Dear Sophie: Should I apply for citizenship if I have a conviction?

Here’s another edition of “Dear Sophie,” the advice column that answers immigration-related questions about working at technology companies.

“Your questions are vital to the spread of knowledge that allows people all over the world to rise above borders and pursue their dreams,” says Sophie Alcorn, a Silicon Valley immigration attorney. “Whether you’re in people ops, a founder or seeking a job in Silicon Valley, I would love to answer your questions in my next column.”

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Dear Sophie,

At Burning Man a few years ago, I was arrested and charged with a misdemeanor for smoking marijuana in public (in my car) and driving under the influence.

I currently have a green card and want to apply for U.S. citizenship next year.

Can I? If so, how should I handle my criminal record?

— Remorseful About the Reefer

Dear Remorseful,

As you’ve discovered, you have to be extra careful when you’re an immigrant: Obviously, you should never break the law, but as an immigrant, if you do, it can have severe and lasting consequences.

You even need to be careful to avoid doing things that an immigration officer might consider to be outside the bounds of good moral character, even if they are not crimes. All immigrants should remember that even though limited use of marijuana for recreational and medical uses is legal in several states, it’s illegal under federal law.

My law partner, Anita Koumriqian, recently podcasted on how various crimes can impact your green card status and affect your ability to become a U.S. citizen. Take a listen and (always in this situation) consult an experienced immigration attorney. Tell your attorney about your DUI and marijuana charges, any subsequent marijuana use, any other arrests or citations, and even things you might consider minor such as speeding, parking or jaywalking tickets. An immigration attorney can determine whether you should proceed with applying for U.S. citizenship and if so, when and how to do so.

A composite image of immigration law attorney Sophie Alcorn in front of a background with a TechCrunch logo.

Image Credits: Joanna Buniak / Sophie Alcorn (opens in a new window)

What is good moral character?

As you know, you must be a permanent resident (green card holder) for at least five years — or three years if you have a green card through marriage — to be eligible to apply for U.S. citizenship. Additionally, you must demonstrate “good moral character” during the five- or three-year statutory period.

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