Published on:

Falsely Claiming U.S. Citizenship Can Result in the Loss or Denial of Immigration Benefits

flagsApplying for immigration benefits involves a substantial amount of paperwork, and it requires close and careful attention to detail. While mistakes can cause delays and other difficulties in an application, outright falsehoods have far worse consequences. The Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) affirmed a removal order last year based, in part, on a finding that the respondent falsely represented himself as a U.S. citizen. Matter of Richmond, Int. Dec. 3867, 26 I&N Dec. 779 (BIA 2016). A key question before the BIA was whether a person’s intent in making a false statement is relevant.

The Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) provides a lengthy list of grounds for inadmissibility, including health problems, criminal activity, and national security concerns. Prospective immigrants with a history of immigration violations may also be deemed inadmissible. This includes someone “who falsely represents, or has falsely represented, [themselves] to be a citizen of the United States for any purpose or benefit under [the INA] or any other Federal or State law.” 8 U.S.C. § 1182(a)(6)(C)(ii)(I). The words “purpose or benefit” are important.

According to the BIA’s ruling, the respondent in Richmond is a citizen of Trinidad and Tobago, who entered the U.S. on a nonimmigrant visa in May 2001. After a conviction for second-degree assault—which was later overturned on appeal—the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) brought removal proceedings. It alleged that he was deportable for overstaying his visa under 8 U.S.C. § 1227(a)(1)(B) and for a conviction of an aggravated felony under § 1227(a)(2)(A)(iii).

The respondent conceded the ground of overstaying his visa but denied the aggravated felony claim. He also requested adjustment of status, since the government had already approved an immigrant visa petition filed by his spouse. The DHS argued that he was inadmissible and therefore ineligible for adjustment of status, due to false claims of U.S. citizenship during two meetings with DHS officials at the time of his arrest for the assault charge.

The immigration judge dismissed the aggravated felony charge, sustained the overstay and false claims charges, and ordered the respondent removed. After the BIA rejected the respondent’s appeal, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals vacated the immigration judge’s order, finding a lack of any “precedential opinion defining what counts as a ‘purpose or benefit’ under federal or state law.” Richmond v. Holder, 714 F.3d 725, 727 (2d Cir. 2013). The court remanded the case to the BIA to “determine…the scope of conduct encompassed by” the false claims statute. Id.

The BIA ultimately ruled that a false claim to citizenship only makes someone inadmissible if it meets two requirements:  (1) “direct or circumstantial evidence demonstrating…subjective intent of achieving a purpose or obtaining a benefit under the Act or any other Federal or State law”; and (2) objective evidence that “United States citizenship…actually affect[s] or matter[s] to the purpose or benefit sought.” Richmond, 26 I&N Dec. at 786-87. It further held that “purpose” and “benefit” have distinct meanings. Entering the country, for example, may constitute a “benefit.” In the respondent’s case, the BIA found that avoiding removal is a “purpose” under the statute.

Samuel C. Berger, an immigration lawyer who practices in the New York City and Northern New Jersey areas, represents immigrants and prospective immigrants, as well as family members and employers petitioning on an immigrant’s behalf. To schedule a confidential consultation with a member of our experienced and skilled team, contact us today online, at (201) 587-1500, or at (212) 380-8117.

More Blog Posts:

DACA Recipient Challenges Detention by Immigration Authorities, New York & New Jersey Immigration Lawyer Blog, March 9, 2017

New Jersey Supreme Court Rules on Role of State Courts in Special Immigrant Juvenile Cases, New York & New Jersey Immigration Lawyer Blog, September 24, 2015

Immigrant Advocates, Politicians Call for Cities to Reject Federal Immigration Detainers, New York & New Jersey Immigration Lawyer Blog, August 20, 2014

Photo credit: PublicDomainPictures [CC0 1.0], via Pixabay.