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Unfortunate Consequences of False Claims to U.S. Citizenship

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by Lupe Lopez

Several weeks ago, Henry came in for a consultation to discuss an I-601 waiver of inadmissibility for his wife, Elizabeth.  Last year, they had attended Elizabeth’s interview in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico and she was denied a visa.  Elizabeth did not know why she was denied because the officer only told her “you are inadmissible and you will not get a visa.”  Elizabeth was given a blue piece of paper with lots of writing and the officer asked her to leave.

Elizabeth could only assume that it had to do with something that happened many years ago when she was 18.  She had not mentioned this to her attorney or to her husband.  She didn’t think it was important.  But, now, after being denied, she was fearful that this was the reason for her denial.

As a young woman, Elizabeth loved to go out with her friends; and, like many young people her age, she would also take risks.  One day, while partying with friends, she met a young man she really liked.  She wanted to get to know him better.  When she got her opportunity, she was happy to take it.  The young man asked Elizabeth if she wanted to go with him to a party at a friend’s home in San Diego.  Elizabeth told him she couldn’t go because she did not have a visa.  He said to her, “That’s not a problem.  Just say you are a U.S. Citizen.  I never get asked for an I.D.”  Wanting to be with this young man and not realizing the severity of claiming U.S. Citizenship, Elizabeth agreed to go.  Now, at age 34, Elizabeth was still paying the consequences for that fateful evening.

Elizabeth received the denial and went to a lawyer she found in the phone book.  He read the blue piece of paper and said “Oh, all you have to do is file a waiver.  We can do this for you.  It will be $5000.  Because Henry and Elizabeth were desperate to move to the States, they agreed and paid the money.  When the waiver was denied, the lawyer told them that they only had to file an appeal and was going to charge them an additional $3000 for the appeal.

Luckily, Henry was beginning to get a bad feeling about what was happening and he came to us for a second opinion.  The blue piece of paper clearly stated that Elizabeth was not eligible for a waiver.  Because it was in Spanish, Henry didn’t understand what was written.  Elizabeth, in her desperation had not bothered to read it completely.  Unfortunately, we had to give Henry the bad news.  Elizabeth is not eligible for a waiver.  In fact, she is inadmissible for life.  Some people who have made a false claim to citizenship are eligible if their claim was made prior to September 30, 1996.  Elizabeth was recorded as having claimed false citizenship in June of 1997.

Elizabeth states she never verbally claimed false citizenship; but she had the intent.  These cases are extremely difficult, time-consuming, and expensive to overturn.  There must be clear and convincing evidence of non-intent.  Elizabeth didn’t realize she was committing such a grievous crime, one that would follow her for life and she is not the only person who has fallen into this trap.  This is especially a huge problem for many Mexicans, who because of their proximity to the border think it easy to cross illegally.  Unfortunately, many are not aware of the harsh consequences.

There are several lessons in this story.  The first and most obvious, of course, is to never make a false claim to citizenship.  In the long run it is not worth it.  But beyond this, if Elizabeth had mentioned this incident to her first attorney, she would have saved herself and Henry, months of anguish and a lot of money.  The attorney could have requested her archive prior to filing the petition and would have found that she had a false claim to citizenship.  An honest attorney would let her know that she would not be approved based on this false claim.  Finally, Elizabeth should have read the blue piece of paper which clearly stated she was not eligible for a waiver.  This, too, could have saved her and Henry thousands of dollars.

Be truthful with your attorney.  If you have previous encounters with immigration or with law enforcement, your attorney needs to know.  Keep all your immigration records, the good and the bad.  If you ever intend to file, your attorney will need to see them.  By doing this, you can avoid unnecessary expenses and harsh disappointments.

A final note about false claims to citizenship:

False claims to citizenship are not just made by people trying to enter the U.S. illegally or by undocumented people.  Many legal permanent residents, through ignorance, have unknowingly claimed false citizenship by voting in federal or state elections, by checking the wrong box on Form I-9 when getting a new job, or by claiming citizenship to government officials, on government forms, and even on student loan applications.  As a Lawful Permanent Resident, a false claim to citizenship makes the individual deportable.

If you are unsure whether you could have any potential problems such as the one discussed in this story or any other inadmissibility issues, feel free to contact our office for a consultation.