I had my naturalization interview on the April 5.
I posted my detailed history in the forum but now it is not coming up in searches, so here is a quick recap.
In 1997, I tried to cross over from Canada with a fake ID + Birth certificate, claiming I was a US citizen. I was arrested, and later received asylum. My wife, who was driving the car, was not arrested, but also faced removal/deportation, but that was dropped once I got my asylum and in 1 year she got derivative asylum.
In 2005, I finally applied for my green card. I had to request a waiver for the arrest and false claim. Technically, my wife was involved in alien smuggling (as she was driving the car), so she disclosed that. I filed the paperwork on my own. In due time, we both received our permanent residency without any interview: first my wife, and me 3 months later. (I assume being a male + my arrest record, my background check took longer)
Then the time came for the citizenship process, and I filled out the forms. At that time, I was out of a job and could not afford an attorney, but because my wife was really worried, decided to go to one who was highly recommended for handing complicated work.
After I described our scenario, the first thing he said was, "you (meaning me) should not apply; you will be denied and may be even deported." I had to remind him that I was an asylee, and while they may deny me, they sure can not deport me for something they already know. That left a little bitter taste in my mouth, but after the initial consultation (which cost me $200) I decided to hire him to represent my wife during the interview.
My wife's interview took place in Dec 2009, and the lawyer was late, answered one question, but after the adjudication officer read through the documents for 20 minutes, he approved her (technically, they only "recommend for approval" and then another officer reviews it). That cost me $1800 for the lawyer (form review + interview) which I considered a rip-off but in retrospect, it bought peace of mind for my wife during the interview so it was worth it.
Then my turn came. I was still without a job (still am) and so, after some conversations on the Citizenship forums, I came to the following conclusions:
- CIS knows about my arrest and false claim of citizenship
- They have issued my green card
- They have specifically waived the "false claim" once
- Having a lawyer at the interview will not guarantee me anything
So I decided to go it alone. The rationale behind it was, if this is a bar, a fast-talking attorney can not rescue me right there. If it is not a bar, then I will be approved. Being short on cash also played a part in this.
As part of my N-400 explanation, I provided a bullet-list of the history behind my arrest and disposition. I tried to keep it specific and matter-of-fact; something that could be read in a few minutes. (after hearing from my wife how the AO had to thumb through a 3" stack of papers for her)
That's exactly what happened. The AO read the explanation in 1 minute, asked me if I had been arrested any other time, and then proceeded down the questions from the N-400. Interestingly, he did not read the questions verbatim.
For example, he asked me if I was a communist or a socialist. My first reaction was to point out that there is a senator from Vermont who is a socialist but thankfully my brain kicked in and I simply said "No"
A little later he asked me if I was a "revolutionary"--another question that I did not expect so he explained it. Again, I kept my mouth under control and said "no."
I was asked about my travel, but not if I went to COP, or anything at all about the asylum. While I understand that every AO is different and all cases are different, this seems to indicate that they consider at least the asylum part a closed book.
Half-way though this process, he printed a page out and asked me to verify my name and date of birth on that document. At that point, I was pretty sure I was going to be approved.
After another 10 minutes, he brought out a decision sheet and placed it in front of him, and placed his pen on the "decision can not be made" section. That was actually my expectation--that this will need additional review, so I did not react. Then he moved his pen up to the "Congratulations" box, and that certainly felt a lot better.
I will end with a related story from 2004. I decided at that time that I will try to get my arrest record sealed or expunged because every time I applied for a job this came up. I did some research and found an attorney who specialized in immigration+criminal issues. I paid him a lot of money ($7000 or so) and he was not even tracking the case once he filed it. I called the courts, found out it was denied and had to inform him)
Doing my own citizenship form fillup, I came across an article by another lawyer that discussed sealing arrest records. The citizenship application requires certifies copies of the arrest record and judgment from the courts. If your records are sealed, how would you get certified copies of it? So had the first lawyer succeeded in sealing my records, he would have created a new set of problems for me. He (remember--he is an immigration lawyer who dealt with the impact of criminal incidents on immigration) did not tell me any of that, which means he did not know/consider this, or just wanted the money.
Since my arrest was by CIS (INS) I probably could ask them to look in their own records for the arrest record and court judgment, but thankfully I did not have to deal with that bureaucratic nightmare.
Turns out even the lawyer who wrote that article was wrong: if your records are sealed or expunged, submitting the copy of the order allowing the sealing or expungement is OK. Yes, I am pretty sure the first lawyer did not know this, and neither did the 2nd lawyer.
- If you have any unusual circumstances, explain it simply in writing. Make the AO's job easier
- False claim of US citizenship, if properly disclosed, is NOT a bar for asylees.
- False claim of US citizenship (including innocent voter registration or voting in US elections) IS a bar for all other types of immigrants but it may be possible to overcome that. Talk to a competent attorney and research these forums.
- Interview lawyers carefully. If you are a regular on this forum, you might be surprised about the gaps in their knowledge. Specially if you are an asylee: make sure you get a lawyer who deals with asylees and asylum cases. Marriage/work-related immigration lawyers are not the best for asylees
- Ask questions here, and do not be hesitant about taking those answers and discussing them with your attorney. They may not admit it, but it will help keep them honest.
- Sometimes, it may be OK to do your own paperwork and submit it if you have a simple case, or as my wife's attorney called it, "highly complicated" case--it worked out for me. Warning: your experience may be different.
- CIS officers are OK. Despite having spent 40 days in jail while my asylum claim was being processed and going through what you all have also experienced, I still have to say I was treated fairly through the whole process
My heartfelt thanks to all the people on these boards, and special thanks to the people who spent time reading my questions and responding to them. I expect to do the same here