Consider Volunteering Over the Holiday Season to Help Others and Yourself

By Attorney Sara N. Cross

As the year draws to a close, the holiday season, also known as the season of giving, is upon us. The holidays are a good reminder that what we give to others – our time, money, compassion and understanding – can matter a great deal to those on the receiving end. Not only does assisting those around us provide tangible benefits to other people and to our community, it can bestow perks back onto us as individuals; giving is a cycle beneficial to everyone.

 What you do for others and for the betterment of your community can matter a great deal in immigration cases. Many applications for immigration benefits in the U.S., including those asking for relief from deportation in Immigration Court, take stock of what the applicant has done to improve his or her life as well as the lives of those around them. In immigration law, this is generally referred to as “good moral character.” A person’s good moral character can show that not only are they invested in themselves and their future, but that they are also invested in their community and in America’s future as well. Volunteering to help others provides a palpable measurement for adjudicators to consider when evaluating an applicant.

Good moral character can be either a discretionary or a prerequisite factor, depending on the application at issue. Either way, a person’s good moral character plays a role when applying for adjustment of status, United States citizenship, and cancellation of removal for non-legal permanent residents before the Immigration Court. In many cases, a person’s recent or extended period of volunteer work with organizations and others in their community provides strong positive weight for an adjudicator when weighing and evaluating the factors present in the application before them. Sometimes, recent and voluntary community service can make the difference between an application which is approved and one which will be denied.  It really can be the difference between a green card or U.S. citizenship and being deported.

In certain cases, prior criminal conduct or convictions within a specified period of time can make establishing good moral character particularly difficult. Prior bad conduct, while not resulting in a criminal charge, can even have an effect on your good moral character; this includes acts such as making false statements during a previous immigration application or border entry, even if many years in the past. Other acts, such as failing to pay your taxes or failing to pay child support can also weigh negatively on your good moral character as an applicant.

In evaluating an applicant, the adjudicator must weigh all the positive and negative factors in that person’s character and their application. Good moral character does not mean perfection, and a person’s character shouldn’t be destroyed by a single or isolated incident. That is why it is important to hire a knowledgeable immigration attorney who can evaluate a person’s specific and unique circumstances and determine the best way to proceed when assisting them in obtaining legal permanent resident status and citizenship in the United States.