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How Is “Good Moral Character” Defined in the Context of Naturalization?

In October 2019, Americans who are fans of reality television dramas got a glimpse of how the immigration system works as they followed the saga of Joe Guidice, one of the stars of The Real Housewives of New Jersey, a show that airs on the Bravo cable network. Giudice was deported to his native Italy, a country he had left with his parents when he was still a baby. He was a lawful permanent resident, but he had never applied for naturalization status, and because he had a 2011 conviction for bankruptcy fraud, it’s unclear as to whether he would have been granted citizenship.

When U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) determines a foreigner lacks moral character, certain benefits may be denied, and the situation may escalate to deportation and removal, as was the case with Giudice. He was a married man and father of two American daughters, and he had spent 45 years in the U.S. “Good moral character” means immigrants are expected to abide by applicable jurisdictional laws at the federal, state, and municipal levels. USCIS explains that the standards of good moral character should be the same that apply to the community wherein immigrants reside, and this is when things get a bit nebulous, particularly in the difficult immigration climate created by the Trump administration.

What’s more or less written in stone with regard to moral character is that immigration fraud isn’t acceptable. For example, finding that a foreigner entered into a sham marriage for the purpose of getting a green card will preclude naturalization and may result in deportation. There’s a burden of proof in relation to good moral character, and it falls on immigrants to show they haven’t committed serious crimes in the five years preceding their application for naturalization. If they’re unsure about whether to seek the help of immigration attorneys, San Diego residents who want to apply for naturalization status should know that experienced immigration lawyers can make the process much easier.

Immigration adjudicators and judges follow the moral turpitude clause of the Immigration and Nationality Act, but this federal law doesn’t go into detail about what may be considered turpitude. Federal case law has described turpitude as a vile and depraved crime with evil intent, but possession of controlled substances has been found to be grounds for denying immigration benefits because such an activity could be conducive to trafficking.

As seen in the aforementioned case involving a reality television star, naturalization could be a strategy to avoid deportation and removal. Legal analysts who have evaluated the Giudice situation agree that it would have been difficult for USCIS to deport him as a naturalized citizen because his conviction didn’t involve immigration fraud. It’s important to note that a moral turpitude interpretation can be challenged by an immigration law firm.

Immigrants whose naturalization filings are held up for this issue should retain legal counsel and weigh their options. The legal system of the U.S. does have court precedent whereby moral character has been determined through various judicial filters. 

When they need expert legal advice on immigration and naturalization service, San Diego residents can trust the experienced attorneys at KS Visa Law. From family-based immigration law to naturalization issues, we can address all your immigration-related needs. Call 858-874-0711 to schedule an appointment.

May 2024