Chinese Green Card Holder Under Deportation Proceedings After Voting in U.S. Election


Hong Skains, age 37, is a green card holder from China. She registered and voted in the 2004 federal elections in Colorado, apparently unaware that only citizens are eligible to vote.

According to the Denver Post, during an interview at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) on her application to become a naturalized citizen, Skains proudly declared that she had voted for George W. Bush. Her naturalization application was denied on the ground that she lacks good moral character. (I’m refraining from any jokes about how voting for Bush is a sign of bad character).

The “good moral character” requirement for naturalization means that the applicant must have behavior that meets the moral standard of the average citizen in the community. There’s nothing immoral about mistakenly believing that green card holders can vote. I wonder whether the naturalization denial was a mistake or whether there is more to the story.

In any event, USCIS referred Skains to Immigration Court for a deportation hearing. Under the Immigration and Nationality Act, a noncitizen who “has voted in violation of any Federal … statute … is deportable.” There is a very narrow exception for persons who mistakenly believe they are citizens, if they grew up in the U.S. and both parents are citizens.

So at first blush, it would appear that the Immigration Judge has no choice but to find that Skains is subject to deportation. The best strategy for Skains is, perhaps, to beg. If she can convince the Department of Homeland Security that she really just made a mistake, the Department could exercise prosecutorial discretion to recommend to the Court that deportation proceedings be terminated.

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