The Application for Naturalization (Form N-400) is the first step towards 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.
As a reminder, applicants must meet the following requirements to be eligible for citizenship:
- Be at least 18 years old at the time of filing the N-400;
- Be a lawful permanent resident (“green card holder”) for at least five years (or three years if married to a U.S. citizen);
- Show that you have continuously resided in the United States for the preceding five years (or three years if married to a U.S. citizen);
- Prove that you have been physically present in the United States for at least half of the last five years (a minimum of 30 months, or less if subject to the three year requirement);
- Show that you have lived in the state or USCIS district where your naturalization application will be be filed for at least the preceding three months;
- Show basic fluency to speak, understand, and read English;
- Have a basic understanding of U.S. history and civics;
- Be willing to support the principles of the U.S. constitution;
- Demonstrate good moral character.
In general, “good moral character” can be shown by the absence of having been arrested or charged with any crimes, being a productive member of society by working and paying your taxes, supporting your children, etc. Of course, the commission of certain serious crimes, such as killing another person, specific felonies, crimes that result in imprisonment of 6 months or more, and “crimes of moral turpitude” will make you ineligible for citizenship. It is extremely unlikely that very minor citations would result in ineligibility.
The question of good moral character is a bit less straightforward and hinges upon the judgment and discretion of the immigration officer who conducts your interview and reviews your case, which is the second step towards citizenship after the application has been submitted and reviewed.
One question that can often 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 need to list every single parking or traffic violation they have ever received in their lives, since this would come under the definition “of any citation ever received.” Similarly, applicants often wonder if they need to disclose any criminal charges or citations that might have occurred when they were a minor, or before the age of 18.
When in doubt, 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 could be a grounds for denial. Traffic violations or citations incurred as a minor are unlikely to impede a naturalization application, while omitting them could potentially be a problem. That being said, if you recall that you received two or three parking tickets, you could simply list that you have received approximately three parking tickets during the years 2000- 2020, or something to the effect of letting the adjudicating officer know that you have received these citations, without going through the additional hassle to retrieve the records. If the USCIS officer was concerned about the parking violations for some reason, he or she could issue a Request for Evidence (“RFE”) and request that you provide more details about the citations before your application could be approved and scheduled for a naturalization ceremony, 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, he or she will want to verify that you have 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 higher 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 is capable of running a criminal background check on your fingerprints. This will let you know what criminal history, including traffic or parking violations, will be reviewed by USCIS. Obviously, 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 could offset this by including documentation of community service or involvement with your church, temple or religious organization, letters from family members, friends, or an employer speaking to your good moral character. Generally, this should be viewed as a supplement, and not necessary in the absence of a more serious crime. You could also consider waiting to file your naturalization application if you had a number of 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, but when in doubt, it is best to include them, even a general mention as “parking tickets,” for 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 could not be accused of withholding any information on your application.