year probation only, states no other arrests” on the application of an applicant who admits to the arrest during the interview. Suppose, in fact, this applicant had an additional disqualifying arrest and conviction for assault and battery two months prior to the interview that he failed to disclose. You learned of the second arrest after the interview. You continued the case for expired fingerprints and the second fingerprint check revealed the additional arrest. Although you should call in the applicant to establish why he failed to disclose the arrest, the notations are objective evidence that can be used in a denial on false testimony grounds. A sworn statement should always be taken if the applicant admits to comm itting a crime for which he or she has not been arrested. See Chapter 74.2(g), question (15A) regarding the admission of crimes for which an applicant has not been arrested. See also Chapter 15.6 regarding sworn statements. A sworn statement should also be taken when an applicant provides false testimony. See Chapter 74.2(g), question (12) part (H) , False Testimony .
(c) Definition of “Conviction ”. Most of the criminal offenses that preclude a finding of good moral character require a conviction for the disqualifying offense. Sometimes, it is difficult to determine if the outcome of the arrest resulted in a conviction. Various states have provisions for diminishing the effects of a conviction. In some states, adjudication may be “deferred” upon a finding or confession of guilt. Some states have a “diversion” program whereby the case is taken out of the normal criminal proceedings in order to avoid criminal prosecution and so that the person may benefit from a counseling or treatment program.
Prior to the passage of the 96 Act (IIRIRA), Matter of Ozkok , 19 I&N Dec. 546 (BIA 1988) defined “conviction” for immigration purposes. That decision set forth a “3- pronged test” for determining convictions:
•the alien pled guilty or nolo contendere or was found guilty of the charges against him or her.
•the judge ordered some form of punishment, penalty, or restraint of liberty to be imposed.
•a judgment of adjudication of guilt may be entered without further proceeding regarding guilt or innocence if the person violated the terms of probation or failed to comply with the requirements of the court order.
In the 96 Act, Congress broadened the scope of the definition of “conviction” by deleting the “3 rd prong”. The definition of “conviction” in Matter of Ozkok is no longer in effect. Section 101(a)(48)(A) of the Act defines “conviction” as:
- a judge or jury has found the alien guilty or the alien entered a plea of guilty or nolo contendere or has admitted sufficient facts to warrant a finding of guilt, and
- the judge has ordered some form of punishment penalty, or restraint on the alien’s liberty to be imposed.
By removing the third prong of Ozkok , Congress intended that even in cases where the adjudication is “deferred”, the original finding or confession of guilt and imposition of punishment is sufficient to establish a “conviction” for immigration purposes.
(1) Effect of Expungement . Post-IIRIRA, expungements do not remove the underlying conviction in many cases. In Matter of Roldan , Int. Dec. #3377 (BIA 1999), the BIA held that a state court action to “expunge, dismiss, cancel, vacate, discharge, or otherwise remove a guilty plea or other record of guilt or conviction by operation of a state rehabilitative statute” has no effect. The regulations already provide that an expungement of a controlled substance violation does not affect the conviction. See 8 CFR 316.10(c)(3)(i) . Also, a second crime involving moral turpitude that is expunged is still considered a conviction. See 8 CFR 316.10 (c)(3)(ii) . Post IIRIRA, other expungements will not be given effect. If you are unsure of the effect of a particular expungement, contact your local district counsel .
The USCIS can in all cases require an applicant to bring in evidence of a conviction, even if the conviction has been expunged. It remains the applicant’s responsibility to obtain his or her record, even if it has been sealed by the court. In some cases the USCIS may file a motion with the court to obtain a copy of the record in states where the applicant cannot obtain it.
(d) Finding of a Lack of Good Moral Character . Finding a lack of good moral character may occur as a result of a statutory bar that precludes the applicant from establishing good moral character, or may occur as a result of a discretionary finding of a lack of good moral character by the adjudicating officer. An applicant may commit a certain act or acts that effectively and permanently bar him or her from naturalizing, in all cases and under all circumstances, or may commit a lesser offense during the statutory period that may conditionally bar him o r her from establishing good moral character. Other less serious acts require the adjudicating officer to take into consideration the nature of the offense(s), the applicant’s overall conduct, and other factors relevant to the definition of good moral character.
(1) Permanent Statutory Bars to Establishing Good Moral Character . • Murder . If an applicant is convicted of murder at any time, he or she can never establish good moral character. See 8 CFR 316.10(b)(1)(i) . If the applicant has ever been convicted of murder, you should deny the naturalization application and consider whether the case should be referred for removal proceedings. • Aggravated Felony Committed On or After November 29, 1990 . The definition of “aggravated felony” is in section 101(a)(43) of the Act. It is of vital importance that all interviewing officers are very familiar with what crimes constitute an aggravated felony. Some offenses require a minimum term of imprisonment to qualify as an “aggravated felony”. For example, a theft offense and a crime of violence are aggravated felonies if the term of imprisonment is at least one year. Note that the term of imprisonment is deemed to be the period of confinement ordered by the court regardless of whether the sentence was actually imposed. S ee section 101(a)(48)(b) of the Act. In IIRIRA, Congress expanded the offenses considered aggravated felonies and amended the definition to apply to offenses that occurred at any time.
For naturalization purposes, an applicant convicted of an aggravated felony on or after November 29, 1990, regardless of when the crime was committed, is permanently precluded from establishing good moral character. Accordingly, an application for naturalization filed by an individual convicted of an aggravated felony on or after November 29, 1990, must be denied. Moreover, the case should be considered for possible initiation of removal proceedings because an individual convicted of an aggravated felony at anytime is removable. See section 237(a)(2)(A)(iii) of the Act.
(2) Conditional Bars to Establishing Good Moral Character .
(A) Effect of Crime Involving Moral Turpitude (CIMT) Convictions . An applicant who commits and is convicted of or admits to committing one or more crimes involving moral turpitude during the statutory period cannot establish good moral character and is ineligible for naturalization. See 8 CFR 316.10(b)(2)(i) . However, there is an exception to the general rule, which you must consider. See section 212(a)(2)(A)(ii)(II) of the Act. The exception applies if the applicant has committed only one CIMT and the crime is a petty offense. A petty offense is defined as a crime for which the maximum penalty possible for the crime does not exceed imprisonment for one year and , if there is a conviction, the term of imprisonment does not exceed six months, regardless of suspension. Thus, an individual convicted of a CIMT will only qualify for the exception if the two conditions are satisfied. Not only must the sentence imposed have been less than six months, the maximum possible sentence that could have been imposed must not exceed one year.
For example, suppose an applicant commits petty theft in the statutory period. This was his or her only conviction. The applicant was fined and sentenced to one year of probation and community service. The maximum possible sentence for this conviction is 364 days. No term of imprisonment was imposed. The applicant meets both conditions of the petty offense exception and is not precluded from establishing GMC. In the above example, if the applicant had also received a suspended jail sentence of eight months, he or she would not meet the exception because he or she does not meet the second condition of the petty offense exception. The petty offense exception is inapplicable to an alien who has been convicted of or who admits the commission of more than one crime involving moral turpitude, even if only one of the two or more CIMTs was committed during the statutory period. An applicant who has committed more than one petty offense, only one of which is a CIMT, remains eligible for consideration of the petty offense exception.
(B) Definition of a Crime Involving Moral Turpitude (CIMT) . As defined in case law, moral turpitude generally refers to conduct which is inherently base, vile, or depraved, contrary to the accepted rules of morality and the duties owed to persons or society in general. See Matter of Flores , 17 I&N, Dec. 225 (BIA 1980), and cases cited therein. It is defined as conduct which is morally reprehensible and intrinsically wrong, the essence of which is an evil or malicious intent.
In determining whether a crime is one that involves moral turpitude, one must look to the nature of the offense itself. Matter of Esfandiary , 16 I&N Dec. 659 (BIA 1979) . Additionally, whether or not a crime is a CIMT often depends on whether or not a state statute includes one of the elements that introduces moral turpitude. A crime with the same name may be a CIMT in one state but not in another if the state statutes define the crime differently. Conspiracy to commit a crime considered a CIMT is also a CIMT in itself. If you are unsure if a crime involves moral turpitude, contact your local district counsel.
The general categories of crimes which involve moral turpitude contained in this reference guide are as follows:
• Crimes against a person . Crimes against a person involve moral turpitude when criminal intent or recklessness is an element of the offense, or when the crime is defined as morally reprehensible by state statute, e.g. statutory rape. Criminal intent or recklessness may be inferred from the presence of unjustified violence or the use of a dangerous weapon. Aggravated battery is usually, if not always, a CIMT. Assault and battery is usually not a CIMT.
•Crimes against property. Moral turpitude attaches to any crime against property which involves fraud, whether it entails fraud against the government or an individual. Certain crimes against property may require guilty knowledge or an intent to permanently take property. Theft (petty and grand), forgery, and robbery are CIMTs in some states. Possession of Burglary Tools and Loan Sharking are usually not CIMTs.
• Sexual and family crimes. It is difficult to discern a distinguishing set of principles which the courts apply to determine whether a particular offense is a CIMT. In some cases, the presence or absence of violence seems to be an important factor. The presence or absence of criminal intent can be a determining factor. Spousal abuse and child abuse can be CIMTs. For example, the Simple Assault, Domestic charge used by some states generally does not rise to the level of being a CIMT. Indecent Exposure and Abandonment of a Minor Child are also not CIMTs in some states.
• Crimes against the authority of the government . The presence of fraud is the main determining factor as to the presence of moral turpitude. Offering a Bribe to a Government Official and Counterfeiting are CIMTs. Possession of Counterfeit Securities (Without Intent) and Contempt of Court are not CIMTs.
(C) Controlled Substance Violations . Per section 101(f)(3) of the Act and 8 CFR 316.10(b)(2)(iii) , an applicant who has violated any law of the United States, of any state within the United States, or of any foreign country relating to a controlled substance is precluded from establishing good moral character, unless the violation was for a single offense of simple possession of 30 grams or less of marijuana. See Chapter 74.2(g), question 12 parts (A) and (F) for more details regarding these types of violations.
(D) Incarceration . Per section 101(f)(7) of the Act and 8 CFR 316.10(b)(2)(v) , an applicant who has been confined, as a result of conviction, to a penal institution for an aggregate period of 180 days or more cannot establish good moral character, unless the confinement was outside the United States due to a conviction of a purely political offense committed outside the United States. See Chapter 74.2(g), question 15B for more details regarding incarceration.
(E) False Testimony . An individual who gives false testimony during the statutory period for the purpose of obtaining any benefit under the Act is precluded from establishing good moral character. See section 101(f)(6) of the Act and 8 CFR 316.10(b)(2)(vi) . The most common occurrence of false testimony is failure to disclose a criminal or other adverse record, but false testimony can occur in any area. False testimony may relate to facts about lawful admission, absences, residence, marital status or infidelity, employment, organizational membership, tax filing information, or any of the multitudes of facts that are developed during a naturalization interview. False testimony, in any area, occurs when the individual deliberately intends to deceive the government while under oath in order to obtain citizenship, regardless of whether the information provided in the false testimony was material, in the sense that if given truthfully it would have made the applicant ineligible for naturalization. For example, an applicant may conceal an arrest that occurred outside or within the statutory period, believing that the disclosure of the arrest would bar his or her naturalization, even though the arrest was minor in nature and would not have an adverse effect upon his o r her eligibility. The applicant’s false testimony, in itself, denotes a lack of good moral character and renders the applicant ineligible for naturalization on the present application and on any future naturalization application until the false testimony date is outside of the statutory period.
There are three elements to false testimony that must exist for a naturalization application to be denied on false testimony grounds. In accordance with the Supreme Court decision in Kungys v. United States, 485 U.S. 759, 780-81 (1988) [ Appendix 74-6 ], the elements of false testimony are:
• Oral statements. “Testimony” for the purposes of section 101(f)(6) of the Act must be oral. False statements in an application, whether or not under oath, do not constitute “testimony”. Falsified documents do not constitute “testimony”. Further, the oral statement must be an affirmative misrepresentation. The Kungys decision makes it clear that there has been no false testimony if facts are merely concealed. Thus, incomplete but otherwise truthful answers will not rise to the level of false testimony. Concealment of the existence of a conviction is not false testimony. Fo r example, an individual has two convictions in the statutory period: one DUI conviction and one conviction for Assault and Battery. In response to the “arrest” question, the applicant testifies, “Yes, I was arrested for DUI and given one year probation.” That testimony is not false. It does conceal the existence of the other conviction, but is not an affirmative misrepresentation and is not, therefore, false testimony. To solve this problem, ALWAYS ask a follow-up question after a known concealment, such a s, “Are there any other arrests?” Assuming the applicant answers “no”, he has now provided false testimony. • Under Oath . The oral statement must be made under oath in order to constitute false testimony. Oral statements to officers that are not under oath do not constitute false testimony.
• With Subjective Intent to obtain an immigration benefit . An individual must be providing the false testimony in order to obtain an immigration benefit. False testimony provided for any other reason does not preclude an individual from establishing good moral character. Subjective intent is often the most difficult aspect of sustaining a false testimony denial. As the government acknowledges in Kungys v. the United States :
“It is only dishonesty accompanied by this precise intent that Congress found morally unacceptable. Willful misrepresentations made for other reasons, such as embarrassment, fear, or a desire for privacy, were not deemed sufficiently culpable to brand the applicant as someone who lacks good moral character.”
For Illinois applicants read this case: Plewa vs. INS, 77 F. Supp. 2d 905; 1999 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 19652 (1999)
(H) Probation and Parole . The USCIS is precluded from approving an application for naturalization while the applicant is on probation, parole, or under a suspended sentence per 8 CFR 316.10(c)(1) . An applicant who has satisfactorily completed probation, parole, or a suspended sentence during the statutory period is not precluded from establishing good moral character per se. However, the fact that an applicant was on probation or parole, or under a suspended sentence during the statutory period should be considered in determining whether that applicant can establish good moral character.
(3) Discretionary Finding of a Lack of Good Moral Character. In addition to examining the applicant’s record to determine if there are circumstances that preclude the applicant from establishing good moral character, you must determine if an applicant should be denied as a matter of discretion for a lack of good moral character. Discretionary findings should be made on a case-by-case basis, and should include consideration of all factors relevant to the case. The proper exercise of discretion involves considering these relevant factors as they relate to U.S. law, F ederal regulations, precedent decisions and their interpretations, and General Counsel opinions. Political decisions, ideological beliefs, and personal opinions about the strictness or leniency of the law must not be considered while exercising discretion. Although each decision must be made on a case-by-case basis, you should strive for consistency in application of the law while exercising discretion. Chapter 10.15 of this field manual discusses the proper application of discretion during adjudications.
(A) Aggravated Felony Committed Prior to November 29, 1990 . An aggravated felony conviction prior to November 29, 1990, does not preclude a finding of good moral character for purposes of naturalization. See Legal Opinion 96-16 . However, such a conviction would still be relevant to making an overall determination whether the individual has met his or her burden of establishing good moral character during the statutory period. This is especially so in light of Congress’ expansion of the offenses considered aggravated felonies, and the fact that an applicant convicted of an aggravated felony at any time after admission is subject to removal pursuant to section 237(a)(2)(A)(iii) of the Act. It is important to note that the agency may not consider an application for naturalization where removal proceedings are pending against the applicant. See section 318 of the Act.
The fact that proceedings are not initiated and the fact that the applicant was not convicted of an aggravated felony on or after November 29, 1990, does not mean that the individual has met the burden of affirmatively establishing good moral character. See section 101(f) of the Act (“the fact that any person is not within (subsections (1) through (8)) does not preclude a finding that for other reasons such person is or was not of good moral character.”); see also 8 CFR 316.10(a)(2) . Accordingly, you should consider the seriousness of the aggravated felony conviction committed in the past combined with the applicant’s present moral character measured against the standards of the community. If the applicant’s actions during the statutory period do not reflect a reform of character, then the applicant may not be able to demonstrate good moral character during the statutory period pursuant to section 101(f) , and section 316(e) of the Act, and 8 CFR 316.10(a)(2) . In such cases, the application for naturalization should be denied.
For example, an applicant may have been a convicted drug dealer prior to November 29, 1990. His or her conviction(s) prior to November 29, 1990, are aggravated felonies pursuant to section 101(a)(43) of the Act. Moreover, while such conviction(s) render him or her removable pursuant per section 237(a)(2)(A)(iii) , the District Director has chosen to exercise prosecutorial discretion in his or her case, and has not initiated removal proceedings (see the November 17, 2000 INS memorandum titled Exercising Prosecutorial Discretion for guidance). Nonetheless, if the record obtained during the naturalization application process shows a continued pattern of drug-related or other criminal activity, other negative factors such as lack of steady employment, home life, or conduct generally showing a lack of rehabilitation, th e applicant may be found to lack good moral character pursuant to section 101(f) and section 316(e) of the Act, 8 CFR 316.10(a)(2) , and possibly 8 CFR 316.10(b)(3)(iii) .
(B) Additional Grounds for Discretionary Denial . The following denial grounds involve a considerable degree of discretion. They are acts which may preclude a lack of good moral character that are specifically contained in the regulations. The regulations provide that you must consider any extenuating circumstances surrounding the commission of these acts:
• Support of dependents. Unless the applicant can establish extenuating circumstances, willful failure or refusal to support dependents precludes a finding of good moral character. See 8 CFR 316.10(3)(i) and Interpretations 316.1(f)(5) . For a detailed discussion of child support issues related to good moral character, see Chapter 74.2(f)(2) of this field manual. • Adultery – Formerly section 101(f)(2) of the Act. Adultery as a mandatory bar to establishing good moral character was repealed by the Act of December 29, 1981. A detailed historical discussion on adultery as it relates to good moral character is contained in Interpretations 316.1(g)(2). Per 8 CFR 316.10(3)(ii) , an extramarital affair which tended to destroy an existing marriage shall preclude a finding of good moral character, unless the applicant establishes extenuating circumstances. If the lawful marriage ceased to be viable and intact before the commission of the adultery, such sexual misconduct without cohabitation does not support a finding of lack of good moral character. • Unlawful Acts . [Revised as of 09-19-2005; AD05-35] The regulations provide for a finding of lack of good moral character based on discretionary grounds. An applicant may lack good moral character if he or she has committed unlawful acts that adversely reflect upon his or her moral character, or was convicted or imprisoned for such acts, unless the applicant can establish extenuating circumstances. See 8 CFR 316.10(b)(3)(iii) .
Proper application of this regulation requires the examining officer to make an individualized determination as to whether the applicant’s unlawful acts in fact reflect adversely upon the applicant’s moral character. In order to make such a determination, the examining officer must consider not only the nature and magnitude of the unlawful act but also the circumstances surrounding the conduct, including any mitigating or favorable factors (“extenuating circumstances”).
If the officer determines that the applicant’s unlawful acts do adversely reflect upon the applicant’s moral character, the applicant should be given the opportunity during the interview to establish extenuating circumstances. The applicant’s file should be annotated accordingly. The officer will consider evidence of extenuating circumstances if the evidence directly pertains to the applicant’s commission of the unlawful act.
In order to pertain to the commission of an unlawful act, an extenuating circumstance must precede or be contemporaneous to the commission of the unlawful act during the statutory period of required good moral character (“statutory period”). No conduct or equities (including evidence of reformation or rehabilitation) subsequent to the commission of the unlawful act during the statutory period shall be considered as an extenuating circumstance.
Additionally, any evidence of extenuating circumstances offered by the applicant “must pertain to the reasons showing lack of good moral character, including acts negating good character, not to the consequences of these matters, including the consequence” of ineligibility for naturalization. Jean-Baptiste v. United States , 395 F.3d 1190 (11th Cir.2005), citing Rico v. INS, 262 F.Supp.2d 6 (E.D.N.Y.2003).
This section of the regulation can be used when the unlawful act is not specifically mentioned in paragraph (1) or (2) of 8 CFR 316.10(b) . For example, the commission of a petty theft (a CIMT) in the statutory period should be considered for denial under 8 CFR 316.10(b)(2) , not 8 CFR 316.10(b)(3)(iii) . Conversely, convictions for Disorderly Conduct and basic Driving While Intoxicated do not fall under any category of disqualifying offenses listed in the statute or regulations.
Nevertheless, based on the facts of your particular case, you may decide the applicant’s conduct during the statutory period precludes a finding of good moral character under 8 CFR 316.10(b)(3)(iii) . Discretion must be applied on a case-by-case basis. The statute does not provide that ALL unlawful acts and/or criminal convictions merit a finding of lack of good moral character. Thus, circumstances surrounding the commission of the act are material to your decision. External factors that disclose purpose, motivation, and explanation assume importance.
– Is this the applicant’s only offense?
– Did the unlawful act occur early or late in the statutory period?
– What was the final outcome of the arrest?
– How long was the applicant on probation?
– Did the applicant comply with all conditions of the probation?
Because denial of naturalization under these provisions is not mandatory, you will need to be able to justify your finding in each case.
Nevertheless, based on the facts of your particular case, you may decide the applicant’s conduct during the statutory period precludes a finding of good moral character under 8 CFR 316.10(b)(3)(iii) . Discretion must be applied on a case-by-case basis. The statute does not provide that ALL unlawful acts and/or criminal convictions merit a finding of lack of good moral character. Thus, circumstances surrounding the commission of the act are material to your decision. External factors that disclose purpose, motivation, and explanation assume importance. Is this the applicant’s only offense? Did the unlawful act occur early or late in the statutory period? What was the final outcome of the arrest? How lon g was the applicant on probation? Did the applicant comply with all conditions of the probation? Because denial of naturalization under these provisions is not mandatory, you will need to be able to justify your finding in each case.
(4) Other Factors Affecting Good Moral Character . The application also contains other information in a number of areas which, when developed by proper examination, may have an indirect or less obvious bearing upon the issue of good moral character. Questions regarding the applicant’s occupation, method of lawful entry, tax filing, residences, absences, marital status and children may reveal issues that affect the applicant’s good moral character and may indicate areas that need to be explored further. This is the case even if a denial on the basis of oth er grounds, such as under INA Section 318 for not lawfully obtaining LPR status, is more appropriate than a denial for lacking good moral character.
Fraudulent admission . Examine for evidence of past fraud in the immigration process regarding the applicant’s status and the dependent’s status. The applicant may have obtained admission as a lawful permanent resident through a fraudulent marriage. The applicant may have concealed the marriage and entered as an unmarried son or daughter. You may discover this fact when, reviewing the birth certificates of the applicant’s children, you discover that he or she was married at the time of immigration as a second preference unmarried child of an alien resident (P22/F24). Or, when reviewing the N-400, you see that the applicant is now claiming a spouse that appears to make his or her admission as a permanent resident invalid. If he or she acquired permanent residence through an employment-based petition, he or she may never have met the requirements of the petition. The applicant may have obtained lawful permanent residence through a fraudulent legalization application. If a fraudulent admission is established, you may deny the natura lization application pursuant to section 318 of the Act because the applicant was not lawfully admitted for permanent residence. Detailed discussions concerning the above are found in Chapter 74.2, question (1) part (C) , Immigration Status .
The following example emphasizes the importance of examining the validity of the applicant’s status at the time of his/her entry into the U.S.
The following is a summary of the United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit’s decision involving an alien that fraudulently entered the United States as an unmarried son of a legal permanent resident alien.
On October 19, 1984, Raymoundo Montilla Bernal immigrated to the United States, representing himself to be the unmarried son of a lawful permanent resident alien. As it turned out, however, Mr. Bernal had previously married Girlie M. Marty, a citizen of the Philippines, in a civil ceremony in the Philippines on November 16, 1980. The ceremony was performed by the Municipal Mayor of Subic. The marriage was attended by the couple’s parents and was witnessed by them. It was also recorded in the municipal regis try of the city of Subic.
On November 20, 1989, Mr. Bernal applied to become a naturalized citizen of the United States. During his naturalization interview conducted on May 24, 1990, Mr. Bernal stated under oath to the INS examiner that he had not been married in either a civil or a religious ceremony before immigrating to the United States in 1984. In his application for naturalization, he noted that he was married to Girlie M. Marty in the United States on June 3, 1986 in a ceremony in the United States.
Mr. Bernal gave false testimony under oath before a naturalization examiner. During Mr. Bernal’s naturalization examination, he was sworn under oath. Under oath, he misled the INS officer about his marital status at the time of his immigration to the United States. The INS officer recorded Mr. Bernal’s pertinent answers on the interview form and annotated the form in red ink. The officer noted that Mr. Bernal “claims no other wives: subject states he was single and not married in either a religious or civil ceremony prior to immigrating to the U.S.A. in 1984.”
On January 13, 1991, the INS issued an order to show cause charging Mr. Bernal with deportability for being within a class of aliens excludable at the time of entry. The INS charged that Mr. Bernal’s immigrant visa was obtained by fraud or by willful misrepresentation of a material fact concerning his marital status.
In order to be eligible for suspension of deportation, an applicant must be physically present in the United States for seven years prior to the issuance of a notice to appear and must show “good moral character” for the seven-year period. For purposes of the INA, an applicant cannot be regarded as a person of good moral character if “during the period for which good moral character is required to be established,” the applicant gave “false testimony for the purpose of obtaining benefits under this chapter.” 8 U.S.C. § 1101(f)(6).
The IJ found Mr. Bernal had immigrated to the United States by falsely representing himself as an unmarried child of a permanent resident alien. The IJ concluded that Mr. Bernal could not demonstrate good moral character for the required seven years in light of his false testimony before the naturalization examiner in 1990. The IJ denied Mr. Bernal’s application for relief from deportation and for voluntary departure and ordered him deported. Upon appeal by the applicant, the 9 th Circuit Court subsequently upheld the IJ’s decision.
Note that this whole case rested on the adjudicator asking proper questions and making proper annotations on the N-400.
When the adjudicator carefully conducts the examination and properly annotates the N-400, the USCIS has more objective evidence that can be used in any subsequent legal challenge.
For the complete decision please see Bernal v INS , 154 F.3d 1020 (9 th Cir. 1998).
• Legalization or Special Agricultural Worker (SAW) fraud . The legalization regulations at 8 CFR 245a.3(n)(4(ii) and 8 CFR 245a.4(b)(23)(iv) permit information contained in granted legalization files (W16 and W26) to be used at a later date to make a decision on a naturalization application. Naturalization may be denied if the applicant fraudulently gained lawful permanent residence through a legalization application USCIS can establish was fraudulent. You may not use information contained in SAW files (S16 and S26) to make a decision on a naturalization application . The confidentiality clause prohibits you from questioning an applicant regarding any information provided by the applicant relative to his or her SAW application. See section 210(a)(6)(A) of the Act. Further, Matter of Masri , 22 I&N Dec. 1145 (BIA 1999) states the following:
“Information provided in an application to adjust an alien’s status to that of a lawful temporary resident under section 210 of the Act is confidential and prohibited from use in rescission proceedings under section 246 of the Act, or for any purpose other than to make a determination on an application for lawful temporary residence, to terminate such temporary residence, or to prosecute the alien for fraud during the time of application.”
However, the fact that an applicant was a SAW does not preclude you from questioning that applicant about his or her SAW status and from denying the application based on your findings. A direct admission by the applicant during the naturalization examination that he or she never did agricultural work can be used as a basis for denying his or her application. Additionally, indirect evidence that the applicant obtained SAW status fraudulently or did not meet the conditions for obtaining SAW status may be suff icient basis for denial. For example, if a SAW applicant claims her children were born in her country of origin during the qualifying period for SAW eligibility, then the evidence of her children’s birth indicates that she was not physically present in the U.S. during the qualifying period. This evidence is not “information provided in an application to adjust an alien’s status to that of a lawful temporary resident under Section 210,” hence it can be used as a basis for denial. A detailed discussion on thi s topic is found in Chapter 74.2, question (1) part (C) , Immigration Status .
• Future fraud . Examine for the possibility of future fraud regarding additional beneficiaries never before claimed or acknowledged. Sometimes, in anticipation of obtaining citizenship and the ability to quickly sponsor children on I-130 petitions, some applicants claim relatives on their N-400 who are not their children in the belief that this will facilitate the process. If an applicant also orally testifies to this claim in addition to listing relatives who are not actually his or her children, then this constitutes f alse testimony for the purpose of obtaining benefits under the Act (in this case, a benefit for a relative), and is grounds for denial of the naturalization application.