Q: I’m here illegally, having sneaked into the United States 26 years ago. I have two U.S.-citizen children ages 32 and 30. Can my children help me become a U.S. citizen?
Name withheld, by email
A: Unlikely, unless you are willing to wait 10 years abroad. The “anchor baby” story that just having U.S.-citizen children here provides a path to U.S. citizenship is a lie.
Because you entered without inspection by a U.S. officer, you must return home for your immigrant visa interview. Once you leave the United States, you face a 10-year bar to returning. That’s true despite your qualifying for a green card in the “immediate relative of a U.S. citizen” category. The law provides a waiver of the 10-year “unlawful presence” bar to a green card, but only if you have a spouse or parent who is a U.S. citizen or permanent resident.
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Q: I was charged with misdemeanor vandalism, but after I paid a fine, the judge dismissed the case. Will I have a problem getting U.S. citizenship? A neighbor claimed I keyed her car. Despite being innocent, I agreed to pay for the repairs just to make the case go away. I never pleaded guilty or admitted any wrongdoing.
Sanaz, by email
A: Despite the judge having dismissed your case, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services considers you to have been convicted. That rule applies to any dismissal in which the accused must meet conditions such as paying a fine, doing community service or going through a treatment program before the dismissal. Still, if that is your only offense, you can become a U.S. citizen. If the offense occurred more than five years ago, it shouldn’t count against you — three years ago if you are applying under the special rules for the spouse of a U.S. citizen.
If it was more recent, you may be able to convince USCIS to nevertheless naturalize you if you can prove good moral character despite the offense. If you apply within five (or three) years since your offense and USCIS denies your application, the worst that will happen is that you will lose your filing fee.
Allan Wernick is an attorney and director of the City University of New York’s Citizenship Now! project.
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