As states implement new methods with the intention of making it easier for their residents to vote, they have unintentionally made it more difficult for Lawful Permanent Residents to naturalize and even put them at risk of deportation.
One of the most unforgiving violations of U.S. immigration law is to falsely claim to be a U.S citizen. A false U.S. citizen claim will make a foreign national inadmissible and deportable, and it is nearly impossible to overcome this violation. Upon adjusting their status, Lawful Permanent Residents are carefully advised by attorneys to avoid false claims to U.S. citizenship.
Many states have included the opportunity to register vote with their DMV applications and other state benefit application. While some of these applications ask the applicant to indicate whether they are U.S. citizens, many do not.
As a result, applicants are unknowingly registering to vote after signing these forms. This presents a complication for Lawful Permanent Residents when they apply to naturalize and USCIS notices they are registered to vote. USCIS had previously determined that a Lawful Permanent Resident who registered to vote, intentionally or otherwise, can be denied U.S. citizenship by alleging that they either falsely claimed to be a U.S. citizen or they do not meet the “good moral character” requirement to warrant an approval.
USCIS recently updated its policy on this topic. USCIS will not penalize those who unknowingly or unlawfully registered to vote, and will not consider an applicant to have unlawfully registered to vote if they did not complete or sign the voter registration portion of a state benefit application. If an applicant did register to vote, USCIS will not consider it a false claim to U.S. citizenship if the registration form did not contain a question about citizenship, and if it did, the applicant did not affirmatively indicate they were a U.S. citizen. However, the burden is on the applicant to prove the question did not exist or that they did not answer in the affirmative. If the applicant answered in the affirmative, they may be denied immigration benefits based on a false claim to citizenship or lack of “good moral character”.
In sum, Lawful Permanent Residents who are unknowingly registered to vote can still be eligible to naturalize, but they need to prove they did not mean to register and they did not affirm they were U.S. citizens.
The new policy is effective immediately and USCIS will accept comments until June 28, 2021.