As the dust has now largely settled on the recent Presidential election, we can put voting aside until the next State or Federal election. Regardless of whether your particular candidate won, I think we can all acknowledge that voting in America remains a truly safe and democratic process that is simply not present in some countries.
Gaining the right to vote is one of the most prized features of becoming a naturalized U.S. citizen. I have watched many clients describe, with great fervor, their excitement over voting for the very first time as an American citizen. It’s a particular type of fervor that reminds me to never take such a privilege for granted.
On the other hand, non-citizens who, purposefully or inadvertently, vote or simply register to vote in State or Federal elections can land themselves in some very hot water. Not only does 18 U.S.C. Section 611 establish criminal penalties for non-citizens who vote in a Federal election, but the Immigration & Nationality Act (INA) also imposes strict penalties. A non-citizen who votes or registers to vote can be viewed as making a “false claim to citizenship.” Specifically, Congress added Section 212(a)(10)(D)(i) to the INA in 1996, to provide that: “[a]ny alien who has voted in violation of any Federal, State, or local constitutional provision, statute, ordinance, or regulation is inadmissible” [or “deportable” under Section 237(a)(6)(A)].
When completing USCIS Form N-400, the application for citizenship, two particular questions address voting:
- “Have you ever registered to vote in any Federal, State, or local election in the United States?” and
- “Have you ever voted in any Federal, State, or local election in the United States?”
An affirmative answer to either question can result in the denial of one’s naturalization application and/or referral to immigration court for deportation proceedings.
In Virginia, one can register to vote at any Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) office. Sometimes, an unknowing clerk can hand a registration application to a non-citizen patron. Without thinking twice, the patron might complete the application and then be subsequently mailed a voter registration card within 30 days. As stated above, this simple act might later result in denial of the person’s citizenship application and could even land the person in deportation proceedings.
A lone exception exists to the inadmissibility/deportability provisions mentioned above. Through the Child Citizenship Act of 2000 (CCA), Congress states that those individuals: 1) whose natural or adoptive parents (both parents) are or were U.S. citizens; 2) who permanently resided in the U.S. prior to their 16th birthday; and 3) who “reasonably believed” at the time of the violation or false representation that they were U.S. citizens, will not be found inadmissible/deportable or in violation of the “good moral character” requirement for naturalization.
This exception is very limited in scope. Non-citizens, therefore, are urged to use caution when completing any forms that pertain to voting. If in doubt, consult with an experienced immigration attorney right away, before signing or submitting anything. Remember: a violation does not have to be willful in nature to result in dire consequences.
The immigration lawyers at Livesay & Myers, P.C. represent clients in Manassas, Fairfax and throughout Northern Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia. If you have immigration questions, contact us to schedule your initial consultation with an experienced immigration attorney today.