On January 14th 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral argument in Mellouli v. Holder, a case challenging the deportation of green card holder, Moones Mellouli from Tunisia, based on a Kansas misdemeanor drug paraphernalia conviction.
Mellouli came to the U.S. on a student visa from Tunisia in 2004. After graduating with honors, he went on to earn two master’s degrees – in applied mathematics and economics. He became a lawful permanent resident, worked as an actuary and taught mathematics at the University of Missouri-Columbia. In 2010, he was arrested for driving under the influence and having four Adderall pills in his sock. Adderall is prescribed to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) but is widely used in universities to study and stay awake. Mellouli pleaded guilty to misdemeanor possession of drug paraphernalia (i.e. the sock that contained the four Adderall pills). He received a suspended sentence, a year’s probation and was subsequently deported, despite the fact that his record of conviction did not specify the controlled substance connected to the so-called “drug paraphernalia.”
Although the verdict is still out and the Supreme Court decision will likely focus on the meaning of the statutory language in their decision that will hopefully be out in a few months, we can learn a lot from Mellouli’s case. One is the benefits of US Citizenship, which is the topic of this blog post.
Adderrall pill photo from Wiki Commons.
- PROTECTION FROM DEPORTATION
Almost any conviction for illegal drugs can result in deportation of a green card holder, as Mellouli’s case illustrates. From our experience, many green card holders do not know that they are not immune from deportation upon a criminal conviction. Although we have successfully represented clients with certain criminal convictions from deportation, we strongly suggest that eligible legal permanent residents become citizens in order to enjoy the benefits of U.S. citizenship. In the event that you have had any contact with law enforcement, no matter how minor, please seek legal counsel before you apply for citizenship.
Aside from convictions for controlled substances, other deportable convictions include:
- Crimes involving moral turpitude: theft, forgery, sex offenses and other crimes where there is intent to defraud/steal or cause bodily harm;
- Firearm or destructive device offense;
- Crime of domestic violence, crimes against children, stalking or violating a civil or criminal order of protection;
- Aggravated felony: murder, rape, sexual abuse of a minor, drug trafficking (including sale or intent to sell, possession of flunitrazepam/roofies and multiple possession convictions), firearm trafficking, prostitution business offenses, various federal offenses (money laundering, alien smuggling, etc.), fraud or tax evasion with loss to victims over $10,000 and misdemeanor charges with a sentence of at least a year for crimes of violence, theft or burglary, commercial bribery/counterfeiting/forgery and obstruction of justice or perjury.
Click here for Immigrant Defense Project’s full immigration checklist.
Beware that some minor offenses, even with no jail time could make a green card holder deportable.
- ABILITY TO PETITION FOR FAMILY MEMBERS AND AUTOMATIC CITIZENSHIP FOR YOUR LAWFUL PERMANENT RESIDENT CHILDREN UNDER 18 YEARS OLD
Adult US citizens can petition for their immediate relatives (spouses, minor children and parents), siblings, married adult sons and daughters. They can also petition for their fiancé(e) residing outside the United States and children of fiancé(e) under 21. On the other hand, green card holders can only file for their spouse and unmarried children with very long waiting lists for certain categories. For example, according to April 2015 visa bulletin, the wait could be as long as more than ten years. Upon naturalization, any legal permanent resident children under 18 automatically become U.S. citizens by operation of law.
All the members of our staff come from immigrant backgrounds so we work hard to get good outcomes for our clients because we know what they are going through and have stood in their shoes. Over the years, we have successfully assisted clients in their naturalization applications and have helped brought in their family members with a 99% approval rate. So far, all our spousal applications have been approved without any Stokes interview (2nd immigration interview).
- ELIGIBILITY FOR CERTAIN GOVERNMENT JOBS
U.S. citizenship is a requirement for most federal jobs. USAJobs.gov is the one-stop site to get information about federal employment. Here, you can find out how federal jobs are filled; learn more about the hiring reform; find tips for your resume, application, and interview; and how to apply for federal jobs. Most federal jobs are listed on USAJOBS; however, some excepted service agencies, such U. S. Department of State for Foreign Service Officers, post jobs independently on their own website or elsewhere. If you’d like to work for a specific agency, do a targeted search of their job sections and employment information pages.
Photo from Flickr labeled for reuse.
- RETENTION OF RETIREMENT INCOME AND ABILITY TO TRAVEL TO THE U.S.
Some folks plan to retire in their home country and don’t feel it necessary to become a U.S. citizen. Depending on the country, green card holders who live abroad may not be able to collect their Social Security retirement payments they already earned by paying into the system.
Additionally, green card holders who:
- Actually reside outside the U.S.;
- Remain outside the country for extended periods of time (unless intended as a temporary absence);
- Fail to file income tax returns while living outside of the United States for any period; or
- Declare “nonimmigrant” on U.S. tax returns,
may be considered to have “abandoned” their resident status and end up losing their status. Thus, if you want to retire abroad and retain your retirement income, it is a good idea to become a citizen.
- ACCESS TO PUBLIC BENEFITS
Naturalized citizens and U.S.-born children in non-citizen families are citizens. They are fully eligible for public benefits like Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), SNAP, cash assistance, and SSI, if they meet other program eligibility criteria. Refugees and asylees are also generally eligible for public benefits. Eligibility depends on numerous factors and is determined using gross and net income, size of the family, and any crisis situation such as medical emergencies, pregnancy, homelessness or unemployment. Each applicant is assigned a case worker who will gather all the necessary information to determine the amount and type of benefits that an individual is eligible for. Please note that these types of assistance are typically short-term in duration.
Greencard holders generally must wait at least 5 years before they can be eligible, however some states have the option or providing them earlier. Temporary immigrants (e.g., work or student visa holders) are generally ineligible for public benefits, including the youth who are categorized as “Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, (DACA)” as well as undocumented immigrants. However, these restrictions do not apply to certain programs, such as the National School Lunch Program, the Women, Infants and Children Nutrition Program (WIC), and Head Start.
The concrete benefit of citizenship comes in when one gets older. Medicare is a social insurance plan administered by the US Government, guaranteeing access to quality health care for eligible U.S. citizens aged 65 years or above. U.S. citizens who have worked in the U.S. for 40 quarters or more have the option of free Medical insurance, in the form of Medicare, while recent immigrants to the United States and are 65 years or older will have to pay premiums in order to get Medicare.
For other benefits not mentioned here, click here for New America Media’s article about Benefits of US Citizenship.
We strongly advise that you seek the advice of a licensed attorney in good standing to assist you in your immigration applications, such as naturalization. It is sad to see that there are unscrupulous individuals that prey on new immigrants, including notarios and fake attorneys, who take people’s money and often make costly mistakes, to the detriment of the immigrant applicant. To see if your attorney is legitimate and is in good standing, go to the Attorney Search page of the NYS Unified Court System if you’re in New York State or see the equivalent directory in your state of residence.
This website contains general information about legal matters. The information is not advice, and should not be treated as such. You must not rely on the information on this website as an alternative to legal advice from your attorney or other professional legal services provider. If you have any specific questions about any legal matter you should consult your attorney or other professional legal services provider. You should never delay seeking legal advice, disregard legal advice, or commence or discontinue any legal action because of information on this website.