Afro Connect: Naturalization Challenges for Black Immigrants


Permanent Residents or Green Card Holders, who have lived in the U.S. for five years (or three in some cases), may apply for naturalization (U.S. citizenship.)

This platform discussed the benefits of naturalization last week here on the HUB.  This article will discuss the challenges that Black immigrants face when applying for citizenship. Applying for U.S. citizenship allows U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) the ability to reopen all of the applicant’s immigration file which in many cases could be decades-long. An applicant’s eligibility for the benefits they have earned will be verified by USCIS. USCIS will also complete a new full background check starting with a fingerprint check which could lead to an examination of the applicant’s home country public records. 

If problematic information is revealed in the background check and review of files, not only can the naturalization application be denied, but the applicant could be placed in removal proceedings (deportation). The challenges are not unique to Black immigrants, but some are more common because of the over-policing of our community. 

Most common issues presented by Black immigrants applying for naturalization:

·       Not registering for the Selective Service

·       Failure to Pay Child Support (in all countries)

·       Failure to Pay Taxes  

·       Drug User or Involved in Cannabis Industry

Having a successful naturalization process is mostly about planning and preparation to mitigate the common issues listed above. Most of the challenges can be avoided by correcting the issues, hiring legal assistance, or coming to the realization that naturalization is not an option. The overarching test for naturalization is whether the applicant has good moral character. The question becomes has the applicant exhibited in their five or three years of permanent residency that they will be a good citizen. 

To become a citizen, a male must register with the Selective Service. An application may be denied if a person does not comply. People who are denied for this reason cannot refile until they are 31 years old. To challenge this rule, the applicant must prove they were not willfully negligent, which in many cases is difficult to prove.

Before submitting an application for naturalization, applicants must ensure they do not owe any back taxes or child support. Children in other countries are included in the child support requirement. 

It is clear in the U.S. Immigration Law that any noncitizen who has been a drug user or addict is deportable even without a formal conviction. Even if marijuana might be legal in the state where the applicant lives or used the drug, it is still a federal crime that is grounds for removal.

USCIS has updated its Policy Manual (Chapter 5) to say that employment in the marijuana industry could constitute conduct that violates federal controlled substance laws. An exception is made for those convicted of a single marijuana offense that involved possessing 30 grams or less for personal use. Before applying for naturalization, anyone with a criminal record, even if they were not charged, should speak with an immigration professional. The wrong answer to any of the questions on a naturalization application could lead to a charge of misrepresentation of facts (lying), which can result in denial of the application.  

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