The Legal Traps of Filing a Citizenship Application in Washington
An immigration attorney can help; just make sure they're legitimate
on October 19, 2017
Updated on February 8, 2021
Many immigrants living in Washington State have an interest in becoming U.S. citizens. Citizenship not only guarantees permanent legal residency, but also confers important civil rights such as the ability to vote and sponsor other family members for entry into the United States. The actual citizenship process, known as “naturalization,” actually requires a number of steps, including filling out an application, undergoing a background check, attending an interview with federal immigration officials and passing a test on U.S. history and civics.
Watching Out for Citizenship Scams
A number of websites falsely claim to provide “step-by step guides” to obtaining citizenship. They purportedly provide citizenship application forms for a processing fee. Some of these sites even claim to be authorized by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (CSIS). In reality, CSIS does not charge fees to download their forms.
If you are visiting an official-looking website that does not belong to a U.S. government internet domain (i.e., .gov), then it is likely a scam. And while CSIS does collect a filing fee to process a citizenship application, it will never ask you to pay by telephone, email or PayPal. You should never pay any citizenship-related fees to any company or agency other than the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
Notary Public vs. Notario Público
Given the complexity of the citizenship process, it is a good idea to work with an experienced immigration attorney who understands the system and can help you avoid some of these scams and other legal pitfalls. However, make sure you hire an attorney licensed to practice in the State of Washington. It’s easy to confuse notary publics—individuals authorized to witness documents and oaths—with “notario públicos,” a type of lawyer in Mexico and Latin America who may legally represent individuals before the government. Some U.S. notaries try and exploit this linguistic confusion by falsely marketing themselves as lawyers to immigrant communities, so beware.
“If a person is not an attorney, I would question if they’re in a position to thoroughly vet the client and determine their eligibility for naturalization,” says Florian D. Purganan, an immigration attorney with Hanis Irvine Prothero in Kent. Some nonprofit organizations sometimes assist people with visas, Purganan adds, but be wary of individuals. “Anyone who claims they can expedite the process or can get your citizenship faster is another red flag.”
If you’re thinking of applying on your own, Purganan says it may seem straightforward, but it’s far more complicated than it looks. When someone seeking citizenship comes to Purganan, before they sit down and go through an application together, he first assesses their background—including immigration and criminal histories. “Any arrest can have an impact not only on their application for naturalization, but possibly trigger the initiation of removal proceedings.”
One Little Mistake Makes a Huge Difference
Unfortunately, there are a number of potential legal pitfalls a citizenship applicant may fall into. Carefully wading through these dangerous waters is what immigration attorneys like Purganan do on a daily basis. “Over the years the application has become much more extensive. Ten years ago is was roughly 10 pages, but now it’s up to 20 pages, and every section must be filled in accurately and completely.”
Sometimes a simple mistake can lead to denial of a citizenship application. For example, if a person has ever made a “false claim” of citizenship in the past—say, they registered to vote, unaware that they were not allowed to do so—that can render them ineligible for citizenship.
“So it needs to be closely looked at when applying,” Purganan says. “The fee right now is $725 to file, and you don’t get that back if it’s denied or rejected.”
For more information on this area of law, see our immigration overview.