America is the land of opportunity, but not of guaranteed success. And while our ideals are to welcome everyone and give them the same chances to achieve the American Dream, it is often hardest to make it for immigrants either because of language barriers, educational differences or just plain discrimination.
So it’s not surprising that such a large portion of my bankruptcy clients are recent immigrants who are looking for a second chance at making it. The wonderful news is that the American culture is one that believes in second chances and won’t punish immigrants for seeking the protection & rights that are given to them in bankruptcy.
Immigrants should know that in the vast majority of cases, a bankruptcy filing will have absolutely no impact on their ability to become permanent citizens; on their residential status; or, on their ability to sponsor a family member. And here’s why.
When individuals are seeking to immigrate to the United States, the United States Citizenship & Immigration Service – known as USCIS – is evaluating their candidacy based on whether the individual possesses a “good moral character.” Now bankruptcy – or the inability to pay one’s debts – has no connection to one’s character. Both common sense and the law tells us this.
So if you lose your job because of the economy and you can’t pay your debts, that has nothing to do with your moral character. If you get sick and are unable to pay your medical bills or credit cards bills because you can’t work, that has nothing to do with your moral character. If you can’t pay your bills because a divorce has left you a single parent, that has nothing to do with your moral character.
Now the standard of “good moral character” is also not defined in the statute. But, nothing in the statute says anything about debt, credit scores, or bankruptcy. And in a similar issue, the USCIS has recently acknowledged that receiving public benefits has no impact on one’s moral character. So we know the USCIS does not interpret “good moral character” to be about finances.
And that makes sense because if “good moral character” were about finances or bankruptcy, we’d be kicking out a ton of people from this country, starting with American citizens.
Rather, the law tells us what “good moral character” is not and it does so mainly by focusing on criminal behavior. Bankruptcy or debt is certainly not a crime. Bankruptcy is a right that is exercised by hundreds of thousands of Americans each year.
So fear not. If you legitimately can’t pay your bills, you can file a bankruptcy without endangering your chances of becoming a full-fledged American citizen.
On the flip side, in the vast majority of cases, a bankruptcy also does not affect an individual’s ability to sponsor a family member to immigrate to the United States. Both the statute and common sense tells us this.
First, Immigration form I-864, otherwise known as the Affidavit of Support, only asks if you have a job or property with which to support the family member when they arrive. It asks that you produce your tax returns, paystubs and verification of employment. Nowhere on the form does it ask if you have debt or if you have filed a bankruptcy. You are also not requested to produce a copy of your credit report.
Further, Section 525 of the bankruptcy code prohibits federal agencies from discriminating against persons who have filed for bankruptcy. So USCIS is literally prohibited from denying a person’s sponsorship petition for the sole reason that they have filed a bankruptcy. That’s why they don’t ask.
But let’s just say they did ask, which they do not, then common sense would dictate that a bankruptcy would help to get a petition to sponsor a family member approved. Think about it, if you no longer have debt, aren’t you more able to support your immigrating family member? It just makes sense.
Now if you still have doubts or even if you don’t and just want to confirm that the same principles apply in your case, pick up the phone and call your immigration attorney and ask them. It makes sense to ask as there is always that one person in a hundred who may defy the rule.
You can even call one of the many free immigration clinic and ask an attorney there. It won’t cost you anything. And you’ll find that in the vast majority of situations, your bankruptcy will have no impact on your immigration efforts.
So if you have debt that you cannot pay, don’t let the fear keep you down forever. Call me, attorney Robert J. Skowronski, at 773-283-1600 to set up your free consultation. Together, let’s wipe out your debt and get you back on the road to pursuing the American Dream.