Dear Sophie: Should I apply for citizenship if I have a conviction?
September 15, 2021 at 10:17 AM EDT
A few years ago, I was charged with a misdemeanor for smoking marijuana in public and driving under the influence. I have a green card and want to apply for U.S. citizenship next year. Can I?
Sophie Alcorn Contributor Sophie Alcorn is the founder of Alcorn Immigration Law in Silicon Valley and 2019 Global Law Experts Awards’ “Law Firm of the Year in California for Entrepreneur Immigration Services.” She connects people with the businesses and opportunities that expand their lives. More posts by this contributor
Here’s another edition of “Dear Sophie,” the advice column that answers immigration-related questions about working at technology companies.
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At Burning Man a few years ago, I was arrested and charged with a misdemeanor for smoking marijuana in public (in my car) and driving under the influence.
I currently have a green card and want to apply for U.S. citizenship next year.
Can I? If so, how should I handle my criminal record?
— Remorseful About the Reefer
As you’ve discovered, you have to be extra careful when you’re an immigrant: Obviously, you should never break the law, but as an immigrant, if you do, it can have severe and lasting consequences.
You even need to be careful to avoid doing things that an immigration officer might consider to be outside the bounds of good moral character, even if they are not crimes. All immigrants should remember that even though limited use of marijuana for recreational and medical uses is legal in several states, it’s illegal under federal law.
My law partner, Anita Koumriqian, recently podcasted on how various crimes can impact your green card status and affect your ability to become a U.S. citizen. Take a listen and (always in this situation) consult an experienced immigration attorney. Tell your attorney about your DUI and marijuana charges, any subsequent marijuana use, any other arrests or citations, and even things you might consider minor such as speeding, parking or jaywalking tickets. An immigration attorney can determine whether you should proceed with applying for U.S. citizenship and if so, when and how to do so.
What is good moral character?
As you know, you must be a permanent resident (green card holder) for at least five years — or three years if you have a green card through marriage — to be eligible to apply for U.S. citizenship. Additionally, you must demonstrate “good moral character” during the five- or three-year statutory period.