National Voter Registration Day signals the approach of midterm elections. In TV ads and the earnest voices of clipboard-holding volunteers on street corners, we are constantly being urged to register to vote and are bombarded with messages about how critical it is to exercise one of the most fundamental and sacred duties of being an American citizen. Indeed, the consequences of this election are enormous – in today’s climate, one seat can change the political landscape.
But if you are not an American citizen, if you are a lawful permanent resident, green card holder, or temporary visa holder, the consequences of voting – and just registering to vote – loom even larger. Doing so can get you deported – even if you have been here for decades, even if you have done everything right and have followed the law and met your obligations in every way, even if you registered to vote unknowingly and never cast a vote.
A simple internet search will show thousands of results of individuals who unknowingly registered to vote – and so, brought about the beginning of the end of their American Dream.
ONE MISTAKE IS ALL IT TAKES
This is sadly representative of what happens to many green card holders, especially under an administration which has made it a mission to find any reason at all to expel immigrants from the country. In the past, an inadvertent mistake, without more, may not have been seen as enough to warrant deportation. Immigration officials typically exercised discretion to look past such innocent errors. While they still technically have such discretion, a June USCIS policy regarding its new ability to start deportation proceedings while simultaneously denying cases makes us question if officials will ever be this forgiving again.
REGISTERING TO VOTE IS ENOUGH TO RESULT IN DEPORTATION
Even if you never cast a ballot, the simple act of registering to vote is enough to put your status in grave peril. That is because when you register to vote, you are making a false representation/claim that you are a U.S. citizen even if done inadvertently.
The Illinois voter registration form asks the question directly: “Are you a citizen of the United States of America?” When you sign the form, you “swear or affirm that… I am a citizen of the United States.” The form spells out the consequences of claiming to be a citizen when you aren’t: “If I have provided false information, then I may be fined, imprisoned, or if I am not a U.S. citizen, deported from or refused entry into the United States.”
It doesn’t matter that you didn’t read or understand the language in the form. It doesn’t matter that you had no intention to misrepresent your citizenship, that a government employee offered you the form or that you were urged to register while walking down the sidewalk. Falsely claiming U.S. citizenship can be a death blow to your right to remain in the country. As the Immigration & Nationality Act provides: “Any alien who falsely represents, or has falsely represented, himself to be a citizen of the United States for any purpose or benefit … is deportable.”
CHECK IF YOU ARE REGISTERED TO VOTE
Unfortunately, many green card holders may not be aware or even remember that they registered to vote years ago only to find out about their fatal error when they apply to become a U.S. citizen. By then, it’s too late.
If you want to check whether you registered to vote, you can do so here. If you discover that you are registered to vote, you should consult with an immigration attorney to discuss your situation and learn about the risks and what you might be able to do to mitigate them.
Please contact McEntee Law Group to arrange for an initial consultation about your immigration matter.