© 2012 Farhad Sethna, Attorney
In immigration law, there are very few immigration offenses which are treated as severely as a false claim to U.S. citizenship. Obviously, aggravated felons, drug traffickers, and violent criminals are also treated very severely under immigration law. But what sometimes is overlooked is that even a minor paperwork violation – such as innocently or unknowingly checking a wrong box on a Form I-9 – Employment Eligibility Verification – may give rise to a false claim to U.S. citizenship. This offense does not have any waiver under immigration law. This offense is also a permanent bar to most immigration benefits.
How does a person make a false claim to U.S. citizenship?
The first opportunity to make a false claim may be when entering the USA. People at land borders or airports may present fake or doctored U.S. passports or US Birth Certificates. This is obviously a claim to be a U.S. citizen – and therefore a false claim to U.S. citizenship.
The second opportunity to make a false claim is when an alien applies for some federal or state benefit or private or public employment benefit. Common examples of such benefits are: an application for a driver’s license or state ID, for government benefits or licenses that require citizenship, or on an application for employment. A false claim to U.S. citizenship on a Form I-9 for purposes of employment is an application for an immigration benefit, and therefore a false claim to U.S. citizenship.
A less common example is that of long term aliens believing they were US citizens and therefore voting in federal, state, or local elections.
Can a false claim to U.S. citizenship ever be corrected? Yes, if the claim is retracted (admitted and taken back) as soon as possible after it is made. For example, a person entering at the border with a fake passport reveals to the USCBP officer while still at the border that the passport is not really his or hers and that he or she is not truly a U.S. citizen. Another way is to immediately retract a claim to U.S. citizenship made on a form I-9 or on an application for a driver’s license or state ID. Basically, prompt retraction of a false claim to U.S. citizenship may free an applicant of this disability.
There is also an exception in immigration law for aliens who resided in the United States for long periods, from a young age, and therefore believed that they were US citizens. Such aliens may be able to persuade the US government that they did not knowingly, wilfully, or intentionally claim to be US citizens.
Why is this important now? It is important because we are seeing the immigration pendulum beginning to swing from enforcement to benefits. The last year, the Obama administration announced and instituted the DACA program which benefits young people who illegally entered the USA or overstayed. This year, the Obama administration instituted the I-601A waiver program for other aliens who would not qualify for DACA and needed a waiver of unlawful presence. Now we are seeing a vigorous debate on comprehensive immigration reform. There is every hope that such reform will be passed within the term of the next Congress.
If indeed that is the case all such paths to legalization will require applications. Since a false claim to U.S. citizenship is an immigration violation, aliens should check to make sure that they have not made such a claim, or if they have, to retract and correct that violation. Hopefully if they never made such a violation, then this article will make them aware that a false claim to U.S. citizenship is indeed a serious violation and should never be attempted or made.
About the author: Attorney Farhad Sethna has practiced law for over 20 years. Since 1996, he has been an adjunct professor of Immigration Law at the University of Akron, School of Law, in Akron, Ohio. His practice is limited to immigration and small business. With offices in Akron and Dover, Ohio, Attorney Sethna represents clients in all types of immigration cases. Our number is: (330)-384-8000. Please send your general immigration questions to AttorneySethna@immigration-america.com. We will try to answer as many questions as possible.
This is only general legal information. Please consult a qualified immigration attorney for advice on your specific case.