If you've been living in the United States as a U.S. permanent resident for the required number of years, you might now be considering applying for naturalized U.S. citizenship. However, you might have also heard stories of people who not only got denied citizenship, but got deported home afterward. Could this happen to you?
In most cases, the reasons that U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) would deny a U.S. citizenship application have nothing to do with the person's underlying eligibility for a green card, and thus would not result in deportation. But there are exceptions, or cases that should cause you to carefully examine your immigration history and consult with an attorney if in doubt. Keep in mind that applying for citizenship means USCIS will review your entire immigration file and recent history, plus run your fingerprints, and might find find damaging information. We'll take a closer look at the possibilities and risks here.
It's possible to be denied U.S. citizenship and go right back to being a permanent resident, with a green card. Common examples include when someone:
In any of these situations, the result would be that USCIS simply denies the application and the person goes back to life as it was before.
In fact, if the reason for not passing the first interview is that the person did not pass the test of either English or the U.S. government and history, USCIS will give a second chance, and automatically schedule a follow-up interview within the next 90 days, as described in, Second Chances If Naturalization Not Approved at First USCIS Interview.
If, on the other hand, the reason for denial is that USCIS discovers, during the review of the applicant's immigration file, that the applicant did not qualify for a green card in the first place, then USCIS could not only deny citizenship but also place the person in removal proceedings.
This is most likely to happen if the applicant committed fraud in obtaining the green card. Someone who, for instance, immigrated as the unmarried child of a U.S. citizen, but whom USCIS later discovers to have been married at the time, could face this problem. (Learn more about the family-based green card sponsorship categories.)
The same goes for someone who immigrated under an amnesty program or cancellation of removal and it turns out they lied about their time spent in the United States, and thus weren't eligible.
Other concerning possibilities include that USCIS discovers that the naturalization applicant spent so much time outside the U.S. that they appear to have abandoned U.S. residency altogether, or has committed a crime that results in being deportable from the United States. In such cases, the agency can not only deny U.S. citizenship but send the person to immigration court for removal proceedings.
There's also a lesser-known problem that can arise when someone spends 180 days or more outside the U.S. or does something illegal during an overseas trip, thereby becoming "inadmissible" upon reentry. Perhaps, for instance, the person tried to smuggle drugs, or had been committed of one of various types of crimes (before or after departing the U.S.), or developed a communicable disease of public health significance. Then additionally imagine that the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer simply didn't notice, and let the person in despite the fact that inadmissibility should have barred this entry. This situation creates grounds for later deportation.
See an attorney if there's any chance that any of these grounds for denial of naturalized U.S. citizenship might apply to you, or if you have additional questions or concerns about your case. For guidance, see How to Find a Good Immigration Lawyer For Your Case.