Shapiro Law Firm Alert!: Why Permanent Residents Should Naturalize As Soon As Possible!
Are you a Permanent Resident who is eligible for U.S. citizenship but has yet to apply for naturalization? Permanent Residents are not required by U.S. law to naturalize. Rather, Permanent Residents can opt to indefinitely renew their Green Cards every 10 years. In my experience, one of the main reasons a person chooses not to naturalize, is because he or she does not fully understand the difference between the two immigration statuses.
So, if you have any doubt about why you should become a U.S. Citizen as soon as possible, I implore you to read on.
U.S. Citizenship holds many well-known perks, such as the right to vote. But there are also a lot of benefits of being a U.S. Citizen that are not as obvious. Most notably, proof of U.S. Citizenship requires automatic termination of Removal Proceedings. This means that once a foreign-born individual becomes a U.S. Citizen, that precious right can only be taken away by the U.S. government in federal court, which is a much more burdensome process with a high burden of proof placed on the government. In fact, the U.S. Department of Justice, often chooses not to initiate these proceedings, even with evidence of fraud.
Unlike U.S. Citizens, Permanent Residents face a far greater risk in having their immigration status revoked (and thus subject to deportation/ removal) for minor violations. For example, even minor criminal offenses can put a Permanent Resident’s status in jeopardy, forcing him or her to defend his or her right to stay in the U.S. in Immigration Court. Removal Proceedings may be initiated one has been convicted of a criminal offense, but one does not have to be a criminal or accused of committing a crime to be placed in Removal Proceedings. As such, a Green Card holder can go years before learning that an incident occurred invalidating his or her Permanent Resident Status. Often, it is not until one is charged as removal and issued a Notice to Appear, (NTA), that he or she first discovers that there is anything wrong.
To help illustrate this, here is an example for one of our immigration clients (*please note that all identification information has been removed in order to protect our client’s privacy and in order to fully comply with attorney advertising rules and regulations*):
Our client, (hereinafter, “X”), has been a Permanent Resident for almost 20 years. X has no criminal history has has never violated any immigration laws. When he applied to renew his Green Card, instead of getting a new card, he was served with a Notice to Appear in Immigration Court. Unbeknownst to X, the lawyer that he hired to help him file for a Green Card almost 2 decades ago, had been paying an INS agent to illegally change hundreds of his clients’ INS records to say that each person had an approved employment-based visa petition, and thus were eligible for a Green Card. Back then, Green Cards were issued with 20-Year validity periods, so for 20 years X did not have to file any applications or petitions with INS (presently, USCIS). X also had no idea that about 10 years ago, his former lawyer and the INS agent were convicted for their roles in a scheme that allowed hundreds of individuals to fraudulently obtain immigration benefits.
So when X filed for renewal, USCIS saw the red flag placed on his file, denied his renewal application and placed him into Removal Proceedings. To make matters worse, X filed for his son, who was also still a Permanent Resident. This means that X’s son’s green card could also be revoked because his eligibility was dependent on his father’s eligibility.
X's first hearing before the Immigration Judge is next year. We are confident that we will sufficiently prove to the court that X is an innocent victim in all of this. But even if the judge agrees, X will not get back his Green Card since he does not have an approved immigrant visa petition. Rather, we will have to find if there is an independent basis to file an immigrant visa petition for X (e.g., marriage to a U.S. Citizen) or some form of relief from removal for him to apply for.
Had X naturalized prior to the aforementioned lawyer and INS agent convictions, the U.S. government would then be required to initiate denaturalization proceedings against him in federal court, which is a much more burdensome process and one that the U.S. government tends to rarely invoke.
What can we learn from X’s story? Life is unpredictable and you need to protect yourself from any unforeseeable events that may arise. The choice to remain a Permanent Resident rather than naturalizing is a right, but it also is a choice that carries with it great risk. Make sure that you fully understand the consequences involved before it is too late.