Making a false claim to United States citizenship is a violation of U.S. federal law.[i] The consequence of false claims to citizenship can include fines, deportation and a permanent bar to legal immigration status. There are cases where undocumented immigrants and non-immigrant visa holders accidentally claim they are U.S. citizens, but there are also times people knowingly lie about citizenship and face harsh penalties. In recent news, a civil trial was declared a mistrial because a juror lied about his citizenship – the juror was a legal resident of Atlanta but was not a U.S. citizen[ii]. The juror was held in contempt and ordered to jail.
Frequent false claims of citizenship occur when non-citizens:
1) Register to vote – even if they were registered through their local DMV;
2) Claiming “U.S. citizen” when completing an I-9 Employee Eligibility Verification form;
3) Claiming U.S. citizenship on student loan applications;
4) Applying for a U.S. passport and otherwise;
5) Stating you are a U.S. citizen in order to obtain any benefit only available to U.S. citizens.
Be careful not to accidentally make a false claim of citizenship. Several states offer drivers licenses to non-citizens. The National Voter Registration Act of 1993[iii], also known as the “Motor Voter Act,” requires states to offer an opportunity to register to vote when obtaining or renewing a driver’s license. The department of motor vehicles agent may not know your citizenship status, so if they offer to register you to vote, do not register if you are not a U.S. citizen. Be sure you clearly read any forms you may be asked to sign if you are eligible for a driver’s license. The fine print may state that by signing the application, you swear that you are a U.S. citizen. Likewise, election campaign volunteers might be around town registering people to vote, and they might not ask if you are a citizen. When in doubt, do not sign anything or somehow allow yourself to become registered to vote unless you are a U.S. citizen.
False claims to U.S. citizenship can cause a permanent bar to legalizing your immigration status
Applicants for U.S. permanent residency and citizenship through the naturalization process must demonstrate good moral character (“GMC”).[iv] The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (“U.S.C.I.S.”) policy manual addresses acts that could prevent an applicant from establishing GMC. One example in the USCIS policy manual states, “An applicant may fail to show GMC if he or she engaged in unlawful voting or falsely claimed U.S. citizenship for purposes of registering to vote or voting.[v]” Under the current immigration laws, false claims to citizenship causes a permanent bar to admission to the U.S. since they cannot establish GMC. In addition, removal and imprisonment are possible.
Children may qualify for narrow exceptions to false claims to U.S. citizenship.
The Child Citizenship Act of 2000[vi] amended the Immigration and Nationality Act (“INA”), permitting citizenship in certain circumstances. While many children acquired U.S. citizenship from their parents under the new law, there can be confusion among families who thought their children were citizens when in fact, they were not. Under certain circumstances, a false claim to citizenship may not be a deportable offense. The following are some examples of excusable false claims: the child’s parents were U.S. citizens by birth or naturalization; the child’s false claim was made prior to reaching age 18; the child was a U.S. permanent resident prior reaching age 16; or where the child reasonably believed he or she was a U.S. citizen when the claim was made. Because the penalties for false claims are severe, questions about false claims and exceptions should be brought to a licensed and experienced immigration attorney. Indications of false claims can cause many problems for anyone involved in the naturalization process.
An experienced licensed immigration attorney can help noncitizens who are concerned they might have accidentally taken some action that could lead to a finding of a false claim of U.S. citizenship, or where a limited exception may apply to the false claims rules. Attorney KiKi M. Mosley is licensed to practice law by the State of Illinois and Louisiana. She is skilled and experienced in complex immigration law issues including false claims to U.S. citizenship. For more information about the law firm, please tap/click here to visit the rest of the website, and do not forget to “Like” the firm on Facebook and “Follow” on Twitter or Google Plus.
[iv] U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Policy Manual: Volume 12: Citizenship & Naturalization, Part D: General Naturalization Requirements, Chapter 9: Good Moral Character.
[v] U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Policy Manual: Volume 12: Citizenship & Naturalization, Part F: Good Moral Character, Chapter 5: Conditional Bars for Acts in Statutory Period.
[vi] U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services: U.S. Department of Justice Fact Sheet – The Child Citizenship Act of 2000.