If you’re a non-citizen living in the United States, chances are you came to America for an opportunity to learn, work, and prosper. Here in Tippecanoe County, Purdue University hosts the third largest international student population in the country, with more than 10,000 immigrant scholars. We’re proud to be home to such diversity. And for many non-citizens in our country, the dream of naturalization means everything.
But in today’s climate, that bar for making this dream come true feels like it’s getting higher and higher. New guidelines, standards, and precedents seem to come into play all the time. But at BB&C, we keep a close eye on what’s happening so we can best come alongside those seeking legal US citizenship.
Steps to Naturalization
Becoming a naturalized citizen in our country offers many perks such as voting, bringing family members into the US, and eligibility to hold a federal job or elective office. But, as you know, immigration is a volatile political topic. New guidelines came out just this month, which will inevitably impact some non-citizens living in Indiana.
In general, non-citizens must meet basic rules to become American citizens. These fundamental requirements include:
- Being 18 years of age or older
- Having the ability to read, write, and speak English
- Being willing to support and defend the US and the Constitution
- Living in the US as a permanent legal resident for five consecutive years (or three years if married to a US citizen)
- Being physically present in the US for 30 months during the last five years (or 18 months in the previous 3 years with a citizen spouse)
But that’s not all. Non-citizens looking to naturalize must also prove they have good moral character. This requirement looks at records going back five years for permanent residents, three years if married to a US citizen, or just one year if applying to serve in the US military. But honestly, immigration officials can dig back further if they want to, and use that information to deny citizenship.
So What Exactly is Good Moral Character?
The law doesn’t specifically say what constitutes good moral character, except in the negative, by outlining unlawful acts stemming from bad character, including:
- Failing to file or pay taxes
- Sexual assault
- Drug possession or distribution
- DUI/OWI convictions
While it’s easy to see some good intentions behind the guidelines, it’s clear that just one misstep or poor decision can have devastating consequences on the life of a non-citizen. For example, having a bit too much to drink and getting behind the wheel can cause someone to be deported. Even with rehabilitation and proof of cleaning up behavior, DUI/OWI convictions can still jeopardize citizenship.
What if you’re charged or convicted with a DUI/OWI as a non-citizen?
While a DUI/OWI is a serious offense with severe consequences, getting pulled over for operating while intoxicated doesn’t have to ruin your dream for future citizenship. If you find yourself charged or convicted with a DUI/OWI, your first step is to find trusted legal advocates to come alongside you. For non-citizens, the safest bet is to seek out a crimmigration team, as expertise in both criminal law and immigration law is needed.
At BB&C, attorneys Kyle Cray (criminal law) and Elaine Griffin (immigration law) team up to provide expert advice in both areas. Kyle focuses on what can be done to alleviate or eliminate criminal charges. And Elaine steps in to look at citizenship status and determine possible repercussions, such as deportation and naturalization efforts. Both attorneys draw on their expertise to give non-citizens a fighting chance at becoming a US citizen someday.
We believe in upholding the law, but we also believe in second chances. So whether you’re an international student or a non-citizen trying to realize your American dream, don’t let a past mistake haunt you for the rest of your life. Reach out to Kyle Cray or Elaine Griffin at 765-742-9066 for assistance.
The content of this blog is intended to be general and informational in nature. It is advertising material and is not intended to be, nor is it, legal advice to or for any particular person, case, or circumstance. Each situation is different, and you should consult an attorney if you have any questions about your situation.