One of the more significant aspects of becoming a citizen in the United States relates the to the applicant’s criminal history. In particular, those who have histories which involve drugs can face a particularly difficult time when seeking U.S. naturalization. This was exactly the case of a person who recently questioned if his having been convicted of selling crack cocaine in 1987 could affect a current naturalization petition. As will be seen by the explanation below, which was given to the questioner as a response, attempting to become naturalized after such a conviction is fraught with potential pitfalls. Additionally, any person looking to navigate the immigration system would be best to retain the services of a talented immigration attorney.
The questioner says that he was convicted of selling crack in 1987, and subsequently served his prison time. Since his release he has not had any legal troubles, and has paid his taxes. He wonders if he may be eligible to become a U.S. citizen. In the response the questioner was asked if he had been convicted of the crime, or had pleaded guilty. This seemingly trivial piece of information actually plays a large role in the applicant’s future.
If the applicant pleaded guilty to the crime of selling drugs he has a decent chance of perusing the path of naturalization without problem. However, if he was convicted of selling drugs his situation will fall under a totally different legal provision. First it should be noted that a person is barred from naturalizing if they were convicted of a felony after November 29, 1990. But, the questioner’s offense came before that date, so he would not be affected by that statute. However, this is where things get tricky. Selling drugs in itself is a deportable offense. It is possible that the questioner may actually be referred for removal (deportation) when he goes to apply for naturalization.
As a result of a number of legal proceedings and congressional actions, those who now have a green card, and had entered into plea agreements before April 24, 1996, may be able to remain in the country. These people can apply for, and potentially receive, so called “212c relief” from a judge. This will allow them to stay in the country instead of being deported.
This questioner faces a convoluted process to becoming a U.S. citizen, looking something like this:
- The questioner petitions for U.S. citizenship and is scheduled an interview
- At the interview the USCIS examiners sees the prior conviction and refers the case to immigration court
- In court the questioner requests 212c relief from the judge
- The judge schedules a 212c hearing sometime in 2017, maybe later – in order to review the case
- The petitioner may become a U.S. citizen if the 212c relief request is granted
This process shows just how backed up the immigration system is. It will take a full 3+ years just to know if the petitioner qualifies for 212c relief. And, if the relief is not granted then the petitioner’s immigration status will be in doubt. Cases like these, cases which affect literally tens of thousands of people when viewed together, are part of the reason many experts have proclaimed the nation’s immigration system broken.
If you need immigration help in Austin, Texas, contact the immigration attorney at Lyttle Law firm immediately at 512-215-5225.