False Claims to U.S. Citizenship: Hidden Pitfalls and Potential Defenses

United States immigration laws can be extremely confusing. A great many U.S. laws are obscure and often overlooked. These obscure laws can have dire consequences to potential immigrants, especially one particular provision. Section 212(a)(6)(c) of the U.S. Immigration and Nationality Act carries a permanent bar to a foreign national who falsely claims to be a U.S. citizen. There is no waiver available to escape the bar unlike other crimes of moral turpitude.

How is a False U.S. Citizenship Claim Initiated?

Unintentional U.S. Citizenship Claims

Unintentional U.S. Citizenship claims can arrive from mistaken assumptions, such as when someone incorrectly believes they are a U.S. citizen, or assumes they qualify for benefits that they don’t. It’s easy to make an unintentional claim to U.S. citizenship in many cases. Individuals have inadvertently made citizenship claims by performing the following acts:

· Voter Registration

· Applying for or Renewing a Driver’s License

Less than twenty U.S. states require proof of citizenship from applicants at the DMV and in many cases, DMV officers are required to ask whether an applicant is registered to vote already. This often creates confusion with individuals who aren’t U.S. citizens.

Additionally there are instances where adoptees, who immigrated as young children, mistakenly believed that they were U.S. citizens. There are occasions where adoptees have been deported to countries they haven’t seen since infancy.

Intentional False U.S. Citizenship Claims

The majority of intentional false U.S. Citizenship Claims arise when foreign nationals complete and sign Form I-9. Anyone seeking employment after November 6, 1986 must complete and sign this form that includes a section that states the following:

I attest, under penalty of perjury that I am:

1. A citizen of the United States

2. A national of the United States

3. A lawful permanent resident

4. An alien authorized to work

Often times, the necessity of earning money, supersedes all other considerations, driving unemployed foreign nationals to falsely claim to be U.S. citizens. In most cases, welfare benefits, and other items available to unemployed persons are not available to foreign nationals. Without available work, options are limited.

The Serious Consequences Involved in Falsely Claiming to be a U.S. Citizen

False U.S. Citizenship Claims can Prevent Legal Immigration Efforts

Foreign nationals who make false U.S. citizenship claims are in a precarious position. If these claims are discovered, U.S. immigration becomes impossible. Foreign nationals who’ve been convicted of sexual assault, fraud and other crimes can be eligible for waivers. For those who’ve already been caught making false claims of U.S. citizenship, waivers are unavailable.

False U.S. Citizenship Claims can lead to Removal Proceedings

Immigrants applying for permanent resident status can find themselves subject to removal proceedings if interviewers discover they’ve been working illegally in the United States. USCIS often questions applicants about a lack of employment authorization, and may subpoena I-9 records.

The Department of Homeland Security frequently initiates removal proceedings against foreign nationals who’ve made false U.S. citizenship claims. An investigation generally ensues once an employer is discovered to have been employing immigrants without proper authorization to work

Defenses against False U.S. Citizenship Claims

The False Citizenship Claim was Unintentional

Immigration Courts generally agree that false claims must arise from an intentional act of deception. Foreign nationals may be able to mount a successful defense that the citizen/national area of the I-9 form was mistakenly checked, or that voter registration was accidentally applied for.

The Individual Reasonably Believed They were U.S. Citizens

For foreign nationals or adoptees who have reasonably believed that they were U.S. citizens, there is precedent allowing for defense. For this defense to be applicable the following must be true:

· The foreign national or adoptees parents must have been U.S. citizens.

· The foreign national or adoptees must have been a permanent resident prior to age 16.

The U.S. Supreme Court Ruled Form I-9 Should Not be Used to Deny Naturalization

The U.S. Supreme Court recently ruled that the information obtained on Form I-9 should not be utilized to remove noncitizens or bar them from legal immigration. Foreign nationals can utilize this ruling to develop a defense against a false citizenship claim.

Photo courtesy of mjb via Flickr