The Impact of Membership in the Communist Party on Your Green Card or U.S. Citizenship

Erick Widman

In order to become a permanent resident of the U.S., it is necessary to prove a negative: that you are not “inadmissible” to the U.S. One of the key ways a person can be inadmissible is due to membership in the communist party or another “totalitarian” political party.

USCIS has described the rationale for preventing communist party members from receiving green cards or U.S. citizenship because they are “considered a threat to national security.”

USCIS lays out how its officers should handle cases for immigrants within its “Policy Manual.” This document was created to be a guide and summary of key statutes, regulations, and case law so that USCIS officers can make the correct decisions on their cases.

The USCIS Policy Manual is updated periodically and a significant recent update details how USCIS will now view an immigrant’s membership in the communist party. Unfortunately this change went way too far and actually contradicts U.S. federal case law that governs how immigrants should be treated. The new standards laid out in the Policy Manual also run afoul of the standards established by our own U.S. State Department as well.

Specifically, what USCIS is trying to accomplish under the current administration with these latest updates to the Policy Manual is to dramatically change the “meaningful association” standard. USCIS acknowledges that the law says that if an immigrant has not been involved with the communist party in any actually meaningful way, they cannot stop that applicant (for this reason) from receiving a green card. However, their tactic is to simply change how the Policy Manual defines “meaningful association.”

Therefore, instead of requiring proof of a “commitment” of some kind to the communist party, the Policy Manual only now requires a showing that the immigrant was “aware” of the political nature of the communist party. It is much easier to show an “awareness” rather than a “commitment” and so USCIS is creating a way to deny more green cards or citizenship applications based upon prior membership in the communist party, even if there was no substance to that involvement.

In contrast, U.S. courts have recognized that the communist party in many places of the world is more like a “Rotary Club” for networking and is sometimes required in order for students to attend graduate school or get a specific type of job. Many Chinese nationals, for example, are compelled to join the communist party for personal economic and career reasons rather than an active desire to harm U.S. security.

Thankfully, despite the new changes to the USCIS Policy Manual, exceptions still remain, and waivers exist. It is also likely that this improper interpretation of the law will be challenged in federal court.

However, since the USCIS Policy Manual applies specifically to officers and decisions within the U.S., intending immigrants should consider potentially receiving a green card through consular processing abroad through the U.S. State Department rather than through adjustment of status with USCIS.

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