Naturalization and Long Term Green Card Holders

 Image courtesy of ice.gov

Image courtesy of ice.gov

The day after the presidential election I went on a previously scheduled tour of Immigration Customs and Enforcement (ICE) in Burlington, Massachusetts. The most interesting part was an operations room on the second floor with some rather innoccuous looking piles of paper. The room is the nerve center of ICE enforcing the consequences of criminal actions by foreigners, including permanent residents*, in the U.S.

The piles reminded me of a consultation I did for an Italian-American family several years ago. Their brother had gotten into trouble as a young man, and, despite living in the U.S. since babyhood, was deported back to Italy after serving some jail time for a low level drug offense. Their brother was not a hardened criminal - he was a teenager who got involved with the wrong crowd - but because he had never become a U.S. citizen, he has now had to build a life in a country half a world away from his family.

It is doubly important for parents to seek naturalization for their minor children before the difficulties that can arise during teenage years. My Italian-American family client would still have their brother in the United States if he had been naturalized as a small child when he was first eligible.

This is why I urge my permanent resident clients to naturalize as soon as possible. Once naturalized you cannot be deported or excluded from the United States.

*Immigration vocabulary lesson: permanent resident, legal permanent resident and green card holder mean exactly the same thing -- someone who has been authorized by U.S. immigration authorities to work and live permanently in the U.S. It is the only path to U.S. citizenship.