The Application for Naturalization (Form N-400) is the first step toward U.S. citizenship. The application asks extensive questions about an applicant’s criminal history, including a section on “good moral character.” It can be daunting to figure out how much detail is truly required, especially when it comes to minor infractions like traffic violations.
In general, “good moral character” is demonstrated by the absence of arrests or charges and documentation that proves the applicant is a productive member of society who work, pays taxes, supports their children, etc. The commission of such serious crimes as killing, specific felonies, crimes that result in imprisonment of 6 months or more, and “crimes of moral turpitude” make you ineligible for citizenship. It is extremely unlikely that very minor citations will affect eligibility.
The question of good moral character is not straightforward and hinges upon the judgment and discretion of the immigration officer who conducts your interview and reviews your case. This the second step toward citizenship after the application has been submitted and reviewed.
One question that can be especially difficult for applicants to answer specifically asks:
“Have you EVER been arrested, cited, or detained by any law enforcement officer (including any immigration official or any official of the U.S. armed forces) for any reason?”
Many applicants wonder if they should list every parking or traffic violation they have ever received in their lives or disclose criminal charges or citations that occurred when they were a minor, i.e., before the age of 18.
It is almost always preferable to list any and all citations to avoid the appearance of concealing a violation or dishonesty on the application, which can be grounds for denial. Traffic violations or citations incurred as a minor are unlikely to impede a naturalization application, whereas omitting them can potentially be a problem. That being said, if you recall that you received two or three parking tickets, you can simplify: state that you have received approximately three parking tickets during the range of years 2000-2020, or something to that effect, to let the adjudicating officer know that you have received these citations and respect the process. If the USCIS officer is concerned about the parking violations for whatever reason, they can issue a Request for Evidence (“RFE”) and you will need to provide more details about the citations before your application can be approved and your naturalization ceremony is scheduled, assuming that all other criteria has been met.
In practice, most adjudicators are unconcerned about traffic violations, particularly a parking or non-moving violation. Typically, they will want to verify that you resolved the issue by paying any fines, attending driving school if applicable, etc. If you have any outstanding traffic or parking tickets, pay them off before filing your application, and definitely before your interview! You will have a much better chance of approval if you can honestly answer that all citations have been fully resolved.
One option is to go to your local police station or other law enforcement body that can run a criminal background check on your fingerprints. This report will let you know what criminal history, including traffic or parking violations, will be reviewed by USCIS. If your background check includes a specific violation, you must include it in your application.
If you are worried about the number of minor citations you have received, you can offset this by including documentation of community service and engagement with your church, temple, or other religious organization, letters from family members, friends, colleagues, or an employer. Generally, this should be viewed as a supplement and not necessary in the absence of a more serious crime. You can also consider waiting to file your naturalization application if you had several violations during the five years immediately preceding your application.
The bottom line is that traffic violations and minor citations like parking tickets are unlikely to be a problem when applying for naturalization. Nevertheless, it is best to include them, even as a general mention as “parking tickets,” for the purposes of applying for naturalization. An USCIS officer may not even question you about these minor citations, but you will have the peace of mind that you cannot be accused of withholding any information on your application.
Traffic violations can affect your citizenship application. While every case is unique, generally USCIS isn’t likely to decline a citizenship petition because the applicant has received speeding. You should, however, pay all your fines and close out all your cases before you file your N-400 petition.
If your speeding tickets are linked with criminal charges (such as DUI), the U.S. government is more likely to reject the citizenship application. If you’re still on probation for a traffic ticket like reckless driving or DUI at the time of your interview, your N-400 application is most likely to get rejected. You should consider waiting to file your application.
If you omit the traffic tickets from your application, you could be rejected for not having good moral character and be unable to apply for citizenship again for the next five years.
Because you are required to be truthful on your Form N-400, you must report all the traffic tickets you have received. Every case is unique, so tickets on your record can affect your citizenship petition – specifically if they’re crimes.
If you were denied citizenship because of traffic violations or if you are concerned that your driving record will affect your application for naturalization, our attorneys at Passage Immigration Law may be able to assist you. To discuss your situation with a legal team you can trust, contact us at (503) 427-8243 or schedule a consultation here.
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