BIA Further Defines False Claim of Citizenship
We know what the law says about individuals who make a false claim of U.S. citizenship – they are permanently barred from immigrating. We realize that this ground of inadmissibility is defined very broadly: if done while seeking any purpose or benefit under the Immigration Act or any other federal or state law. INA § 212(a)(6)(C)(ii)(I). We’ve heard about the narrow exception and the possible defense for children, but what is actually meant by the words “purpose or benefit” under the Act? That is what the Board of Immigration Appeals analyzed in a recent decision involving a person from Trinidad and Tobago who claimed to ICE investigators that he was a U.S. citizen in order to avoid arrest and removal. Matter of Richmond, 26 I&N Dec. 779 (BIA 2016).
The respondent originally entered the United States on a tourist visa, overstayed his permit and came to the attention of ICE officials after an arrest and conviction for assault. He was placed into removal proceedings and applied for adjustment of status, based on his marriage to a U.S. citizen and an approved I-130. The immigration judge found him inadmissible based on his claims to U.S. citizenship during ICE questioning while in state custody. After rejecting the argument that the respondent reasonably thought he was a U.S. citizen, the immigration judge found that his false claims were done for a “purpose or benefit” – namely to avoid removal proceedings – under the Immigration Act. Upon appeal to the BIA, and after a subsequent remand from the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, the Board discussed at length what is meant by these words and how they apply in this case.
The BIA reviewed the major federal cases that discussed whether a false claim of citizenship was made in a range of settings: applying for a passport, obtaining a federal student loan, being inspected at the border, seeking private sector employment and responding to questioning by police after an arrest. The BIA concluded that false claims of citizenship must meet two requirements. The first is a finding of subjective intent to achieve a purpose or obtain a benefit under the Act or any federal or state law. The second requirement is that the purpose or benefit must be defined objectively. In other words, the false claim of citizenship must actually relate to the benefit sought. For example, if the person lied about being a U.S. citizen in order to secure a small business loan, and the applicant’s citizenship is irrelevant, then that would not trigger the ground of inadmissibility.
The words “benefit” and “purpose” were given separate meanings. A benefit has to be identifiable and enumerated in the Immigration Act or in the federal or state law. So that includes all situations where one is applying for a specific thing or status, such as a passport, driver’s license, employment authorization document, parole or entry to the United States. It would not include statements made to evade removal proceedings. The word “purpose” is broader than “benefit” and would include the avoidance of negative legal consequences. Individuals who lie about their citizenship to Department of Homeland Security officers at the border are, for example, seeking to evade inspection, since U.S. citizens are not removable and are subject to less stringent questioning at the border.
Applying that standard to the facts in this case, the BIA held that the respondent did make a false claim of citizenship when he deliberately lied about his citizenship to ICE officials, since he did so to achieve a purpose of avoiding removal proceedings.