If I’ve Been Arrested for Visiting a Prostitute, Will I Be Denied U.S. Citizenship?

Applying for naturalized U.S. citizenship might not be wise, at least in the short term, with an arrest on record for soliciting a prostitute.

By , J.D. · University of Washington School of Law

One of the questions that a green card holder must answer on the application for naturalized U.S. citizenship, (Form N-400 Part 9), asks whether you have "attempted to procure or import prostitutes for the purposes of prostitution." What exactly does that mean? Does it apply to someone who, for example, visits a prostitute once or twice? And if you check yes to that, will you automatically be denied U.S. citizenship, because you've failed to show the "good moral character" required for citizenship? We will discuss the answers here.

(Note that this article doesn't discuss whether working as a prostitute will be a problem in applying for U.S. citizenship; the short answer is that yes, it can ruin one's good moral character showing.)

What Procuring Someone for Prostitution Means in U.S. Immigration Law Terms

The word "procure" in the immigration law context means to act as a procurer or pimp, who induces others to engage the services of a prostitute (a full-service sex worker). This definition was discussed by the Board of Immigration Appeals (B.I.A.) in a case called Matter of Oscar GONZALEZ-ZOQUIAPAN, 24 I&N Dec. 549 (B.I.A. 2008). The B.I.A. said that although, "The dictionary meaning of the word "procure" is generally to obtain or acquire," . . . "as applied to prostitution, it has a specific meaning, i.e., ‘[t]o obtain [a prostitute] for another.' Webster's II New College Dictionary 882."

Therefore, paying a prostitute for a "date," often described as "soliciting a prostitute," does not fit the description on the question in Form N-400. An applicant with solicitation on record should be able to truthfully answer "No" to this question. That at least avoids being faced with an automatic, statutory bar to naturalization based on lack of good moral character; but it's not the end of the analysis.

Will an Arrest for Soliciting a Prostitute Lead to a Good Moral Character Bar to Approval for U.S. Citizenship?

Someone who has been arresting for visiting a prostitute will not be able to hide this arrest, and will need to answer "Yes" to the various questions about whether you have been arrested or charged or convicted of a crime. You will need to give U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) details about the arrest and conviction (such as the place and date) and documentation showing the outcome.

USCIS can take a conviction for soliciting a prostitute into account in determining whether you have good moral character. You will likely need to work extra hard to prove your good moral character, such as by obtaining a letter of support from your religious leader and demonstrating that you live a responsible life, work hard, do volunteer work, and so forth. Also see the discussion of waiting longer to apply for citizenship in the next section below.

Will an Arrest for Soliciting a Prostitute Lead to a Crime of Moral Turpitude Bar to Approval for U.S. Citizenship?

In the worst-case scenario USCIS could accuse someone arrested for hiring a prostitute of having committed a crime involving moral turpitude (CIMT). This can, in some circumstances, depending on the timing and length of sentence, lead not only to denial of naturalization but to removal (deportation) from the United States. (See I.N.A. § 237(a)(2)(A)(i).)

Also a possible strategy is to wait a full five years from your conviction before applying for citizenship. (That five years represents the number of years that most people must remain in the United States as permanent residents before applying for citizenship, though it's less time in a few cases, as described in When Can I Apply for U.S. Citizenship?.) The idea here is that you can more easily show good moral character for the entire period that USCIS looks most closely at when assessing whether you have good moral character.

USCIS can look further back in time than those five years, and will definitely consider your arrest no matter how far back in time it occurred. Nevertheless, if your record looks clear for the whole required five years of permanent residence, USCIS will give much less weight to what happened before that.

Getting Legal Help

With the complicating factor of an arrest for visiting a prostitute in your case, and the need for added documentation, you would definitely be best advised to hire an experienced immigration attorney for help. Also speak to an attorney before traveling outside the United States, as your conviction could block you from reentering on grounds that you're inadmissible.

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