When Political Affiliations Can Legally Disqualify You From U.S. Citizenship
How Communist Party Membership Affects an Application for Naturalization
Membership in the Communist Party or another type of totalitarian party may prevent a foreign national from receiving citizenship in the U.S. They would need to disclose their membership on Form N-400, which specifically asks whether an applicant has ever been associated with the Communist Party or another totalitarian party. The question also asks whether the applicant has advocated for the overthrow of a government (not necessarily the U.S. government) by force or violence. USCIS has the discretion to deny an application for citizenship based solely on an affirmative response.
The reasoning behind this part of the application is that a U.S. citizen must adhere to democratic and constitutional principles, which are incompatible with totalitarian ideologies. Moreover, a citizen must support public order and the concept of orderly change in government. Many foreign nationals come from countries that do not have democratic governments and that support totalitarian ideologies, so this bar is often relevant.
Understanding the Bar Based on Totalitarian Party Membership
The bar covers anyone who has been involved during the last 10 years in a group that teaches or advocates for opposition to organized government. It also covers anyone who has been involved in the Communist Party or another totalitarian party. Their involvement may have occurred in the U.S. or anywhere else in the world. The ban even extends to foreign nationals who are not members of a totalitarian party but support the principles of Communism or totalitarian dictatorships.
Membership or affiliation must be “meaningful,” generally interpreted as intentional, to find an applicant inadmissible.
More specifically, the ban covers foreign nationals who have taught or advocated for the violent overthrow of the U.S. government within the last 10 years, either on their own or as part of a group. It covers anyone who has engaged in sabotage, damaged or destroyed government property, or assaulted a government officer. The law is very comprehensive, so you should make sure to consult an immigration lawyer if you believe that its wording does not precisely cover your situation.
Exceptions to the Party Membership Bar
While the bar is defined broadly, federal regulations and courts have developed several exceptions to it. A foreign national will not be subject to the bar if they have not been involved in this type of organization for the last 10 years before filing their naturalization application. They also will not be barred on this basis if they were forced to join this type of organization, if their membership was legally required, or if their membership was required to gain access to the necessities of daily life. Other exceptions include ending the affiliation with the organization before the foreign national turned 16, or having no reason to know that the organization espoused these principles. Finally, an exception may apply if membership in the totalitarian party is the only basis for the denial of citizenship, and the U.S. government determines that the foreign national has assisted its national security or national intelligence mission.
Seek a Personalized Analysis
There are several exceptions to the party membership bar, so a foreign national should consult an experienced immigration lawyer if they believe that the facts of their situation may warrant an exception or waiver.
In reviewing the application of the party membership bar, courts have required foreign nationals to have a meaningful association with the party. Some minimal activity, such as paying membership fees or attending meetings, may not be enough to support the bar. Many applicants from former Communist nations have been able to show that their membership in Communist organizations was necessary to get a job or an education or to engage in non-political activities that were important to them. Each case is different, though, so you likely will need to retain an immigration lawyer if you are trying to show that an exception applies.