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I Have a DUI Conviction – Can I Still Apply For Citizenship?

Convictions for Driving Under the Influence of Alcohol (DUI) or Driving While Intoxicated (DWI) are quite prevalent in the United States.  Having a DUI/DWI conviction on your record could pose a challenge to your application for naturalization, but this challenge can be overcome with proper documentation.  If you have one DUI/DWI conviction, while it is not an automatic bar to citizenship, there is a possibility that the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) officer reviewing your application, could deny you citizenship based on lack of good moral character.  

What is a Good Moral Character?

One of the eligibility requirements for naturalization is that the applicant must demonstrate “good moral character.”  Good moral character is defined as “character which measures up to the standards of average citizens of the community in which the applicant resides.” INA 101(f).  A good moral character must be demonstrated during the requisite period of continuous residence in the United States.  The statutory period is the five (5) year period immediately preceding the date of filing (or three (3) years prior to the date of filing for spouses of U.S. citizens).  INA 316(a).

USCIS determines whether a particular applicant has a good moral character on a case-by-case basis. There are some criminal offenses, which automatically mean the applicant lacks good moral character and could lead to removal proceedings.  INA 101(f).  For example, a lack of good moral character shall be found for convictions of murder, an aggravated felony as defined in INA 101(a)(43), or two (2) or more crimes involving moral turpitude, among others.  One (1) DUI/DWI conviction is not among the list of offenses which automatically means the applicant lacks good moral character.

The USCIS officer reviewing the naturalization petition, reviews the following in connection with the good moral character analysis: 1) the applicant’s record; 2) statements in the naturalization application, and 3) oral statements provided during the interview. 

What is the USCIS Officer Looking at in your Record?

When reviewing the DUI/DWI record, the USCIS Officer may look into the facts and circumstances of the underlying offense.  Among the factors considered: how did the DUI/DWI arrest occur?  Were there any injuries sustained because of the DUI/DWI?  Was there was any property damage?  Who else was in the car? Were there any children in the car? Was excessive speed an issue?  Did the arrest involve an altercation with law enforcement? Did the applicant comply with all terms of any sentence imposed? In addition, the USCIS Officer will want to know whether the DUI/DWI conviction is your first and if there is anything else on your record.

What if I have 2 or more DUI/DWI convictions?

Two (2) or more DUI/DWI convictions could pose a greater problem in obtaining citizenship.  In 2019, the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of the Attorney General, issued an opinion holding that evidence of two (2) or more DUI convictions during the relevant statutory period establishes a rebuttable presumption of a lack of good moral character.  27 I&N Dec. 664 (A.G. 2019) [https://www.justice.gov/eoir/page/file/1213196/download]. A rebuttable presumption is an assumption taken as true unless the applicant presents evidence to prove otherwise.  In this context, the applicant would have to submit sufficient evidence to show that despite the two (2) or more DUI convictions, the applicant is someone of good moral character. 

Demonstrating good moral character is a critical aspect of the citizenship application.  If you want to obtain U.S. Citizenship and/or if you have questions about whether any convictions on your record will impact your ability to become a citizen, contact the experienced immigration attorneys at Krum, Gergely & Oates, today for a consultation. 

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