The concept of good moral character ("GMC") is one of the most important principles of immigration law and practice. Good moral character can arise in a number of scenarios, including applications for citizenship, permanent residence, as well as potential forms of relief. When GMC is a fundamental requirement, the failure to demonstrate it will likely be fatal to an application. Even when it is not strictly required, good moral character can nevertheless influence whether an application is approved or denied, especially where the adjudicator is vested with a large degree of discretion. For purposes of naturalization, we know that good moral character is a requirement that must be satisfied, especially GMC during the statutory period of five (or in some cases, three) years. However, there are some instances in which an applicant may never make a showing of good moral character and others where certain conduct may only pose a conditional bar, but not permanent bar, to good moral character.
Applicants who trigger permanent bars to good moral character will likely be unable to become naturalized, even if a significant period of time has passed since the triggering act or conduct and the person has otherwise led an exemplary lifestyle. According to USCIS, the permanent bars are as follows:
- Murder: an applicant who has been convicted of murder is permanently barred from satisfying good moral character for purposes of citizenship.
- Aggravated Felony: an applicant who has been convicted of an aggravated felony on or after November 29, 1990 is permanent barred. Of course, the question begs, "what is an aggravated felony?" This is a very case-sensitive topic that should be discussed with an attorney.
- Persecution, Genocide, Torture, or Severe Violations of Religious Freedom If an applicant has been implicated or involved in any way with hurting, torturing, or violating someone's religious freedoms, he or she will have the burden of demonstrating that he or she is not ineligible for citizenship for the alleged activities. This includes nazi persecutions, genocide, torture (even under color of law of a foreign country), or conduct related to the suppression of religious freedom, such as detaining someone for a prolonged period of time, causing the disappearance of persons, or "other flagrant denial of the right to life, liberty, or the security of persons."
Any individual whose past conduct may fall into the above categories should consult with an attorney to discuss the ramifications of such behavior. Naturalization may not be viable under the circumstances, and in many cases, may not be a good idea at all, as an application may expose the person to potential removability.
We hope that you have enjoyed this article and learned at least one new thing or tip that you may not have known. To keep informed about the latest developments in immigration law, please subscribe to our blog feed by clicking on the "Subscribe To This Blog's Feed" button on the left. It is important to understand that the above is only general information and not legal advice. It does not create an attorney-client relationship nor should it be relied upon as legal advice. The law is extremely fact and circumstance sensitive. For an individual legal analysis of your specific legal case, please complete the "Case Evaluation" box to the right of the screen to get in touch with one of our attorneys.