Can I deported if I am illegally in the United States and get caught by police?

Theoretically speaking, if you are not authorized to be in the United States, you can be arrested immediately, brought before an immigration judge, and deported.  Fortunately for millions of illegal immigrants in the US, that is not how the system actually works and that is why they can live fairly comfortably and go on with their lives.  For all practical purposes, if you are an undocumented immigrant, stay out of trouble and do not do something that will result in an encounter with law enforcement, the probability of being deported is very very small.  That is how the population of illegal immigrants has grown.

In the past, when illegal immigrants were stopped for minor infractions that break American laws, they could be put into deportation proceedings.  Obama Administration has some great news for illegal immigrants going forward.  If you have never had trouble with the law and have only broken the law for something minor, like driving above the speed limit, you will be treated like a lawful resident.  That means that you will pay a ticket but not be arrested or put into deportation proceedings.  A host of other petty offenses are going to be treated in the same manner.

Having said that, DO NOT believe even for a second that you are somehow being treated like a legal resident or that you cannot be detained/arrested and deported.  Unless it is the very first time that you have gotten into trouble and it is something minor, expect a lot of trouble ahead.  Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is simply saying that it will spend its resources mostly on dangerous immigrants who are either on the run, have committed crimes in the past, or already have a deportation order pending.  So while you can breathe a sigh of relief that every time you interact with a cop you will not be considered a suspect and arrested, but the best thing to do if you are here illegally is to never ever break any laws.  And that includes, always driving below the speed limit and following all the traffic rules, because while the citizens and legal residents can get away with these violations, you have a lot more at stake.

What do illegal immigrants need to become legal?

When Congress refused to act on immigration reform in his first term, President Obama launched the so-called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program for those illegal immigrants who arrived as children to America.  In order to defer their deportation by two years and get a work permit to be able to work during this period, they needed to file paperwork along with an application fee of $465.  While more than one million so-called DREAMers were expected to apply, during the first four months of the program only about 300,000 individuals applied.  Why so few applicants?  There were many reasons like criminal background, dropping out of high-school, inability to produce documents that were required for the application, etc., but a significant reason being cited by immigration attorneys and community activists is that they simply don't have the resources to pay the fee.  How can this be?  How can someone not have even $465 while living in a foreign country illegally?

As President Obama and Congress get ready to act on comprehensive immigration reform, undocumented immigrants have to get ready as well.  If they are able to legalize their status and cannot because they were not prepared, what a shame that would be.  So here are a few things that you can do right now, even before anything happens in Washington DC.  I will provide more precise list of things to do when the details of the law are available, but here is a checklist that you can start working on immediately:

  1. Get a valid passport and birth certificate, if you don't already have one.  DACA applicants learned it the hard way that when they approached their embassies and consulates for these documents, there was such a huge backlog that they were delayed in filing their applications.  As someone living in a foreign country, you should always have a valid passport in your possession.
  2. Prepare your immigration file.  Obviously, each one of you will have a different set of documents in it, but you might want to pull out the old passports, especially one that you used to enter the United States.  If you can find it, get the I-94.  If you had other documents with your visa, get them organized.
  3. Prepare your US paperwork in order.  Organize documents that prove where you lived and for how long.  Having rental agreements and receipts is very helpful.  If you own a home, paperwork related to mortgage is extremely useful.  If you had a bank account, put the monthly statements in the file.
  4. Organize your financial and tax information.  If you have worked in the US, put all documents in one place.  Obviously, you worked without authorization and despite this being an illegal act, chances are that the Government already knows about it or will find out when you file your application.  Again, if you used a fake Social Security card to work or even used false papers like a green card, you will have to confess to it, so it is best to have all your documentation in one place.  Similarly, while you were not authorized to work, but since you did, the IRS expects that you file a tax return.  Obviously, filing a tax return is better than not filing it, in the process, you would have admitted to working illegally.  If you used an ITIN to do your taxes for reporting income from work, you have still broken the law, but you would be in a lot more trouble if you worked legally or illegally and did not pay taxes.  In conclusion, prepare complete records of all your income and taxes in the United States, because you will not be able to adjust your status unless you are in the clear with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).  The better records you have, the easier it will be to fix your taxes, pay what you owe, and maybe even get a refund.
  5. Collect your court papers:  A lot of undocumented immigrants have had some interaction with the law.  While some got into trouble due to their unlawful presence in the country, others have committed regular crimes.  While felonies are deportable offenses and you will not be able to legalize your status at all, if you have committed other crimes and have dealt with law enforcement and courts, you will need to have all the paperwork nicely organized because you will need to provide it at the time of application.  Remember that if this paperwork is incomplete, USCIS will not take chances by approving you.  On the other hand, if the adjudicating officer is in any doubt, he will simply issue a request for evidence (RFE) or reject the application.  If you have not been keeping your paperwork related to deportation orders and other run-ins with the law, it is time to start running around to get the copies.
  6. Save, save, save.  As I said above, the last thing you want to happen is to be unable to legalize your status because you don't have the money to pay for the fees. How much will it cost?  It is very hard to estimate at this point, but my best estimate is at least $2,000 in fees alone.  Since this is going to be an extremely complicated case, you are strongly advised to hire an immigration lawyer to file your application.  Expect to pay at least $1,000 per application.  There is already a conversation that you will need to pay a fine, but the amount is unknown at this time.  And if you have not paid taxes, you will need to pay all the back taxes, along with any penalties and interest.  You see, this is quickly adding up to thousands of dollars.  DO NOT expect that the government will exempt you from paying the fee or a charity will donate it.  With millions of illegal immigrants in the country looking for help, no one would be able to do much.  It is likely that many law firms will offer financing (yes, paying all that money in installments sounds so tempting but in reality you are paying interest rates that can easily be 50% or even higher) but the interest rates are ridiculously high that it is much better to save now aggressively than to borrow it.  


Senator Tim Kaine supports legalization without citizenship

Obviously without a bill under consideration it is not clear what will eventually be discussed and passed, but it is interesting to watch what is on the minds of politicians.  The narrative that I hear coming from many elected members of Congress is that there will be legalization without a pathway to citizenship.  This appears to be the case even though a majority of Americans support a path to naturalization for all illegal immigrants.  My conclusion is that some form of immigration reform is likely under Obama presidency but we need to watch carefully what will it be like.

Sen. Tim Kaine supports legalizing illegal immigrants:     In an interview with the Times, Virginia Senator Tim Kaine is saying that “I’m anxious for comprehensive immigration reform.”  In another part of the interview, however, he says that he is planning to vote for reform that would require undocumented immigrants to pay a fine to get a permanent legal status.  Maybe in his mind he is not thinking about path to naturalization or maybe he is just being practical that Republicans might vote for a legal status but would not be stupid enough to provide a path for naturalization, and thus, ensuring a permanent minority status in Congress without ever winning the White House.

Undocumented immigrants just want legal status:     In my discussions with unauthorized immigrants the theme I am hearing is that they just want to have papers so that they can live without fear, travel to their native countries to visit their families, and really don't care much about what passport they carry.  It is the immigrant rights groups that are making a lot more noise about fighting for citizenship rather than winning something more reasonable. 

Americans support pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants

If you hear just the crazy Tea Party Republicans and read some of the hateful comments online, you would start to doubt if comprehensive immigration reform can ever be passed.  But when even GOP right wing crazies like Marco Rubio predict that there is a 50% probability that undocumented immigrants will be legalized, you know that there is a lot of noise out there but one has to listen carefully to appreciate the beautiful music coming out of American homes.

Americans support path to naturalization for illegals

It is out of this cacophony that I read this Politico survey that has found that two out of three Americans actually support a path to naturalization for illegal immigrants.  Yes, about one in three oppose it, but these people do not matter and cannot be persuaded anyway, the way they cannot be persuaded to embrace universal health care or marriage equality.

Probability of immigration reform under President Obama

Illegal immigrants have two things to celebrate.  Teabagger Republican of South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint has decided to quit the Senate.  He was a sworn enemy of the undocumented immigrants and was a key player in killing immigration reform in the past.  He would have definitely become a stumbling block to President Obama's Comprehensive Immigration Reform plan.  It is not that he is going away completely.  As the president of the Heritage Foundation, he will continue to have enormous influence over GOP policies and direction, but the way Republican politicians are abandoning Grover Norquist, they might also ignore him.  The best news is that he would not have a vote, especially the power of filibuster, and a think tank can only do so much.

The other important piece of news is that Florida Republican Senator Marco Rubio, while no friend of Latinos (yes, while reasonable people find it impossible to believe but there are some stupid Hispanics who actually are Republicans), is predicting that there is a 50% possibility that some form of immigration amnesty with a pathway to citizenship will pass within Obama's second term.  He tends to prefer a single package of reforms that would once and for all take care of all the undocumented immigrants, though, it might be a devious plot by him to please both sides.  Experts agree that one comprehensive bill to deal with all types of unauthorized immigrants is definitely going to die in Congress but by pushing that bill, he will be able to appeal to the Hispanic voters pleading that he tried to help and someone else killed it, but it will also please his Tea Party supporters who will be happy that Obama failed.

How to get the STEM green card?

Looks as if the GOP is getting active on elements of Comprehensive Immigration Reform.  After introducing the ACHIEVE Act in Congress, the House has now passed the a bill (STEM Jobs Act of 2012) that would allow foreign born students with doctorate diplomas to get permanent residency without having to go through the H visa route.  At this time, if you are a foreigner and you are a student at an American university, after the optional practical training (OPT) visa for one year, unless an employer comes forward to sponsor you for an H-1B visa (or similar other not so common visas) you have to leave the country.  These visas typically last up to a maximum of six years and if no green card petition is filed on your behalf, you have to go back to your home country.  Unfortunately, these visas are employer specific and there is very limited flexibility in changing jobs.  For instance, if your employer goes out of business or lays you off due to poor business environment, you have practically no time to find a sponsor, and have to abandon your life in the US.  This causes tremendous amount of anxiety, uncertainty, and inconvenience to well educated foreigners who want to work in the United States.  Even those immigrants who are waiting for a green card can experience a lot of suffering due to delays in processing.

The STEM green card makes the process very easy because it allows you to apply for permanent residency as soon as you graduate either with a doctorate or a masters degree (assuming enough doctoral candidates do not apply each year) and find a sponsoring employer for the purpose of labor certification.  The process will also be fast, and is expected to be complete in less than three months after labor certification.  It is very important to understand that one needs to be a science, technology, engineering, or Math graduate from a real university in the United States, and have good academic credentials.  Obviously, illegal immigrants are now allowed to participate in this program even if they are otherwise eligible. It is not clear if this bill will pass in its current form and when will it be enacted into law, but I will keep you updated.

ACHIEVE Act introduced in Congress in place of DREAM Act

In a major setback to DREAMers who were hoping for the DREAM Act that wold have not only given them legal status but also led to naturalization, Republican senators John Kyl of Arizona and Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas have introduced a bill -- the ACHIEVE Act -- that would not create a path to citizenship but allow them to live and work legally in the country.  I have already provided details on the so-called W-1, W-2 and W-3 visas that are part of the program.


Obviously, this bill covers a lot fewer illegal immigrants, has a very higher bar for eligibility, and provides a very restricted life in America with restrictions on using social welfare programs like food stamps, student loans, and will need to report to law enforcement every six months

It does not mean that this bill will become law but it is also highly unlikely that undocumented immigrants will get everything that they want.  The most likely bill will be a compromise because President Obama and Democrats need a lot of GOP support to get this done.

What is the W visa for DREAMers?

As I have been reporting, it appears that ACHIEVE Act may replace DREAM Act, because it allows GOP politicians who are opposed to an amnesty for illegal immigrants and scared of adding Democrat-leaning voting blocs to support it in the hope that they will be perceived as not anti-Latinos.  Obviously, this does not go as far as many immigrant activists would have liked but reading the chatter online on DREAMer forums, I gather that they want some way to legalize their status in the United States.  Most reasonable DREAMers understand that probability of  passage of DREAM Act is very low and it is better to get something rather than nothing.  It is no secret that President Obama will need the support of a lot of Republicans for comprehensive immigration reform  and it is unlikely that the Conservatives will simply sign on to whatever the President wants.  We all know that ObamaCare too was passed with so many provisions chopped off that many liberals were disappointed.

While it is still a work in progress, the Achieve Act does not provide an automatic and guaranteed path to naturalization.  It also comes with many other restrictions not imposed on other legal immigrants in the country.  Plus, not every DREAMer will be covered, though, like the DACA program, it will give relief to a lot of illegal immigrants who came legally or illegally as children.  The draft document below provides the highlights of the W-1, W2, and W3 visas and conditions that will need to be met in order to be qualified.


Image of W visa or Achive Act proposed by Marco Rubio John Kyl and Senator Kay Baley Hutchinson to give papers to illegals in the United States


Will Achive Act replace DREAM Act?

The changing political landscape means that Republicans are more open to the idea of legalizing the illegal immigrants already in the country and there appears to be more acceptance of giving legal status to those undocumented immigrants who were brought by their family members as children.  While advocates are asking for a path to citizenship for all undocumented immigrants, what is more likely is a form of permanent residency for adult illegal immigrants while a path to naturalization for DREAMers.


The problem is that if this amnesty is given by a Democratic administration and with already high level of support among immigrants in general, and among Hispanics in particular, by allowing millions of these individuals become citizens, Republicans would have ensured permanently minority status in Congress and a zero probability of winning the White House.  A solidly reliable Cuban community for Republicans has also increasingly been voting for Democrats and that makes it less likely that they will vote for their own demise.

That is why I am hearing that GOP members of Congress are more likely to support a stripped down version of DREAM Act that will give legal status to DREAMers if they complete college or serve in the Military and that would give them a work permit for four years and a right to apply for a green card.  It seems that they will not be able to apply for naturalization ever.

Legalization, not a path to citizenship, for illegal immigrants

While advocates for illegal immigrants have pushed for not just an amnesty but also a pathway to naturalization, it appears that we might see two separate pathways.  The so-called DREAMers through the DREAM Act maybe eventually able to become US citizens, all those who are in the United States illegally and entered the country when they were adults, will only have legal status.  The reason this dual strategy is being put forward is because while there is some sympathy among lawmakers for children, rewarding undocumented immigrants who broke American laws with citizenship sounds as if criminal action is being encouraged, it also discourages future illegal immigration, (it is also to understood that some politics is involved -- if President Obama and the Democrats are the ones who make this amnesty happen, and with the already high level of support for them among Latinos and most other immigrant groups, it is expected that these new citizens would support the Democratic party).  It also makes sure that we do not see a wave of legal immigrants who will then also become citizenship and burden the already fragile social welfare programs.


While details are still being discussed, it appears that illegal immigrants will get a work permit and a document authorizing their status in the country for a certain period of time, subject to renewal if conditions like paying taxes and staying out of trouble are met.  They maybe able to sponsor family members like spouses and children the way permanent residents are allowed to, but they would be subject to waiting times and quotas, thus, limiting number of people who can come to the US.  They will, obviously, not be able to sponsor family members the way US citizens can do.

Those immigrants who were minors when they first entered the United States and if they have gotten education and stayed out of criminal activities, will take the DREAM Act route, and eventually be able to naturalize. 


What happens at the citizenship oath ceremony?

If you would rather first read the whole DIY Guide to Naturalization first before starting, please download this ebook from Amazon.
In your journey to become an American citizen, you will file the USCIS Form N400 paperwork, provide documentary evidence for your application, get fingerprinted, pass the naturalization test, and if all goes well, you will be asked to take the oath to become a citizen (until you do this, you are not a citizen).  While in some cases, you can take the oath right after the interview in a conference room, but in most cases, mass oath taking ceremonies are held with hundreds or thousands of applicants, often in historic places.  There have been ceremonies held even in The White House or US Navy ships or other historical government buildings.  So if you have an option, choose these events.  They provide a cool ending to your journey and create great memories.  The best part is that to these ceremonies you can bring your family along, though, they may not sit right next to you while you take the oath, but they can either watch you from a distance or see it on large screens.


What to expect at the oath ceremony location?  You will be told about the location ahead of time so do your research.  That way you can plan for traffic and parking.  Again if it is far from your home, plan on spending the night in a hotel.  Since this is considered to be an official Federal Government event, you are expected to dress formally.  It is a great idea for men to wear suits and formal daytime attire for women, like business suits or dresses.

Plan on spending the whole day there but most likely it will be several hours.  Be prepared for lots of waiting, some times separate from your family, so bringing a paper book is a great idea.  Depending on the location, electronics of any kind, even cell phones can be a problem.


What happens during the oath ceremony?  Follow the instructions in your letter, and bring the documentation that you were given after the naturalization interview.  At this time, your green card will also serve as your ID, though, it is still a good idea to have your native country passport with you.  The oath ceremony itself may include speeches by VIPs and finally an oath.  Once that is done, you will line up to surrender your permanent resident card and collect your naturalization certificate.  If you also changed your name during naturalization, you will receive the paperwork from the court related to that.  Hopefully, everything will be fine, but you should make sure that all the details on the document are accurate, and if not, speak to an officer then and there and they will tell you what to do to make a correction.  Then you are free to leave and you will now officially be an American citizen.

How to get a US Passport?  At most oath ceremonies, officers from the Department of State are also present and they hand out passport applications.  Make sure you pick one and file an application as soon as possible.  You will need to submit your original naturalization certificate with your passport application so before mailing it out, make a photo copy just in case it gets misplaced.  The process of getting the passport and the passport card is really straightforward because you are no longer treated as an immigrant by the USCIS but are now being treated like an American by the Department of State.


What happens during naturalization test?

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In order to become an American citizen, you will complete USCIS Form N-400 and provide evidence in support of your application.  If you complete your application properly, you will be asked to appear for a biometric appointment where your fingerprints, signature and picture will be taken.  Assuming that you were eligible, your application was complete with all the required documentation, and you are generally eligible for naturalizing, an important requirement is to pass a so-called naturalization test.


What to expect during the naturalization test?  There are essentially three components of this test:
  1. An English ability test:  If you have lived in America for 3-5 years (requirement for naturalization), any reasonable person expects you to have working knowledge of the English language.  As intimidating as it sounds, the test is really simple, and does not deviate much from the study material provided by USCIS.  Obviously, you will need to follow questions in English from the officer, who can be patient if she or he realizes that your English comprehension is poor, and then pass a simple test for reading and writing.  This test takes a few minutes.  You will meet with the officer all by yourself and cannot be accompanied by anyone.  Only an attorney, if you have one and has done the paperwork to represent you, can be present but will not be allowed to assist you in the test.  Expect to answer questions related to your identity followed by the test questions.  The officer will record in his notes whether you have passed the test.
  2. Civics Test:  Like the English test, if you have lived in the US for at least 3-5 years and taken an interest in the news, you will be aware of many questions.  Also, a lot of curious people ask around or go online to research topics related to the United States in the course of their lives.  Still, you may never come across some specific questions, related to history or government, particularly if your interest in civics/politics/news is limited.  That is where the study materials from the USCIS come handy.  The good news is that the study guide has both questions and answers and you will be asked only these questions and as long as you provide the answers listed in the booklet, you will pass.  It is okay to make a few mistakes but plan on knowing all the answers.  Now, if you memorized the answers like a six year old, you will do just fine, but if you want to live your life in America like a good, informed citizens, I strongly encourage you to take this opportunity to really delve into these topics.  Go online, check out Wikipedia, borrow a few books from the local library, and just get more informed about how our society works.  You will sound smarter when you talk to fellow Americans and will be able to follow the news better.  This test also takes several minutes.  Needless to say that you will need to be able to follow the instructions of the interviewer.  Except for your attorney you may not be accompanied by anyone and your lawyer cannot help you in answering the questions.  The officer will mark his decision in a document in your file.
Naturalization interview:  Once the English and Civics tests are completed (they may be conducted by the same officer or different officers and the order can vary), and if you have passed both the tests, you will be called for a final interview with an officer.  In this interview that can last for several minutes, the officer will go over your application with you, confirm your information provided in your application, check your documents, ask questions related to your family and job, confirm if you want to change your name, ask you to sign the oath in the application, and essentially question anything that is important to making a decision.  If everything goes well, you will be told by the officer, whether your application is approved or not.  The officer will most likely tell you that she is going to recommend your application for approval because the decision makers are elsewhere in the building, but if she recommends someone, the chances are close to 100% that you will be approved.  After that, you will need to wait for some more time in the waiting area and if your application is approved, you will be told what to do next.  In some cases, an oath may be administered by a judge the same day (generally you will need to wait for some time for all other applicants to finish their interviews because the oath ceremony is held in a group) or you will be told where and when to appear for the oath ceremony.  In case the ceremony is at a later time, you will also get a document that will be your proof that you have been approved for citizenship and should be allowed entry into the oath ceremony location.


What to expect at the Naturalization Interview location?  Like any other dealings with the USCIS and Federal Government, follow the directions in the letter you receive.  Bring the documents that you are told to.  Always arrive well ahead of time (if you live rather far, it is best to arrive the night before and stay in a hotel close to the building, and if you are coming the same day, make sure that you schedule enough time for traffic delays and parking problems) because the building has airport style security (so dress accordingly and leave any suspicious objects like scissors or nail cutters at home).  Even though you may have a time for an interview, be prepared for long waits.  It is a terrible idea to bring children, and unless you have strong reasons, it is best to go alone.  These buildings some times have small shops selling food, but if you want to save money and eat healthy, bring a sandwich.  I also always tell applicants to bring something to keep yourself busy.  The best option is to bring a paper book and leave most electronics at home.  Most buildings do not allow even cell phones so it is not worth taking the risk by bringing electronic gadgets of any type.

How to dress for the Naturalization interview?  Like the advice I gave for the fingerprint appointment, the dress code for this interview is business formal.  For men, I strongly recommend a suit.  If not, at least a good shirt with pants and necktie.  Dressy shoes are always a winner.  No caps or jewelry and you can bring your file in a briefcase.

For women, I suggest a good business suit with dressy shoes.  You do not want to show too much skin, or wear something skintight or show cleavage or wear see-through clothes.  Keep jewelry and accessories to a minimum.  Also, keep the makeup light.

How to behave?  Remember that impressions matter and if you dress well and treat the officers like a professional, things will go more smoothly.  Regardless of how rich you are, or what a tycoon you are now or were in your native country, the officers who will interact with you are in authority.  These are highly trained, smart professionals who can spot a liar from a mile.  They also like to be treated with respect.  So the right greeting is Sir or Madam or Officer.  Do what you are told and do not argue.

Conclusion:  For most people who have prepared for the test well, everything will go smoothly.  It is natural to feel nervous but the officers tend to be very courteous and understanding.  So, relax.  If you don't understand something, ask again politely.  If in doubt, before answering, ask the officer, "Do you mean if I have ever not filed a tax return?"  Plan on spending a whole day at the facility, though, most likely you will be out sooner than that.


What happens during biometrics appointment for naturalization?

If you would rather first read the whole DIY Guide to Naturalization first before starting, please download this ebook from Amazon.
In order to receive American citizenship through naturalization, you will need to fill USCIS Form N400 along with several supporting documents, and if everything is in order, you will receive a notification from the agency asking you to show up for fingerprinting at an Application Support Center (ASC) near you.  Depending on where you live, this place could be close, but may also be several hours away, so be prepared to arrive on time.  Follow the instructions in the letter (if you lose the letter for some reason, contact USCIS immediately and most likely you can get a copy by fax or your appointment can be postponed to a later date, but if you do not show up and do not contact customer service, your application will be considered abandoned and you will not get a refund), which you will definitely need to get inside the building.


What to bring?  As a green card holder, carry that as well with you, along with your passport, and if you have one, another ID like a driver's license. I also suggest that you bring your naturalization file with you because you may be asked to fill another form and having your file with you allows you to have the information consistent.  You definitely do not want the information to be inconsistent in any way because that just creates problems.

As I always tell people, you have to take any interaction with the USCIS seriously and with professionalism.  While no one will deny you the service if you show up looking like a vagabond, my advice is to dress as if you will for a white collar job interview.  You do not need to wear expensive clothes, but having simple, conservative and clean clothes always creates a good impression.  Since a photograph of yours will also be taken and it will be affixed to your naturalization certificate, wearing good clothes and proper makeup ensures that you get a good headshot for a document that you will have for your life.


Dress code for ladies:  For women of all ages, for instance, a simple skirt, blouse, and jacket are ideal.  So are blouse, pants, and dresses.  If you wear ethnic clothing, that is fine as well, but you will need to reveal your face, according to US laws.  There is no justification for showing too much cleavage or wearing very short dresses.  A pair of clean shoes are also appropriate.

Dress code for guys:  For men, a shirt (or a Polo) with pants along with a pair of dressy shoes are ideal.  While you can get away with other attire, I would say stick to something simply like this.

What will happen?  The whole process is simple but you might have to wait for your turn.  Basically, your fingerprints will be taken on a machine.  You will also be required to sign your name and a picture of your will also be taken.  Once you are done, you will not know anything about the outcome of your background check there, and should leave the facility.  The employees at ASC merely collect the fingerprints and the background check is done by a separate team at another location.  The result of your security clearance is not sent to you, but if you are cleared, then you will be invited for an interview.


What documents to send with citizenship application?

If you would rather first read the whole DIY Guide to Naturalization first before starting, please download this ebook from Amazon.
In order to acquire American citizenship, you will definitely need to complete USCIS Form N400, and provide a whole bunch of supporting documents.  As far as what to attach with your application, along with the fee, copies of your green/alien registration/permanent resident card, and pictures, you will need to provide a lot of other documents.  I encourage you to use the list provided by the USCIS on its website.


The point to remember is that basically whatever you are claiming, you will need to prove it with documentation.  For instance, if you are applying for naturalization on the basis of marriage to a US citizen, then you will need to provide evidence that your spouse is one, either by birth or naturalization.  You will also need to provide tax returns, marriage certificate, and evidence of past marriages being dissolved.

If you have had trouble with the law, expect to provide complete documentation of that as well.  If you have not been diligent about filing taxes, you will need to provide a mountain of evidence to prove what happened and what is going on now.  The important thing to remember is that more is always better and if in doubt, send more, but there is no reason to overdo it.


Completed Form N-400 sample for naturalization

I strongly recommend that you complete the application online rather than trying to fill it by hand (in that case it is best to use capital letters).  Make sure that you save the file on your hard drive during the process so that you do not lose the data.  Needless to say, it is better to organize your supporting documents before filling it, though, if you are missing something, you can always save and close the file, and then resume it when you have the information.  So let us get started:

If you would rather first read the whole DIY Guide to Naturalization first before starting, please download this ebook from Amazon.

A#:  Start off by writing your USCIS A-number in the top right corner.  This should populate all the fields on each page.  In case you attach additional papers, this number should be written on the top right.  This is the number that will be on your permanent resident (green) card.  It is basically your alien file number that the USCIS has created for anyone who files for immigration.


Part 1 Your Name:  This is easy to complete.  I have given an example below but make sure that you include your nicknames if you have been using them on any identification purposes.  For example, if your name is Anthony and just your friends call you Tony, then there is no need to mention it, but if you have used it at work and a lot of people know you by this name, just write it down.  It is harmless to mention it.  So A, B, and C are pretty straightforward.  Now do you want to legally change your name?  Many immigrants like to change their name to a more American sounding name or others might want to change their name after marriage (which might not have been changed in the USCIS records).  If you have any intentions of changing and/or updating your name, this is the easiest and the fastest way to do it.  If you do not do it now, you will be running around in the American court system and it is a hassle.  Changing at the time of naturalization is free and you do not have to do anything more than writing down your new name in the space provided.
Example of N 400 application with name and changing it legally

Part 2 Information About Your Eligibility:  This is yet another simple one to choose.  If you are a regular LPR, and you have been so for five years on the date of application, pick the first one.  If you are married to a US citizen and this individual has been a citizen for three years, then you can apply after being a green card holder for just three years, and you will choose the second option.  Military personnel who qualify even earlier will choose the third option. (see example above)

Part 3 Information About You:  Definitely straightforward answers.   If the answers to H or I are yes, be prepared to click the appropriate box below.
information about you section on N-400 USCIS form

Part 4 Address and Telephone Numbers:  This is also easy to complete.  I have still provided an example below:

address and tel no for uscis form n400

Part 5 Information for Criminal Records Search:  Before you can be naturalized, the USCIS with the help of several government agencies (the agencies that are involved is a secret but is believed to include ICE, FBI, and CIA) will search several databases to find if it finds a hit on your name.  Unfortunately, even people with the cleanest record can sometimes get stuck in the security clearance phase because their name is similar to a known criminal or terrorist, but if you have done nothing wrong, there is nothing to fear.  Eventually, your name will be cleared.  This is where the fingerprints come very handy because they are unique to you.  So if your background check takes longer than normal, just be patient.  Simply provide the information as shown below.  For your hair, choose your natural hair color, if you dye your hair.

Information for background search before naturalization

Part 6 Information About Your Residence and Employment:  Remember that you need to make sure that you meet the requirements about living in the state/district in which you are applying.  This section not only provides the USCIS with information about where to look for your background but also about your eligibility to apply in a certain district.  You must be ready to prove this through evidence like mortgage bills, bank statements, etc.  Just provide the information and if you are not sure about the exact dates, it is okay to put estimated dates, as long as you are more or less correct.  Do the same for your employer or school.  If you are unemployed or a homemaker, write NA.

residence and job for n-400

Part 7 Time Outside The United States:  Basically, the USCIS has all the records of your arrivals since the green card was issued to you, because when you enter the country, the CBP officer swipes it.  It is believed that through the airline data the USCIS also knows when you left.  In any case, you should still keep a good record of your travel plans the day you become a green card holder, and you can also use your passport to develop the list.  If not, try to search your travel profile on airline websites or Expedia to find exact travel dates.  Occasionally, even credit card statements will indicate travel dates.  In this section, the USCIS is trying to make sure that you have maintained strong ties to the United States by living here and not spending too much time in another country.  If you have done so and your green card has not been invalidated for this reason, you will not be disqualified from naturalizing; you will simply need to wait till you meet the requirement.  Basically, you cannot be out of the country for more than 30 months and have never been out of the country for a year at a time (if your job -- only certain jobs qualify -- requires extensive travel and you can provide evidence of that, you are good).

details of travel and trips outside the US

Part 8 Information About Your Marital History:  This information is useful for a variety of reasons.  The USCIS wants to make sure that you were properly divorced and or married and never broke the laws against polygamy.  Plus for security reasons it wants to know to whom you were married and that is why marriage to criminals may not necessarily disqualify you but is important for the agencies to know.  Obviously, whether or not you are using the 3-year provision, you need to provide complete detail on your current spouse and if she or he was married before and to whom.  This section must include names of foreigners even if they were never in the United States or applied for any immigration benefits.

Part 9 Information About Your Children:  This is pretty straightforward but remember that you need to include each and every child, even the ones who have died or those who do not live with you.  So if you have been a legal parent to any child, that needs to be included in this list.  In the location column you can add information like "dead" or give the address wherever she or he is.

Part 10  Additional Questions:  The idea here is that you should be able to honestly answer all questions as NO.  If not, you have a serious problem, and you need a good attorney.  Many illegal immigrants who claimed to be American citizens to get benefits or just be able to work will not be able to naturalize themselves.  Even registering to vote is a serious problem because basically you are claiming to be a citizen.  So if you have ever even casually ticked off the US citizenship box, you will need to spend the rest of your life as a green card holder and cannot become a citizen.  In answer to question about affiliations, include any group that has some meaningful existence.  So even a church group should be included, but if you watch baseball each night with your friends and call it the "Baseball Fanatics," do not include it.  Basically the USCIS wants to know if you have been associated with groups that maybe engaged in criminal activities or maybe anti-US in their mission.  Similarly, the answers to questions 9-12 should also be NO for you; otherwise, talk to a good lawyer.  I give an example below:

C Continuous Residence:  As anyone knows nothing is worse than not paying Uncle Sam.  So if you have not paid your taxes or filed them wrongly, fix the taxes with the help of an accountant and only then file for naturalization.

D Good Moral Character:  This is a fuzzy one.  The decision to approve or deny depends on the officer adjudicating your case.  This is the place to honestly admit all the crimes (don't worry about speeding and parking tickets but if you were driving under the effect of alcohol, DUI as it is called, you need to include it).  It is important to remember than unlike other sections, here you will include events from your whole life, even those outside the United States.  Do not even try to misrepresent assuming that something that happened decades ago in a far off land may not be found.  It may not even disqualify you but you will need to come clean, and unless it is something serious and in that case discuss this with a good attorney.


Again your answers to questions from 22 to 32 should also be no.  If not, particularly if you have entered the United States illegally (for example using fake papers like passport or visa or green card) or were in deportation or became a beneficiary of DACA or DREAM Act, you really need to discuss this with an attorney.  These problems may not automatically disqualify you from naturalization but can present problems.  For the same reasons, if you did not register with Selective Service and were supposed, you better have a story to tell.


H Oath Requirements:  I am hoping that if you are excited about naturalization, you will answer Yes to questions 34-39.

Finally complete part 11 and 12, if needed.

Leave part 13 and 14 as it is.  When you go for your naturalization interview, the officer will ask you to sign it there.

The journey to become a proud American

For most immigrants the path to having an American passport is not an easy one.  Even those who follow all the steps the right way, the wait can be long, the process can be slow and stressful, and even a small glitch can derail the process.  For those who entered the United States illegally or are undocumented in some other way or simply have unlawful status, the process to legalize and naturalize can be particularly painful and difficult.


In this blog, I try to make the process simpler.  Based on your situation and depending on the path provided by US law, I give you step by step direction, using a do-it-yourself process to file the paperwork and eventually acquire either legal status or citizenship.