Non-US citizens can file bankruptcy, as I plan to write more about in a future post. However, non-citizens often worry that filing bankruptcy will negatively affect naturalization, obtaining legal permanent residence status, or even get them deported. The good news is that these things are not true. Filing bankruptcy is not evidence of poor moral character and it is not a crime, involving “moral turpitude”–two things which can, as a matter of immigration law, negatively affect naturalization hopes or result in deportation.
The only real worry regarding bankruptcy and immigration is to make sure you are completely honest in your bankruptcy case. This requires being honest with both your lawyer and the court, including being upfront about any property you own, even if it’s outside the United States. Knowingly and fraudulently making a false declaration in a bankruptcy case is a crime, and one that involves deceit. Bankruptcy fraud qualifies as an aggravated felony offense under immigration law. This is key because this means that it is a crime that will result in the perpetrator being deported.
It is not uncommon in some immigrant communities for people to seek advice from non-attorneys or unqualified attorneys. For example, in Hispanic communities, people sometimes go to notaries for advice. What many don’t understand is that notaries in the United States are not like “Notarios” in Latin Amerrica. Notaries in the United States cannot give you legal advise: they are not qualified nor allowed to do so, but people who listen to them and commit crimes still must pay the price. For example, non-attorney bankruptcy petition preparers will sometime tell their “clients” that they should lie under oath. This will get the immigrant debtor in serious trouble in many, many ways. It is important to seek out reputable help and to be honest.
It should also be noted that failure to pay income tax or child support can sometimes have a negative impact on naturalization. For example, willfully failing or refusing to pay child support can be evidence of poor moral character which could prevent a green car holder from obtaining their U.S. citizenship.
Nicholas Ortiz, Boston Bankruptcy Attorney
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Last modified: January 25, 2013