Common Misconceptions about Becoming a US Citizen

Interviewer: In talking about this path to citizenship, what are some of the top misconceptions that your clients have surrounding the process?

Two Paths to Citizenship: Inherited Citizenship and Permanent Resident Status

Jeanne: Well, I’m going to look at two parallel tracks: You already are a permanent resident, and I want to encourage you to become a citizen through naturalization. One way is that you think you may have a US ancestor. Let’s talk about what I need when you first come in, so that I can tell you it’s going to happen or it is not feasible.

Permanent Residents Are Still Subject to Immigration Law

The second track is that you are a permanent resident. You really need to become a US citizen. Probably one of the biggest reasons is that you will no longer be subject to the immigration laws of the United States. Now, I have had really highly educated permanent residents. One of them works for me. She used to be a teacher. She’d been a permanent resident all her life. She had no clue she was still subject to the laws of immigration.

Permanent Residents May Encounter Difficulty Traveling out of the Country

As a matter of fact, she went with some teachers group to Europe and didn’t take her green card with her, and then had trouble reentering the United States. It never dawned on her that she was subject to the immigration laws of the United States. She was an alien. One of the first things we did when she first came to work for me was, I said, “Let’s naturalize.”

That’s really important. People think that the gold standard is getting that green card, because it says permanent. Well, it is permanent as long as you don’t do anything bad. Also, Congress could change the law tomorrow, and permanent is no longer on the table. You’re just a resident, and you have to renew that status every five years.

Your Naturalized Citizenship Can Be Revoked by Treasonous Actions

You are subject to the immigration laws and immigration politics as long as you are an alien. Once you become a US citizen, none of that matters, because the only way you can lose your US citizenship as a naturalized citizen is if you obtained it through fraud, for example, if you lied about something in order to get it or if you commit treason.

Completing All the Steps on the Pathway to Citizenship: Attorney Morales Always Advises Clients to Obtain Their Naturalized Citizenship

As long as you don’t commit treason, and you got it legitimately, you’re a US citizen. You’re on our team now, okay? That’s probably the biggest misunderstanding. Many people think that, “Okay. Phew! I got my green card. I’m done.” No, that is not the case!

I have another friend who is a permanent resident. I helped her obtain a permanent resident card, for her and her family, which includes her husband and her two teenage children. The teenage boy is a senior in high school and he is arrested for drugs. He’s had his green card less than a year. I had to tell him, “Look, son, your mom cleaned houses and worried about you day and night, and came in here and got the money together to get you a green card, which you threw away in one afternoon by getting caught with drugs at a school, which ups the ante, okay?”

Which Demographic Has the Most to Lose by Being Involved in a Criminal Offense While They Are Permanent Residents?

That’s the other aspect I want people to know is, you really are in jeopardy. Where we find problems occurring is with young men. It is just a fact that they get in trouble more than we do. If I have a 60 year-old woman in here who’s an LPR on some other issue. I’d say, “Do you want to naturalize?” and she says, “No, I’m good.” I’m not worried about her. She’s not out robbing banks or taking drugs into a school zone.

Statistically, Young Men under the Age of 25 Are at Risk of Losing Their Permanent Resident Status if They Commit a Criminal Offense

What about an 18 to 23-year-old male? When I have to go visit one of my clients in jail, guess what? It’s a young man between the ages of 17 and 25. It’s never a 40 year-old woman.

Those are the ones most at risk, and I always tell the parents, and I always tell these young men who happen to get a green card. Maybe they marry a girl in the United States, and they’re a young couple and they have a couple kids, and they’re only 22.

Now more than ever, you need to naturalize, because two, three, four, five, six years later, if you have a couple of DWIs under your belt, or you’ve run into some other problems at the workplace, somebody knows that you’re not a US citizen and they turn you into the authorities. That HAS happened. Suddenly, your family is faced with losing you, because you didn’t go ahead become a naturalized citizen.

I always try and structure it in terms that people can understand. Men, for the most part, understand that their need is to take care of their family. Well, you’re not taking care of your family if you’re staying an LPR. You need to become a citizen, so you know no one can, whether it’s your fault or not, point an accusatory finger at you and say, “Oh, this alien did it.”

Look at what happens on TV. If there’s a story about a car wreck or a bank robbery, it’s “Ho hum.” The 6:00 news, here’s another bank robbery. Let that person robbing that bank be someone from another country and now it’s a different story. I’ve noticed how the reportage is. There are some media outlets that claim, “This alien committed this crime.”