The Board of Immigration Appeals recently issued a sobering decision that underscores the importance of understanding your own immigration case and knowing what you are filing. In Matter of Valdez, 27 I&N Dec. 496 (BIA 2018), the Board discounted the appellant's claim that they should not be held accountable for false statements contained in their applications because they were not fully aware of what the preparer was asserting on their behalf. In the case of the Valdezes, their green card applications were approved on the basis of Mr. Valdez serving as a religious worker. However, Mr. Valdez never worked as a minister with the church that sponsored him. His defense in court was that English was not his native language and he did not understand or appreciate that his application contained false information. Neither the immigration court nor the BIA gave much credence to this argument. The BIA essentially held that ignorance of the contents of an application prepared by someone else does not absolve the applicant. When an individual has signed an immigration application, there is a strong presumption that the signer knows and understands what he/she is signing off on. In fact, "given the nature and significance of immigration documents...it is reasonable to expect that aliens will take steps to ascertain the accuracy of documents they sign and obtain a translation, if necessary." Eschewing reading or translation of an application's contents does not constitute a legitimate excuse. Of course, there are genuine instances where applicants were deceived and truly unaware of what was being filed for them. However, in order to overcome this strong presumption of knowledge, the onus is on the applicant to demonstrate fraud, deceit, or malfeasance.
This case is especially timely given the recent spate of asylum cases filed within the last two years. Amid the majority of legitimate claims filed in good faith, there are some which are essentially frivolous and intended to serve as a backdoor into immigration court where the applicant can then apply for cancellation of removal. (When an affirmative asylum case is denied, it is automatically referred to immigration court for further proceedings. It is only in immigration court, or removal proceedings, that an applicant can file for cancellation of removal.) These spurious cases are often filed by notarios, agents, and even some unscrupulous attorneys with full knowledge that the asylum claims are highly questionable or in some cases, not valid. Unfortunately, the actual clients do not, and wrongly believe that they are applying for green cards directly. Many simply have no idea what is being filed or what they are signing, fully relying on the preparer-to their detriment. What these individuals do not realize, until it is too late, that there are severe penalties for filing frivolous asylum applications; moreover, if they lose their bids for cancellation of removal, they will be ordered removed.
Unfortunately, this practice is not limited to asylum cases. In the case at hand, the falsities were contained in Forms G-325A and I-485 Adjustment of Status, very common immigration applications. Especially now, when there is such an emphasis on enforcement, it is critical that immigrants establish a proper relationship with qualified counsel. Since the applicant will be held ultimately responsible for what is on the application, individuals must understand the basis and content of what they are filing.
The above is general information only and not to be relied upon as legal advice. It does not create an attorney client relationship, nor should it be relied upon as legal advice in lieu of consultation with an attorney.