Grounds For Denying Citizenship

Written by Susan V. Perez

Good moral character issue can be a major obstacle to approval of a naturalization application. The Applicant must establish good moral character for the entire period of five or three years. Before filing for naturalization, one must ask himself or herself if he or she has done something during the required period that may show lack of good moral character.     

Good moral character has been interpreted as character that measures up to the standards of average citizens of the community in which the applicant resides.  Under our immigration regulations, the applicant shall be found to lack good moral character if, during the required period, had an extramarital affair which tended to destroy an existing marriage UNLESS the applicant can establish “extenuating circumstances”.  Note that adultery is generally not a sufficient basis for denying an application for naturalization.  There must be one or more aggravating circumstances that the adulterous acts tended to destroy an existing marriage. The immigration officer will look into the facts and evidence to determine if aggravating or extenuating circumstances exist.  Before the immigration officer does that, the person alleging adultery has to prove that the applicant has in fact committed adulterous acts. 

Another common reason for denial of an application for naturalization is the deliberate or willful failure to pay child support.  “The natural instinct to provide for and defend man’s progeny is one of the moral values that go to make up the dignity of man.”  These are the words of the United States District Court of Minnesota, Fifth Division in a 1960 case where a native of Yugoslavia failed to pay child support for his dependents living with their mother in Italy.  The applicant was a refugee from Yugoslavia who, while in refugee camp in Italy in 1948, married an Italian citizen.  They had two children together.  In February 1952, the applicant immigrated to the United States.  His wife refused to go with him and refused to permit him to take their children with him in the United States.  The applicant found a good job and became a regular employee of an ore and steel company.  In 1954, the applicant divorced his Italian wife and remarried a U.S. citizen.  In 1957, the applicant filed for naturalization.  During the naturalization interview, he was asked if he has fulfilled his duty of supporting his minor children in Italy.  The applicant admitted that his first wife had asked for money for their children, but the applicant had not sent them money for more than a year.  The immigration officers asked the applicant: “Do you intend to pay for the support of your children in the future until they are no longer minors?’  The applicant replied: “No, because my first wife says she can support them”.  According to the applicant, his first wife came from a very good family and had a very nice home in Italy.  The District Court later found that the applicant evaded his solemn obligation to support and care for his two minor children.  As a husband, the applicant had the right to choose his place of domicile and to withhold support from his wife who failed to follow him, but his wife’s deficiency in this respect affords no justification for his failure to support his two infant children, whom she retained in Italy.  The District Court said: “The milk of human kindness flows naturally in the age-old stream of fatherhood to his helpless child.  The responsibility of parenthood springs from the Canons of the Everlasting.  The.Petitioner, as the father of two infant children, was and is obligated by all applicable law, “natural, human, moral and divine to protect, support and care for them.”  The District Court affirmed the government’s denial of the application for naturalization. 

Deliberate or willful refusal to pay child support can also be a federal or state crime.  In California, a party subject to a valid court order who, with knowledge of the order and ability to comply, fails to comply with the terms of the order is subject to a contempt and adjudication and statutory contempt penalties (Cal. Civ. Pro sections 1218 and 1219).  A contempt proceeding is criminal in nature and the possible penalties include jail sentence.  Family law orders and judgments which include child support are enforceable by the court’s contempt power.   

The Passport Denial Program, which is a part of the Federal Offset Program, was created to help states enforce delinquent child support obligations.  Under the program, noncustodial parents certified by a state as having arrearages exceeding $2,500 are submitted by the Federal Office of Child Support Enforcement (OCSE) to the Department of States (DOS), which denies them U.S. passports upon application or the use of passport services.  Noncustodial parents are not automatically removed from the Passport Denial Program even if the arrearages fall below $2,500.  

I’ve been receiving inquiries from the Philippines on how to enforce a foreign child support order against a U.S. resident.  If there is an existing federal bilateral child support arrangement between the United States and the foreign country, the foreign country should contact the local child support enforcement agency in the state where the person owing child support resides.  If the parent’s whereabouts are unknown, the foreign central authority can contact the U.S. Central Authority, Director, U.S. Central Authority for International Child Support, Office of Child Support Enforcement, Department of Health and Human Services.  If there is no federal arrangement with the foreign country, it may be necessary for the individual seeking enforcement to retain the services of a private attorney in the United States to attempt to enforce the foreign judgment in accordance with the U.S. law.  

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