A blog about U.S. immigration matters by Paul Szeto, a former INS attorney and an experienced immigration lawyer. We serve clients in all U.S. states and overseas countries. (All information is not legal advice and is subject to change without prior notice.)

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Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Intent Disregarded When Punishing False Citizenship Claims

Do not check the wrong box next time when you are filling out application forms.  It could ruin your chances of getting a green card.  When applying for a job or a government benefit in America, oftentimes the applicant has to check a box in the application form regarding his or her immigration status in the US.  If you are not a citizen but mistakenly check that option, you could be in some serious trouble.

Immigration law states that falsely claiming to be a U.S. citizen to gain government benefits is a grounds for inadmissibility. Any claim from September 30, 1996 onward are subject to this law.  The consequences are heavy: those found guilty are deported from the country and are permanently unable to re-enter.

But what if the false claim was made unknowingly? The foreign national could have had no idea they were doing something illegal. Some may have been scammed or misled, and others could have misunderstood a question or made a mistake on a document.

An EOIR (Executive Office for Immigration Review) court decision determined that intent does not matter -- false claims of citizenship will be punished regardless. The case involved a foreign national who purchased a false certificate of naturalization from an actual officer of the INS (Immigration and Naturalization Service). He argued that he believed that he was a citizen all along and did not pursue benefits. The court confirmed that a false claim is a false claim regardless, and must be punished accordingly.

This decision is now incorporated into the USCIS Policy Manual. There are no waivers for inadmissibility for false claim of citizenship. One exception still exists, however, for a permanent resident under 16 years-old with citizen parents (adoptive parents included). If the minor lived in the U.S. all their life and believed they were a citizen, they are exempt from the rule.

For this ground of inadmissibility to apply, the false claim to U.S. citizenship must be used to gain a government benefits such as public or immigration benefits.  It does not apply to, for example, an application for a job at a private company.   

Persons who are not a U.S. citizen (including green card holders) should take extra steps to protect themselves. Pay close attention to questions when filling out forms for work or applications at the DMV, social security office, etc. If you want to become a citizen, familiarize yourself with the proper steps by consulting with a legitimate immigration attorney.

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