Legally Speaking: Good Moral Character Under Federal Immigration Law
Author: New York Immigration attorney Alena Shautsova
When applying for different forms of relief during deportation proceedings, sometimes one is required to show good moral character. This is a very vague term and many people get confused whether or not they possess a good moral character in the eyes of the adjudicator. This article will outline basic proofs to show good moral character, and the acts or habits that will prevent eligibility. This is a discretionary matter and one should always consult with an attorney regarding his/her case in its entirety before making a decision to go forward with legal filings.
Statutory Ineligibilities – A person will be deemed ineligible for relief requiring good moral character if he or she is or was:
- A habitual drunkard.
- A Prostitute.
- A Smuggler.
- A person convicted multiple crimes, a drug crime ( excluding marijuana possession less than 30 grams unless arrested in drug free school zone) or of a crime of moral turpitude*
- An Illegal gambler as a mode of principal income.
- A person who has been confined, as a result of conviction for over 180 days.
- A person who was given false testimony to obtain immigration benefits.
- A person who has engaged in Nazi persecution, participation, or torture or extrajudicial killings OR severe violations of religious freedom.
- A person who has been convicted of an aggravated felony under federal law on or after November 29, 1990.
- Catch-All Provision – when a person grossly inaccurately and fraudulently reports tax income.
- A person who falsely claims US citizenship, registers to vote, or votes in violation of restrictions. Unless each parent is or was a US Citizen, the person reasonably believed at the time they were a US Citizen, or the person resided in the US prior to the age of 16.
- Standard of Review – Good moral character is subject to extensive evidence testing.
It means that no matter how long passed since the date of commitment, a positive finding of good moral character cannot be made.
When applying for citizenship, USCIS “looks back” at the last 5 years of person’s life for the most acts; however, nothing in the law would prevent an officer to consider acts committed 10 years ago if they were serious enough to preclude the fining of good moral character. Most commonly, a lack of good character is found in connection with a criminal act. As long as the crime committed is not an aggravated felony, in most case, a person has to wait for five years since the time he/she served sentence to apply for citizenship.
Exceptions to Convictions of a Crime
- Although an Immigration Judge can utilize it as a matter of discretion, a person with a judicial recommendation against deportation does not prevent a person from establishing good moral character.
- A plea to a lesser charge is not admission of the charged crime for the purposes of good moral character, however, if the minutes of guilty plea are recoverable consult with an attorney to determine whether or not good moral character can still be established.
- When convicted of a crime within the statutory good moral character period you will not be prohibited a finding of good moral character if the crime was committed outside the statutory period.
It is preferable to present a record of rehabilitation in every case with past criminal history. Such a record may include evidence of volunteering, helping others (donations), community service, public involvement, enrollment and attendance of corrective classes, etc.