Most individuals will, at some time or another, be issued a traffic ticket. Although most generic infractions do not normally invoke deportability concerns, traffic violations are nevertheless offenses committed in violation of the law. In New Jersey, they are punished under Title 39. When one applies for citizenship or naturalization, one must demonstrate to the satisfaction of an immigration officer that he or she is a person of “good moral character” for the last five years (or in some cases, three). A history or string of traffic offenses could possibly reflect on that determination, which begs the question whether such offenses must be disclosed on the N-400 application. A close reading of some of the questions, as found on the latest edition of the application (12/23/16), appears to refer to such conduct. For example, question #23 reads: “Have you EVER been arrested, cited, or detained by any law enforcement officer (including any immigration official or any official of the U.S. armed forces) for any reasons?” Since a traffic encounter involves a stop or detention by a law enforcement officer, traffic offenses appear to be implicated. Even if the offense is relatively minor, an applicant may want to be on the safe side and disclose it for purposes of the application but, of course, be prepared to address the nature and circumstances behind the violations at the interview. If the individual is not sure whether the offense is “minor,” or whether there be potential immigration consequences, he or she may want to take the further step of consulting with an immigration attorney who can access the impact of such violations, not only for purposes of naturalization but more importantly, one’s status.
The 12/23/16 instructions for the N-400 do give some guidance in terms of what type of documentation must be submitted and brought to the interview. In terms of traffic violations, individuals are advised that documentation will be expected for any traffic incident if
•· The incident involved alcohol or drugs,
•· The incident led to an arrest, or
•· The incident seriously injured another person.
The instructions further state “You do not need to submit documentation for traffic fines or incidents that did not involve an arrest or did not involve drugs or alcohol, if the only penalty was a fine of less than $500 or points on your driving record.”
Therefore, if an individual has been charged with some of the following offenses in New Jersey, certified dispositions from the municipal court should be obtained:
•· 39:4-50, Driving While Intoxicated
•· 39:6B-2, Driving Without Insurance
•· 39:3-40, Driving While Suspended
•· 39:4-49.1, Driving with Drugs in the car
•· 39:4-129, Leaving the Scene of an Accident
•· 39:3-10, Driving Without a License
•· 39:4-96, Reckless Driving
•· 39:4-98, Speeding
Please note that there are only some of the traffic offenses for which documentation will need to be obtained. Given that USCIS requires paperwork relating to these offenses, applicants should realize or be cognizant that traffic offenses resulting in an arrest or that involve drugs or alcohol are not minor. They should not be dismissed as “not a big deal” just because they were resolved in traffic or municipal court. They potentially are. Any such charges and/or convictions may not only form the basis of a denial for good moral character but also possibly implicate greater concerns, such as whether one has committed a Crime Involving Moral Turpitude or a Controlled Dangerous Substance offense that can lead to removal proceedings.
For more information on the naturalization process and eligibility requirements, please contact our office for a confidential consultation. The above is general information only and not to be relied upon as legal advice. It does not create an attorney client relationship nor should it be relied upon as advice in lieu of consultation with an attorney.