If you are one of those people who have put off applying for naturalization because you have voted as a lawful permanent resident, then you might not realize that you could be eligible for naturalization even though you voted unlawfully. This article addresses the narrow case of when a lawful permanent resident who is eligible for naturalization despite having voting unlawfully as a green card holder.
The Problem: Unlawfully Voting as a Green Card Holder
A lawful permanent resident may not vote. If you have voted as a green card holder, you are potentially removable from the U.S. and will probably be ineligible for naturalization. The exception in this article is very limited and may not apply to your case.
Unlawful Voting Exception for Naturalization: a Three-Part Test, or is it?
Under a Yates Memo from 2002, an immigration officer is not supposed to deny a naturalization application even though a lawful permanent resident alien states that he or she voted unlawfully when the following are true:
- Both parents were U.S. citizens when the alien voted unlawfully,
- The alien permanently resided in the U.S. prior to his or her 16th birthday, and
- He or she "reasonably believed" at the time of the unlawful voting that they were a U.S. citizen.
The third factor appears to be subjective, but has objective elements. According to the Yates Memo, an immigration officer must assess by "the totality of the circumstances" to determine whether the alien "reasonably believed" at the time of the unlawful voting that they were a U.S. citizen. The officer must weigh the length of time the applicant spent in the U.S., against the age when the applicant for naturalization entered the U.S. as a lawful permanent resident. If you entered the U.S. as an LPR as a very small child and you have remained here continuously, you may have a good argument that your mistake was reasonable. This situation requires an experienced lawyer's legal opinion after a thorough review of the facts and circumstances.
If you are eligible for the exception, you will not face deportation. If the officer doesn't believe you "reasonably" thought you were a citizen, there is still hope if the form of prosecutorial discretion. This is a subject for another article, however.
If you qualify for the exception, you are no longer removable.