In the spectrum of Immigration violations, a false claim to U.S. citizenship might be the most underestimated. This is because it often occurs by a clerical error on a form and is rarely prosecuted as a criminal offense. Still, this offense carries enormous consequences under U.S. immigration law, and can result in removal proceedings or ineligibility to obtain lawful immigration status.
Foreign nationals might make a “false claim” in a number of ways. Presenting a fake U.S. document when trying to enter is an intentional false claim, but the misrepresentation is not always this obvious. Some immigrants accidentally register to vote on a driver’s license form. The most commonly detected false claim occurs by checking the wrong box on the Form I-9 Employment Eligibility Verification, when starting new employment. Whether this is done accidentally, intentionally to work without authorization, or by an employer who checks the box themselves and has the employee simply sign the form, the consequences to the immigrant can be severe. The government considers the receipt of employment to be an “immigration benefit”. This is significant because if a false claim on an I-9 form is uncovered at the time of adjudicating an otherwise valid application for permanent residence, it can result in “inadmissibility” and denial of the green card. Moreover, a false claim to U.S. citizenship is listed as a specific ground of removal in the Immigration and Nationality Act. Additionally, inadmissibility or removability due to a false claim cannot be waived as easily as other types of misrepresentation.
The consequences of this seemingly minor offense can surface years after the actual false claim, and there are very limited defenses within the Immigration law. The best course of action is to avoid making a false claim to U.S. citizenship, and to immediately retract or correct the error if one has been made on any official forms or government records.
Given the harsh penalties of such a misrepresentation under current Immigration law, and with comprehensive immigration reform possibly on the horizon, it is important that foreign nationals are aware of the consequences and avoid making false claims to U.S. citizenship.