If there is one thing I stress to my clients who have recently become lawful permanent residents it’s the importance of becoming a US Citizen if he or she intends to stay in the United States.
The reason I make sure my clients are thinking about this issue even though they have just become permanent residents is that as a resident you have far less rights than a US Citizen. In fact, other than basic due process rights under the US Constitution your life in the United States is dictated by the political winds blowing through Washington D.C. at any given moment and those change frequently.
The provisions of the 1996 IIRAIRA bill have had devastating effects on many lawful permanent residents and their families by removing relief and creating new grounds for removal which were retroactive. In other words, lawful permanent residents were (and are) being removed for acts they committed, or at least said they committed as part of a plea agreement, years ago.
The perfect example of this is HR4437 passed by the House of Representatives this year. This ridiculously harsh bill not only makes it an “aggravated felony” to be in the United States without status it makes anyone who assists a person who is here without status an aggravated felon as well. This isn’t only applicable to smugglers as the bill has a separate penalties for those who are assisting for profit. This applies to family members, clergy, attorneys, anyone that may do something (arguably anything as the language of the bill is very broad) that causes the individual to stay in the United States while out of status.
As mixed status families (families with some undocumented members and members who are in the US legally) are common this could create a situation where not only does the undocumented worker get removed from the US but the family members may be charged with an aggravated felony and subject to removal as well. Being charged with an aggravated felony may preclude the family member from seeking any relief from removal and they may be removed no matter how long they have been in the United States.
On the otherhand, a US citizen cannot be removed from the United States so this adds another reason why it is important to pursue naturalization if you are eligible and if you intend to remain in the United States.