A deeply jarring decision from the Board of Immigration Appeals came out late last month pertaining to the issue of false claims to US Citizenship. Under Section 237(a)(3)(D)(i) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, "an alien who falsely represents, or has falsely represented himself to be a citizen of the United States for any purpose or benefit under this Act (including section 274A) or any Federal or State law is deportable." What makes this case, Matter of Zhang, 27 I & N Dec. 569 (BIA 2019), interesting is that the Board held that a false claim need not necessarily be made knowingly in order to render an individual deportable. Here, Mr. Zhang purchased a naturalization certificate without having undergone the examination, and it was questionable as to whether he knowingly or unknowingly tried to circumvent the process. On appeal, Mr. Zhang maintained that he in good faith believed that he was a US citizen and argued that the government bore the burden of demonstrating that he made the false claim willfully or knowingly.
In its analysis, the BIA juxtaposed the deportability section with section 212(a)(6)(C)(i) of the Act, which covers the fraud ground of inadmissibility, which explicitly requires a knowing scienter. Looking at the "plain language" of the statute, the Board found no such requirement for the deportability provision. Consequently, a false claim need only be made for a purpose or benefit of the Act in order to trigger deportability, regardless of the subjective intent of the actor.
It is well settled that false claims to US citizenship are extremely difficult to overcome and pose, perhaps, the most formidable type of charge. This decision unfortunately arms immigration prosecutors with even stronger arguments to push forward with these types of cases and pursue removal against individuals who may have unwittingly or innocently made false claims-a very scary thought indeed.
The above is general information only and not intended as legal advice. It does not create an attorney client relationship, nor should it be relied in lieu of consultation with an attorney.