Marijuana Possession and Work in the Cannabis Industry May Lead to Denial of Naturalization

By Peek & Toland on July 12, 2019

One of the requirements for naturalization as a U.S. citizen is to establish good moral character (GMC). U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) recently published a policy memorandum stated that any violation of federal controlled substance laws could be a conditional bar to establishing GMC, including offenses related to marijuana. Although USCIS acknowledges that simple possession of marijuana may not be illegal under some states’ laws, it is still illegal under federal law. Despite the decriminalization of marijuana to specific degrees in many states, all conduct that involves the possession, manufacture, cultivation, or distribution of marijuana remains illegal under federal law and thus can impact the establishment of GMC.

Marijuana Possession and Work in the Cannabis Industry
May Lead to Denial of Naturalization

Under federal law, marijuana remains a “Schedule I” controlled substance. Schedule I drugs are among those controlled substances that have the highest risk of misuse, are most dangerous to the public and have no accepted medical uses. Many states have removed marijuana from this category of controlled substances under state law, but Congress has not followed suit. This has resulted in many state laws that are in direct conflict with federal law on the issue of marijuana. Texas law does classify marijuana differently than other controlled substances but has not taken steps to decriminalize marijuana in any amount, except for a recent expansion of medical marijuana usage for various illnesses and medical conditions.

As a result of this conflict between state and federal law in some states, marijuana possession that would not result in a criminal conviction in some states remains illegal under federal law. A criminal drug conviction not only can put individuals at risk of deportation, depending on their immigration status but also can endanger their ability to obtain naturalization. Therefore, an activity not illegal under state law, but illegal under federal law, can threaten one’s immigration status and lead to a denial of naturalization. When you have any criminal conviction on your record, even for minor marijuana possession, you may not only be at risk of denial of naturalization, but also of deportation. In these circumstances, you need an experienced immigration attorney to represent your interests from the very beginning of your case. Taking steps to get you the relief that you are seeking at the outset of your case is typically easier than waiting until it’s too late. Contact Peek & Toland at (512) 474-4445 today and set up an appointment to speak with our legal team.

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Federal Court Enjoins Removal of Voters Based on Lack of Citizenship Due to Faulty Data

By Peek & Toland on May 1, 2019

A federal judge recently blocked the Texas state election officials from removing individuals from the state’s voter rolls based on certain unreliable data regarding citizenship. Although counties can investigate the citizenship of voters, the court ruling prevents them from personally contacting the voters to demand proof of citizenship.

The pending lawsuit stems from acting Secretary of State David Whitley using reports from the Department of Public Safety stating that certain individuals were noncitizens to purge the state’s voter rolls. The Secretary of State’s office announced that 98,000 suspected noncitizens were currently on the state’s voter rolls, 58,000 of whom had voted at some point over the last 22 years. The office sent the names of these suspected noncitizens to county offices and urged them to demand proof of citizenship from the individuals. However, after civil rights groups pointed out that the list of suspected noncitizens likely contained naturalized citizens who became eligible to vote, the Secretary of State’s office quietly withdrew as many as 20,000 voters from its initial list.

Federal Court Enjoins Removal of Voters Based on Lack of Citizenship Due to Faulty Data

Although Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and President Trump quickly jumped to conclusions of widespread voter fraud in Texas, the federal court disagreed. The federal judge issuing the decision pointed to the state’s “well-intentioned”, but inherently “flawed results,” that caused the illegal targeting of naturalized citizens through threatening correspondence demanding proof of citizenship. Following the ruling, Whitley met personally with the plaintiffs, a group of naturalized citizens who claimed they were being unfairly targeted by the Secretary of State’s office.

Acting Secretary Whitley defended the program in his confirmation hearings earlier this year, but he did acknowledge that his office could have presented the program in a better way. Senate Democrats later announced that they had sufficient votes in place to block Whitley’s nomination as Secretary of State. The Peek & Toland immigration lawyers are here to represent your interests and advise you of the best course of action in your situation. Set up an appointment to talk to us today and discover how we can assist you with your immigration matter.

Posted in Citizenship

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What Does Good Moral Character Mean in Naturalization?

By Peek & Toland on October 27, 2016

Our Texas naturalization lawyers are often asked what “good moral character” means in citizenship applications.

This can be a gray area that’s open to interpretation. Generally, good moral character means the applicant has no serious criminal issues in his or her past and fulfills his or her legal obligations.

If you have committed crimes that are “aggravated felonies,” not only is your naturalization application going to fail but you will likely face deportation.

Good moral character is a requirement for naturalization applications

The crimes in question include murder, rape, child abuse, treason and drug trafficking. The law states that a person is not of good moral character if he or she was convicted of an aggravated felony after November 29, 1990, even if the conviction was over five years prior to the citizenship application.

So-called crimes of “moral turpitude” can lead you to lose your green card and to fail the “good moral character” test for naturalization. They are defined here by Nolo

However, you don’t have to prove you have done good deeds to pass the “good moral character” test.

The USCIS Policy Manual defined “good moral character” as “character which measures up to the standards of average citizens of the community in which the applicant resides.”

In other words, you don’t have to be a saint; just average will satisfy the test.

There are some other crimes that also may question your moral character and scupper your naturalization application.

While a speeding ticket is unlikely to derail your application, gambling offenses, perjury, prostitution, and drug offenses on your record can thwart a finding of good moral character.

If you committed an aggravated felony, applying for citizenship is likely to be a waste of time. However, it can be difficult to make a decision about an applicant’s personal character when the misconduct occurred a long time in the past. You may be eligible for some immigration benefits like cancellation of removal.

Your naturalization application will have a better chance if you violated a traffic law or been convicted of a minor misdemeanor. If you have any concerns about your moral character in these applications, talk to your Texas citizenship attorney.

When Should You Show Good Moral Character in Naturalization Applications?

If you are a green card holder and you intend to apply for U.S. naturalization in the future, you must demonstrate good moral character during the whole period that you have been a lawful permanent resident. The five years before you apply for citizenship are particularly important.

The naturalization interviewer specifically evaluates the moral character of candidates who can be disqualified for criminal activity at this time.

You can be denied reentry to the United States if you travel abroad if an immigration officer discovers evidence of criminal activity.

Even when an applicant for naturalization has never been convicted of a felony, the immigration authorities may review his or her entire history before the five years before the application to determine whether the applicant is of good moral character.

You can read more about the citizenship process here. If you are applying for naturalization and fear there may be a question about your good moral character, talk to a Texas immigration attorney as soon as possible. Call us at (512) 474-4445.


Posted in Citizenship, Immigration

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How Difficult is it to Pass the US Citizenship Test?

By Peek & Toland on October 13, 2016

The U.S. Citizenship test is a key part of the application process for naturalization but how easy is it? Some immigrants find it a struggle to pass.

A recent BBC article highlighted some of the difficulties in passing the citizenship test.

Most entrants pass the US Citizenship test

The article highlighted some of the tougher parts of the test which could include questions about American history that people from other countries are unfamiliar with such as the Louisiana Purchase or the Mexican-American War of 1846.

Despite, the obstacles more people pass the test than fail it. Here are some of the statistics.

The U.S Citizenship Test At a Glance

10 questions are asked out of a possible 100

Those taking the test can get no more than four wrong

The pass rate is 91.6 percent (as of May 2016)

More than five million tests were taken from late 2009 to May 2016.

The test is given at the same time as the naturalization interview, U.S Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) states.

Applicants take an English and civics test unless they qualify for an exemption or a waiver. Generally, these may be obtained in the case of factors such as disability.

Candidates are given two opportunities to take the English and civics tests. If you fail any of the tests at your initial interview, you will be retested on the part of the test that you failed 60 to 90 days from the date of your initial interview.

Notwithstanding the exemptions, most candidates for naturalization must take the U.S. Citizenship test so it makes sense to study. Fortunately, USCIS provides flash cards and other study materials that you can access via this link.

There are a number of routes to citizenship which our attorneys can explain. The United States has a long and proud history of welcoming immigrants from every country in the world. Over the last decade alone USCIS successfully processed the applications of more than 6.6 million naturalized citizens. In the fiscal year 2015, 729,995 people were naturalized.

If you need help with a naturalization application, please contact us today for a consultation at (512) 474-4445.

At Peek & Toland , we help applicants for naturalization along every step of the process. We can’t take the U.S. Citizenship for you but we can give you advice and help you if you believe you may have a legitimate reason to qualify for an exemption.

Posted in Citizenship, Immigration

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Residents in Remote Areas Face Rural Citizenship Application Difficulties

By Peek & Toland on September 21, 2016

The road to citizenship can be long enough without the added burden of living in remote areas. Here, longer distances and processing times add to the costs and the burdens. Rural citizenship applicants face unique challenges.

As experienced Austin, Texas citizenship attorneys, we help many people achieve their dreams every year. However, we are also aware of the potential pitfalls. The road is literally a long one if you are making a rural citizenship application.

Rural citizenship applications can be more difficult

An article in Daily Yonder revealed the additional hurdles people applying for naturalization face living in areas far from processing centers. You may not face these problems in big cities in Texas such as Dallas and Houston. However, the state has vast and remote areas where obstacles could discourage eligible residents from applying for citizenship.

The article quoted Stephanie Rickels from Cascade, Iowa. Rickels had to travel more than 180 miles to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services office in Des Moines to complete the stages of the naturalization process.

USCIS has processing centers in Dallas, Houston, San Antonio, Harlingen and El Paso. Some applications face trips of hundreds of miles for visits.

The Daily Yonder article pointed out some states have just one processing office. In South Dakota, applicants could face traveling as far as 1,800 miles to get to an office.

In the article, Rickels described how her handprints and picture were taken at the Des Monies office. Her appointment lasted just 15 minutes after an 183-mile drive each way.

The second trip would involve an interview and a test and the third was the naturalization ceremony to officially become a U.S. citizen.

Rickels, a French national, was eligible for naturalization because she has been married to a U.S. citizen for years.

The article in Daily Yonder pointed out that as of 2014, about 6,125 new citizens lived in so-called “noncore counties” that lacked a city of 10,000 residents or more. However, more and more people are moving out to remote areas as property prices rise in the cities.

Rural Citizenship – Isolation is Not the Only Barrier

While living in a remote area can make your bid to become a U.S. citizen more onerous, it’s not the only obstacle many green card holders face.

According to the Pew Research Center, a survey of Hispanics found 26 percent of those questioned were held back due to personal reasons and 18 percent said they faced administrative barriers.

At Peek & Toland , our lawyers are willing to answer any difficult questions you may have about citizenship. It’s not a straightforward process and we can help your path to naturalization. To speak to an attorney, call us at (512) 474-4445.

Posted in Citizenship, Immigration

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What Does Continuous Residence Mean in Citizenship Applications?

By Peek & Toland on June 29, 2016

If you are going through the often-complex process of becoming a U.S. citizen, you will be familiar with the term “continuous residence.” However, you may not know its exact legal definition.

Green card holders who are applying to become U.S. citizens, often undergo a process called naturalization which our Texas citizenship attorneys explain here.

Naturalization is the often lengthy process a foreign citizen or national goes through to comply with all of the many requirements under the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA).

Continuous residence is important in citizenship applications

An important requirement of this process is that applicants for citizenship demonstrate that they have “resided continuously,” or lived in the United States for at least five years, or three years in the case of an applicant who is a qualified spouse of an American citizen.

Calculating continuous residence involves going back to the day you received your green card which is when the continuous residency clock started ticking. It’s important to know that the key date is the one on your green card, rather than when you arrived in the United States.

Extended absences from the United States may disrupt your application states U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

Factors That Count Against Continuous Residence

1 – Absences of a year or more may disrupt or derail the process;

2 – Absences of more than six months but less than a year may disrupt the applicant’s continuous residence, unless he or she can prove otherwise.

Applicants Must Show Physical Presence

  • Applicants for citizenship must show they were physically present in the United States at least 30 months within the five year period before they made their application.
  • Qualified spouses of U.S. citizens must show they spent at least 18 months out of the three years prior to their application in the country. The Immigration and Nationality Act sets out some exceptions to the continuous residency requirements, including:
  • Applicants must also show they were in the country in the three months before they filed form N-400 to start the naturalization process.
  • Contractors of the U.S. government;
  • A public international organization;
  • The U.S. Government, including the military;
  • A recognized American institution of research.
  • An organization with a designation under the International Immunities Act.

In short, as long as you have not broken your continuous residence by being out of the country for periods of over six months, you won’t jeopardize your citizenship application.

However, actions like spending more than six months abroad without demonstrating the fact you still live in the U.S., traveling for a year or more and failing to apply for a re-entry visa or failing to file taxes because you don’t see yourself as a resident, can scupper or at least jeopardize your application.

If you have any questions about continuous residency or fear you have broken the chain, our Austin citizenship attorneys can help you. We have helped numerous residents to gain citizenship. To speak to a representative at Peek & Toland , call us at (512) 474-4445.


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