As the 2020 election season kicks into gear, you are apt to see countless political advertisements on television, on the internet and in newspapers. You may also encounter canvassers from political parties who encourage you to register to vote. If you are not a U.S. citizen, though, registering to vote or casting a ballot may have catastrophic consequences. 

Green card holders, those with non-immigrant visas and even individuals with no immigration status at all have certain rights and responsibilities in the United States. With few exceptions, though, voting is a privilege that belongs exclusively to U.S. citizens. As such, you must understand the dangers of illegal voting. 

Criminal consequences 

In the commonwealth, it is a crime to register to vote if you are not legally eligible to do so. In fact, if you sign a voter registration form, you may face imprisonment of up to five years, a fine of up to $10,000 or both. Your conduct may also satisfy the elements of other crimes, such as fraud or forgery. 

Immigration consequences 

Not only is unauthorized voting potentially a crime, but it also has serious immigration consequences for non-citizens. That is, registering to vote or voting in an election likely constitutes a false claim to U.S. citizenship. If you are applying for immigration benefits, falsely claiming to be a U.S. citizen may result in a denial of your petition or application. Furthermore, if you have permanent residency or another valid status, voting may result in your removal from the country. 

Voting options 

For a variety of reasons, participating in civic life is both important and rewarding. If you want to vote in U.S. elections, though, you must first become a citizen. When you are eligible, file a naturalization application. After your swearing-in ceremony, you are probably free to register to vote and to cast a ballot. 

Whether you have a valid immigration status or no status at all, you do not want to jeopardize your ability to remain in the United States. By understanding the serious nature of unauthorized voting in U.S. elections, you can better plan for protecting your freedom and your immigration options.