Proving Good Moral Character for Naturalization
By Reuben Seguritan
One of the requirements for naturalization is that “the immigrant must be a person of good moral character.” The immigrant must possess good moral character for the entire period of continuous residence required prior to filing for naturalization, and from the time of filing the naturalization application through the administration of the oath of allegiance. The standard for good moral character is that of the average citizen of the community and does not require the highest degree of moral excellence.
There is no definite list of qualities an immigrant must possess in order to have met the good moral character requirement. But the law does set forth certain classes of persons generally ineligible to show good moral character. “Permanent bars” to good moral character are if the immigrant has been convicted of murder, aggravated felony or persecution, genocide, torture or severe violations of religious freedom. If the immigrant is convicted of any of these crimes, then he does not meet the good moral character requirement and hence, cannot file for naturalization under any circumstance.
A conviction of other certain crimes will prevent the immigrant from filing for naturalization for a specific period on the ground that he does not possess good moral character. This is known as “conditional bars”. These bars are triggered by specific acts, offenses, activities, circumstances, or convictions within the statutory period for naturalization, including the period prior to filing and up to the time of the Oath of Allegiance. An offense that does not fall within a permanent or conditional bar to good moral character may nonetheless affect an immigrant’s ability to establish good moral character. These crimes included under conditional bars are one or more crimes involving moral turpitude, aggregate sentence of five years or more, controlled substance violation, imprisonment for 180 days or more, false testimony, prostitution, smuggling of a person, polygamy, gambling, habitual drunkard, failure to support dependents, adultery and unlawful acts. US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) examiner could also find that the immigrant does not possess good moral character because of an act or conduct not enumerated in the law and policy manual.
The USCIS examiner decides applications on a case-by-case basis whether an immigrant has the requisite good moral character. The examiner will look at the prior conduct and acts of the immigrant and also his record, statements in the naturalization application and testimony provided during the interview to assess the application. If the immigrant has committed acts or his conduct might show that he does not have the requisite good moral character, the immigrant must include evidence in the application that he has reformed. This can be shown through completion of probation, community involvement, educational achievements, employment history and family ties. The immigrant must clearly show that the good and positive qualities now outweigh the past negative acts or conduct. Furthermore, if the immigrant was not convicted of the crimes, whether they are included in the list, the immigrant must make an argument in the application that arrests without convictions do not render him removable or inadmissible to the US. Another defense would be that although the immigrant was arrested for an included crime, he did not commit the said crime. However, if the immigrant participated in a diversion program or agreed to a stay of adjudication in return for dismissal of a criminal charge, this will be considered a bar to the finding of good moral character.
A ground that is not explicitly stated in the law that can bar a finding of good moral character is the failure to comply with the selective service registration requirement. In the US, all men aged 18 to 26 are required to register for selective service. If the immigrant who is under 26 years of age knowingly and willfully refuses to register then he would be denied naturalization. However, the USCIS must give the immigrant a reasonable opportunity to register as long as he is still below 26. If the immigrant is 26 to 31 years old and failed to register, his application will also be denied, unless he can show that his failure to register was not knowingly and willfully done. The immigrant can overcome this burden by a preponderance of the evidence. If the immigrant is over 31 years of age, then the failure to register for service is outside the 5 year period for good moral character. However, the USCIS will look at the other acts and conduct in order to determine if the immigrant has good moral character.
An immigrant who has been on probation, parole or received a suspended sentence during all or part of the statutory period is not precluded from establishing good moral character. However, the application will not be approved until after the probation, parole or suspended sentence is completed. Even if the criminal conviction record or non-drug offense related criminal record is expunged, these convictions can still be used by the USCIS to deny the application on the ground of lack of good moral character.