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Can An Illegal Immigrant File Bankruptcy?

March 9, 2011

There is no requirement of citizenship in the Bankruptcy Code. Section 109(a) of the Bankruptcy Code states that "…only a person that resides or has a domicile, a place of business, or property in the United States, or a municipality, may be a debtor" in bankruptcy. Your legal status does not determine eligibility to file bankruptcy; however there may be complications if you are not a U.S. citizen.

First, you must be able to prove a physical residence or ownership of property within the bankruptcy court’s jurisdiction. A permanent physical address is required for the bankruptcy forms. Residency is also important to qualify for state exemptions used to protect your property. Generally, a debtor must show residency within a state for at least 90 days preceding the bankruptcy filing in order to qualify for that state’s exemption laws.

Second, you must prove your identity. Most bankruptcy debtors use a social security number (SSN), but an individual tax identification number (ITIN) may also be used. An ITIN is issued by the IRS to foreign nationals and others who have federal tax reporting or filing requirements and do not qualify for SSNs. Whether a SSN or ITIN is used, physical verification of the number must be shown to the bankruptcy trustee.

While there is no requirement in the Bankruptcy Code that you must have either a social security number or ITIN, the bankruptcy petition requires you to sign a Statement of Social Security Number. The options on this Statement are (1) you have a social security number; (2) you have an ITIN; or (3) you don’t have either. If you select option three, you may be able to use a valid passport or some other official government issued identification as proof of identity. There are bound to be consequences for the debtor that does not have a SSN or ITIN including the red flags it sends to the Department of Justice, the IRS, and INS.

Crimes of "moral turpitude" that are be disclosed within a bankruptcy filing may affect your immigration status or application for citizenship. These acts include the fraudulent use of credit cards, bad check offenses, tax evasion, fraudulent transfer of an asset, or falsifying government documents (including your bankruptcy petition.

If you have immigration issues and need to file bankruptcy, discuss your situation with an experienced attorney. The United States bankruptcy laws are very liberal and can help you get out of debt. Your attorney can work with you to resolve your debts while avoiding deportation.


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