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Filing For Bankruptcy And Impact On Your Immigration Status

The fact that you filed for bankruptcy shouldn’t ordinarily impact your immigration status. At least, not in a bad way.

Lots of people in Los Angeles aren’t citizens of the United States. We’ve got lots of people who are permanent residents, here on visas of one sort or another, or perhaps undocumented.

Though this country has long been called the Land of Opportunity, the truth is that many of the non-citizens living and working in Los Angeles aren’t making enough to pay their bills and still keep food on the table.

If you’re one of the many people living in the Los Angeles area saddled with debt and worried about whether filing for bankruptcy will cause immigration problems, rest easy.

Let’s outline some of the more common situations, and how your immigration issues play with bankruptcy matter.

Permanent Residents And Bankruptcy

There are 81,508 legal permanent residents living in Los Angeles, representing about 7.9% of the total number of people in the United States with this status.

If you fit into this classification and are looking at naturalization, you know that your application doesn’t ask if you’ve filed for bankruptcy.

The only thing that may impact your immigration is your moral character – and bankruptcy doesn’t qualify as a crime of any sort.

In fact, there’s some evidence that being in debt and letting it stew without taking any action may negatively impact your immigration status.  When you file for citizenship there’s a question that asks about whether you owe any federal, state or local income tax debts.  If you do then you’re going to have some explaining to do before you take the oath.

In addition, willfully failing or refusing to pay child support may be considered evidence of poor moral character under 8 C.F.R. § 316.10(b)(3).  That, too, will stand in the way of your ability to become a U.S. citizen.  By filing for bankruptcy under Chapter 13, however, you may be able to reorganize and repay those child support debts and show you’ve mended your ways.

Bankruptcy Effects On Getting A Green Card

If you’re not yet a permanent resident and are looking to get a green card, you have nothing to fear when it comes to bankruptcy.

As with getting your citizenship, filing for bankruptcy does not prevent you from getting your green card.

How About Undocumented Individuals?

If you’re not here legally, you may still be in debt and look to the bankruptcy system for help. This is the only time I’d tell you to be careful.

If you’re working, chances are that you’ve either got a taxpayer identification number (TIN) or are using a Social Security number that’s not validly issued. You can file for bankruptcy using a TIN, but I’d caution you against doing so with an improperly-obtained Social Security number.

Though the U.S. Bankruptcy Court doesn’t work directly with Homeland Security or immigration officials, I’d be careful when filing for bankruptcy if you’re undocumented. I’ve never heard of someone being deported based on a bankruptcy filing, but I’d hate for you to be the first.

Photo credit:  hmerinomx (Flickr)

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By |August 23rd, 2012|

About the Author:

I've been a consumer protection lawyer since 1995, working to help people end their bill problems. I'm a faculty member at the Student Loan Law Workshop, a nationally recognized speaker, and a long-time member of both the National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys and National Association of Consumer Advocates.
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