Thinking About Naturalization? Here Is One Reason To Do It As Soon As Possible
by: Justin G. Randolph, Esq.
The importance of seeking US citizenship.
If there is one thing I stress to my clients who have recently become lawful permanent residents it's the importance of becoming a US Citizen if he or she intends to stay in the United States. I have received many calls from prospective clients who are long-time permanent residents that have gotten themselves into a bit of trouble and are at risk of being deported from the only home they have known for decades and separated from their children and spouses.
The reason I make sure my clients are thinking about this issue even though they have just become permanent residents is that as a resident you have far less rights than a US Citizen. In fact, other than basic due process rights under the US Constitution your life in the United States is dictated by the political winds blowing through Washington D.C. at any given moment and those change frequently.
The provisions of the 1996 IIRAIRA bill have had devastating effects on many lawful permanent residents and their families by removing relief and creating new grounds for removal which were retroactive. In other words, lawful permanent residents were (and are) being removed for acts they committed, or at least said they committed as part of a plea agreement, years ago.
The perfect example of this is HR4437 passed by the House of Representatives this year. This ridiculously harsh bill not only makes it an "aggravated felony" to be in the United States without status (either you entered illegally or you fell out of status at some point) it also makes anyone who assists a person who is here without status an aggravated felon as well. This is not only applicable to smugglers as the bill has a separate penalties for those who are assisting the undocumented or out of status for profit. This bill also applies to family members, clergy, attorneys, anyone that may do something (arguably anything as the language of the bill is very broad) that causes the individual to stay in the United States while out of status.
As mixed status families (families with some undocumented members and members who are in the US legally) are common this could create a situation where not only does the undocumented worker get removed from the US but the family members who are permanent residents may be charged with an aggravated felony and subject to removal as well. Being charged with an aggravated felony may preclude the family member from seeking any relief from removal and they may be removed no matter how long they have been in the United States.
On the other hand, a US citizen cannot be removed from the United States (and would arguably be subject to prosecution as a felon but it's not clear how much of a realistic risk this is) and that is why it is important to pursue naturalization if you are eligible and if you intend to remain in the United States. Particularly in the sort of anti-immigrant climate we see today.