Most felons are U.S. citizens. The majority of these were born in the U.S. and citizens since birth.
What about those who became citizens after immigrating to this country? If they commit a felony will this revoke their citizenship?
In this blog post, we’ll cover the following:
- What Is a Naturalized Citizen?
- Naturalization Process
- Impact of a Felony on Citizenship
- Gaining Citizenship Under False Pretenses
- Does the Type Of Felony Matter?
- Denaturalization Process
- Lesson Learned?
What Is a Naturalized Citizen?
While most Americans are citizens from birth, there are many in this country who immigrate to the U.S. at some point in their lives and then seek citizenship later.
Anyone who applies for and attains citizenship in the U.S. is what is called a naturalized citizen. This would include anyone who has been a full-time resident of this country for at least five years, meets the eligibility requirements, and who applies for citizenship status.
First, in order to be eligible, you must be at least 18 years old and have lived in the U.S. for at least five years. Those who want to become citizens must also pass a test of English proficiency and demonstrate a knowledge of U.S. history and government.
The process of becoming a naturalized citizen involves completing an application after all criteria have been met.
An important part of the application process is a determination of whether or not you are of “good moral character.” As part of this, you must be fingerprinted and pass an FBI background check to determine if you have a criminal record.
You are asked directly if you have ever been convicted of a crime or committed an act for which you could have been charged. This is an essential point in the naturalization process.
After passing all of these standards, those who become naturalized citizens are sworn in under oath.
As a felon, you might be in this category.
After completing the qualifications, you become a citizen. You should feel proud of this accomplishment.
Once you have become a naturalized citizen, you have all the rights that other U.S. citizens have. This includes being a permanent citizen, just as anyone who is born in this country is.
According to the law, your citizenship cannot be taken away.
Impact of a Felony on Citizenship
However, there is an exception to this. This is a crucial point.
You can have your citizenship revoked if you willfully misrepresented or concealed important facts on the naturalization application and during the examination.
These facts must have been material to the decision. What this means is that you unlawfully obtained U.S. citizenship, making you eligible to have your citizenship revoked.
Since the law says that your citizenship can’t be taken away after you are naturalized, does that also indicate that a felony conviction after being naturalized will not have an impact on your citizenship?
As with native-born U.S. citizens, the answer is no. If you are born in this country, your citizenship cannot be revoked.
Once you become a naturalized citizen, that citizenship cannot be revoked for a felony committed while you are a citizen of this country with only a few exceptions.
The legal system considers natural and naturalized citizens the same and treats them in the same way.
Felons committing a crime as naturalized citizens will of course face prison time with the sentence being the same under the law for a natural or naturalized citizen.
Gaining Citizenship Under False Pretenses
You will be questioned about having a criminal record during the naturalization process.
If you lie and deny that you do and it is discovered later that you did have a criminal record prior to being naturalized, you can have that citizenship revoked, which is called denaturalization.
This is because the citizenship was obtained under false pretenses. That is, it was illegally gained.
So how does the federal government learn of these issues? Beginning in 2016, the Department of Homeland Security started computerizing many immigration records.
Since then the U.S. began checking fingerprint, criminal, and immigration files looking for anyone who may have entered the country illegally or who has been deported but returned.
These are the types of persons that the government is looking for, those who fraudulently became a U.S. citizen. The real issue begins if you are in this category and commit a felony.
This would identify you to the government and likely result in losing your naturalized citizenship.
That is how you could have your citizenship revoked.
Does the Type of Felony Matter?
The actual type of felony offense may not be a critical factor with some exceptions.
One of these is committing treason against the United States, which is considered to be a major offense that will typically result in a loss of naturalized citizenship.
This is because the government looks more at the fact that you weren’t honest in reporting your criminal history.
Also, it’s the impact that the felony had on the naturalization process in the first place. The felony must have had a significant impact on the decision-making process.
Let’s explain what that means. In other words, if telling the truth about your criminal history would have prevented you from getting citizenship in the first place then the false statement you made is considered material to the process.
This is regardless of the reason for your not being honest. Maybe you were ashamed of your record or wanted to keep it secret. These aren’t considered to be justification for having lied about your record.
So, the point is to be honest from the outset. The government will look more favorably on you in your situation if you had just told the truth at that point. Another example of the importance of honesty.
Your lie could have just cost you the opportunity to be a U.S. citizen.
The United States requires a high burden of proof for a defendant to meet the criteria for denaturalization. That means that it won’t be easy for the government to show that you should lose your citizenship.
Denaturalization will occur in federal court, usually the federal district court in the state where you last resided.
An immigration attorney should be retained for legal defense. You will have 60 days to file an answer to the complaint.
If your citizenship is revoked, what happens then?
You can continue to live in the U.S., but you will be eligible to be deported after the denaturalization occurs.
Whether this happens depends at least partly on the seriousness of the crime committed prior to becoming a citizen.
If it is a violent crime, or there is a long history of criminal activity, it is more likely the federal government will seek to have you deported to your country of origin.
Another consequence of being illegally naturalized, is that any of your children who were granted citizenship based on your naturalization will also lose their citizenship.
If you obtained your citizenship through naturalization, you have the opportunity to live your life as a U.S. citizen.
While you were going through the process to gain that citizenship, you may have been faced with your criminal past. When you were completing the application required for naturalization, you came across the question of whether or not you had been convicted of a crime.
This gave you the chance to be honest about your record or to cover it up with a lie and hope that this isn’t discovered.
What did you do? Were you honest, no matter how difficult that may have been or did you deny your record and hope no one found out?
Whichever way you handled it, it was a reflection of your new lifestyle. Was it honest and sincere or just another lie in the same way as before?
If it was a lie and it is discovered, you may have messed up your opportunity at a new and honest life.
You have made many mistakes in the past, but you don’t have to be defined by them. You can choose to be defined by how you recover from them.
So which way did it go?
Of course you wanted to be a U.S. citizen. Can you look yourself in the mirror and know you did the right thing? Let’s hope so.
What do you think about this blog post? Have you or someone you know faced having your citizenship revoked? What was that like and what happened? Please tell us in the comments below.