Deportation proceedings and possible removal from the United States are unbearably stressful. Having an experienced immigration attorney and a good defense to your removal charges are your best bet to manage these difficult situations.If you have no legal immigration status, are in removal proceedings, and have lived in the United States for a long period of time, you may be eligible for cancellation of removal. To win a cancellation of removal case, you must present documentation to prove certain factors. If an immigration judge finds that those factors are met, you will be awarded legal permanent residency, i.e., a green card.
The Basic Requirements for Cancellation of Removal
The cancellation of removal process, however, is neither simple nor automatic. To qualify for cancellation of removal, you must be in deportation proceedings and meet the following criteria:
- You have been physically present in the United States for ten years prior to your deportation proceedings;
- You are a person of good moral character;
- You have not been convicted of certain criminal offenses; and
- Your removal from the U.S. would cause exceptional and extremely unusual hardship to your parent, spouse, or child who is a U.S. citizen or legal permanent resident.
Immigration judges review dozens of applications for cancellation of removal every month. Each year, only 4,000 of these requests may be approved. As such, your application for cancellation of removal must be well-prepared. Each of the above criteria must be extensively documented.
This article focuses on the second requirement listed above proving good moral character in a cancellation of removal case.
Who Is a Person of Good Moral Character?
To qualify for cancellation of removal, you must prove that you have been a person of good moral character for at least the ten-year period prior to your deportation proceedings.
Generally, immigration judges and officials define good moral character as character which measures up to the standards of average citizens in the community in which the applicant resides. In practice, this means that the applicant does not have serious criminal issues in his or her past. That is, the applicant follows the law.
As listed above, there are certain criminal convictions that by definition automatically disqualify a person from cancellation of removal. Good moral character is something less specific. Here, offenses related to morality (prostitution, domestic violence, illegal gambling, dishonesty, fraud, perjury, drugs, etc.) might result in a finding against good moral character.
Because a finding of good moral character is fact-specific and unique to each person, there is no immediate list of offenses or behaviors that would classify someone as a person not of good moral character. Further, issues that occurred long ago or that you have remedied, rehabilitated, or reformed might not affect your case.
What Proof Do I Need to Show I Have Good Moral Character?
As with any immigration matter, presenting a well-organized, developed, and documented cancellation of removal case is your best chance at success. Immigration judges are busy, seeing potentially hundreds of cases each week. Take your time and be thorough in gathering evidence to support your application.
While the following is not an exhaustive list of supporting documentation, it does provide a good framework of proof of good moral character.
- Letters of Support Letters from those who know you best can give the immigration judge a good idea about the kind of person you are. These letters should describe the person’s relationship with you and your character. Letters from family members, employers, co workers, church leaders, teachers, neighbors, and others in the community are appropriate.
- Community-Involvement Documentation Part of proving good moral character is showing that you care about the community and have a stake in it. So, you should collect items that prove your community involvement. Volunteer work, mentoring, church membership, and social group involvement all should be recorded.
- Employment and Education Records Reliably going to work or school can demonstrate good moral character. Prepare a list of your employment and education history and obtain supporting documentation. This should include paystubs, resumes, transcripts, copies of degrees, etc.
- Rehabilitation Records If you have ever struggled with alcohol or drug addiction or have been convicted of an offense related to substance abuse, documentation that you attended and completed a rehabilitation program is very important. This should include a statement about the nature of the program, transcripts, a certificate of completion, and documentation of any ongoing rehabilitation work. Statements from counselors, doctors, sponsors, etc. related to the rehabilitation process are appropriate as well.
- Other Relevant Items Many other factors exist that might show you are a person of good moral character. Spend some time thinking about what you do that makes you a good person. Create a list and search for any available documentation.
Preparing Your Cancellation of Removal Case
Establishing good moral character is only one factor among many in winning a cancellation of removal case. Remember that deportation proceedings are adversarial in nature. You present a case and an opposing lawyer often argues against your position. As such, a well-documented case is absolutely necessary. Allocating your time and energy to gathering documentation that proves your good moral character and the other criteria for cancellation of removal is the best way to increase the odds of winning your case.
If you are currently in removal proceedings or are present in the United States without a valid immigration status, it is important that you meet with an experienced immigration attorney to review your options. Besides the cancellation of removal defense discussed in this post, other programs exist that might offer you the ability to live and work in the U.S. without fear of deportation.