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The Golden Door

News and views on immigration law

Posts Tagged ‘immigration’

Fraud or misrepresentation – a small mistake can derail a case

Friday, March 29th, 2013

I recently finished an adjustment of status case which should have been straight-forward.  It involved an elderly couple, both originally from Jamaica.  They had been married for decades, then divorced after wife moved to the United States and they grew apart.  She re-married, to a U.S. citizen, and got her permanent resident status and then her U.S. citizenship.  Her second marriage ended several years later, and several years after that she and her first husband grew close again and re-married.  She then applied for him to obtain his permanent resident status.

They were represented by prior counsel.  Everything seemed fine until they attended the adjustment of status interview.  At the interview, the officer asked about husband’s tourist visa application from 10 years ago.  Apparently, husband, who was recently divorced from wife at that time, had checked the “married” rather than the “divorced” box.  This was deemed by USCIS to be a fraud or misrepresentation and the adjustment of status application was denied.

“Fraud” or “misrepresentation” are words that you do not want to hear from USCIS.  They are definitely a sign that your application is in trouble, because it makes you inadmissible and/or deportable.  Luckily, “fraud” or “misrepresentation” are not as adverse a bar to obtaining immigration benefits as a false claim of U.S. citizenship, which is an immutable (non-waivable) bar unless you fall into a very narrow exception.  Still, it’s a very serious matter.

In this case, husband was illiterate and had not completed his visa application himself.  A stranger waiting in line with him at the visa office helped him.  So the first response to the charge of fraud or misrepresentation should have been that he had no intent to deceive and, further, the alleged deception would not have helped him get his visa.  Had he been married, as indicated on the visa application, to a U.S. lawful permanent resident, as his then ex-wife was by this time, this would have been an adverse factor in his visa application.  This is because having strong ties to the U.S., such as to a lawful permanent resident spouse, weighs against being able to establish strong ties to your home country, a condition of being issued a tourist visa.  So this misrepresentation would not have helped him get his visa approved.

Even had husband deliberately intended to deceive in his visa application, a waiver of this ground of inadmissibility is available if you can demonstrate that denial of the adjustment of status application would result in extreme hardship to a U.S. citizen spouse.  In this case, both husband and wife had serious health problems.  Husband was frail and in severe ill health.  In fact, he had suffered a serious medical emergency in Jamaica the last time he was there from which he could easily have died.  Part of what made that event so life-threatening was that after he arrived at the hospital he was not treated for 16 hours while the hospital demanded upfront payment for treatment.  If he were forced to return to Jamaica then the next time he needed acute medical care he would face the same lack of prompt service and he would be allowed to die waiting for care.  Deportation to Jamaica would be a death sentence.

Prior counsel in the case did not dispute the finding of fraud or misrepresentation, or submit information about husband’s or wife’s medical conditions and medical history.  In fact, the only thing prior counsel submitted to argue hardship was statements from husband and wife, and their friends and family, that they loved each other and had for decades, and now were reunited and could not bear to live apart.  Not good enough.

Long story short, I disputed that husband deliberately misrepresented his marital status, and we submitted medical records and information about hospital conditions in Jamaica, and the case was approved.  What really helped, I believe, was to show the human costs in the case.  This was an elderly man who would have died the next time he needed emergency medical care in Jamaica.  That would have caused an extreme hardship to his wife.

 

The pitfalls of the K-1 fiance visa: Consular nonreviewability

Friday, February 15th, 2013

Sometimes the law makes no sense. Sometimes it is unjust.

Take the case of consular processing for K-1 visas. For immigration neophytes, consular processing occurs when the intending immigrant is not physically in the United States and, thus, the individual must request a visa to lawfully enter the country. The visa application process is handled, usually, by the U.S. Department of State rather than the US. Citizenship and Immigration Services (“USCIS”), part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

In my experience, consular processing of family based immigration is rife with opportunities for visa offices to exercise bias and apply inconsistent standards. That is because there is no system of external oversight for visa issuance decisions. The K-1 visa, where the applicant is a foreign national whose only tie to the United States is that he or she is engaged to marry a U.S. citizen, is particularly vulnerable to such abuses.

A K-1 visa case came to me, after the fiancée of the immigrant had filed the I-129F petition pro se, after the petition had been approved by USCIS, after applicant had the visa interview, and then… nothing. No news, no decision. Ten months after the visa interview in Kabul, Afghanistan, I started work on the case, requesting a decision or some direction as to what concerns were holding up the application. Unfortunately, due to a rule known as the doctrine of consular nonreviewability, there was no way to require a U.S. Department of State visa office to justify either its lack of action or rejection of a visa application. We cannot get a federal court to force a decision, because the courts will defer to the U.S. Department of State under this doctrine. The only way to get past this judicial deference to visa decisions is to prove that the visa office acted in bad faith, an impossibility in the vast majority of cases. This is because the applicant has no information from the visa office, much less information about what evidence the decision is actually based upon.

The rationale for the deference, according to visa decisions under the doctrine of consular nonreviewability, is that the United States government has broad powers to determine who it permits to enter its borders, and decisions to deny admission to foreign nationals, barring bad faith, will not be second-guessed by the courts. This sounds somewhat rational until you play out the consequences. The procedures used to evaluate applications lack transparency. While the Foreign Affairs Manual (the U.S. Department of State's operating manual) references the statutory and regulatory requirements for reviewing visa applications, it leaves broad discretion to the visa officer to make credibility determinations. In practice, denial letters never tell you why exactly the application was rejected, except to conclude that you failed to prove that you have a real relationship. In other instances, you may have failed to prove sufficiently strong ties to your home country (for tourist visas). There is no meaningful appeal process for such denials. When I have filed appeals to the U.S. Department of State visa office in the past, the result has been a pro forma affirmation, with no response to the mistakes in fact. Plus, there is no appeal of that decision, particularly no judicial appeal. The result is that applicants are denied permission to enter the United States, without the right to present additional evidence to rebut the grounds of the denial. That’s because our right of Due Process does not to apply to foreign nationals residing abroad. Apparently, it also does not matter that U.S. citizens are also deprived of due process as a consequence of the visa denial.

In my Afghan K-1 visa case, my client and her fiancée had participated in a ceremonial wedding and signed a nekah, a Muslim marriage contract, while waiting for the K-1 visa to be approved. Under Afghan law, the nekah must be registered with the family court and a marriage certificate must be issued by that court before a legal marriage is created. More than a year and a half after the visa interview, and over two years after the application was filed, my client's K-1 petition was denied because my client and her fiancée were deemed to already be married.

In my Afghan K-1 visa case, my client and her fiance had participated in a ceremonial wedding and signed a nekah, a Muslim marriage contract, while waiting for the K-1 visa to be approved.  Under Afghan law, the nekah must be registered with the family court and a marriage certificate issued by that court before a legal marriage is created.  More than a year and a half after the visa interview, and over two years after the application was filed, my client’s K-1 petition was denied because my client and her fiance were deemed to already be married.

Had my client filed an I-130 Petition for Alien Relative and attempted to bring her fiancée to the United States based on the same facts, that petition would have be denied for lack of proof of a valid, legal marriage, according to the Kabul U.S. Embassy website. Thus, this was a classic Catch-22 situation.

I had already pointed out the facts of the case and the applicable Afghan law of marriage to the Kabul visa office, pointing out that a wedding without a legal marriage had taken place and that the same standard should be applied for an I-130 petition as an I-129F petition in evaluating whether a legal marriage existed. The visa denial did not address any of my points.

The current state of the law accords deference to visa decisions under the doctrine of consular nonreviewability. Due to this long-standing doctrine, courts refuse to demand any sort of accounting in visa decisions. It is past time to scrap this outdated rule that allows bias and abuse to occur under the guise of protecting our borders. While I agree that the United States should have broad authority to decide who is eligible to enter the country, once the statutory and regulatory rules are enacted that define the limits of this authority, these rules should be followed. There should be a mechanism to evaluate that the statutes and regulations are, indeed, followed by visa offices. Under the doctrine of consular nonreviewability, there is no way to require visa offices to identify the evidence relied upon in issuing a denial. Thus, applicants are left stranded without any avenue for appeal or external review. In my Afghan visa case, my client is left without the ability to live with her fiancée in the United States. She is forced to confront the choice of moving to Afghanistan or some other country that will accept both her and her fiancée as residents with the right to work.

Prisons and immigration enforcement

Monday, October 1st, 2012

Here’s an enlightening article about the costs of incarceration and, incidentally, how much increased immigration detention has contributed to the coffers of the private companies that run prisons:  “Prison Break.”

The increased emphasis on immigration enforcement means keeping more people detained, which is a costly endeavor, both in money and human costs, as illustrated on this page of the Detention Watch Network website.

And for those interested in learning more about the state of immigration detention – which is supposed to be merely detention, not punishment, because individuals are held while their status is determined, NOT because they are found guilty of any crime – here’s a report on the use of solitary confinement in immigration detention:  Invisible-in-Isolation-Sep2012-detention. (See the Executive Summary for a quick overview of the findings.)

There’s lots more about this issue.  These three sources are just an introduction.

Dos Erres: An international investigation impacting citizenship and asylum

Friday, September 28th, 2012

This is a lengthy but fascinating read:  “Finding Oscar:  Massacre, Memory and Justice in Guatemala.”

It is about a massacre committed by an army unit in Guatemala in 1982, and two young boys who survived the massacre because they were taken by soldiers responsible for the massacres and raised by the soldiers’ families.  One boy, three years old at the time, ended up as an undocumented immigrant in Massachusetts.  He now has a family of his own with three children.

The investigation into the massacre in the United States involved prosecuting a former Guatemalan soldier who became a U.S. citizen.  Because that man lied on his naturalization application about being in the military and about committing crimes, he was subject to prosecution for criminal violations of U.S. immigration law.  Because of jurisdiction and statute of limitations issues he could not be prosecuted by U.S. law enforcement for the actual crimes in Guatemala, and so the immigration violations were what got him in the end.  (Here’s an example I can use when counseling clients about the consequences of lying on your naturalization application!)  He was sentenced to the maximum sentence of 10 years imprisonment.

The boy, now a 33 year old man, Oscar Alfredo Ramirez Castaneda – an amalgamation of his birth and adoptive names, was granted political asylum because if he returned to Guatemala he is living proof that the massacre occurred and a target of dangerous people who want to cover that up.

This is a fascinating look at how a major investigation involved the governments of at least three countries:  Guatemala, the United States, and Canada.  If you have half an hour to spare, check it out.

Asian exceed Latinos in immigration to the United States

Monday, September 3rd, 2012

You may have noticed it yourself — the number of documented Asian immigrants to the United States has exceeded that of Latino immigrants.  A recent Pew study has documented the numbers.  The study finds that the current crop of Asian immigrants tends to be both better educated than other immigrant groups and better educated than their peers in their home countries.  Asian immigrants also will be more likely to enter the United States through employment-based immigrant petitions than other immigrant groups.

Although my family entered the United States on a family immigrant petition, my mother, who was a computer programmer knowledgeable in Pascal, COBOL, and ADABAS-Natural – computer languages highly sought after in the United States in the late eighties and early nineties – was also a potential candidate for an employment-based immigrant petition.  In other ways my family fits the trend documented by the Pew Study.  My father has a medical degree, my mother a law degree.  My brother and I were too young to have accumulated advanced degrees at the time we came to the United States, but I eventually got my bachelor’s and law degree, and my brother has a bachelor’s and a master’s and is working on a second master’s.  My parents and I were recently mentioned, among others, in a Philadelphia Inquirer article about the changing trend in immigration.

However, trends can sometimes obscure individual realities, and serve as a convenient excuse to ignore vulnerable, needy populations.  While currently arriving immigrants from Asian countries may include a high proportion of highly skilled and educated individuals, this does not mean that all Asian immigrants are so well off that they do not need help and outreach.  Asian immigration over the history of America has included waves of laborers and refugees as well as educated professionals.  Refugee populations in particular can be particularly vulnerable when learning how to live in a new country.  Refugees generally do not arrive in an orderly, planned fashion, bringing with them money and resources and perhaps English language ability already.  Refugees can arrive in a new country with a few meager belongings, few or no relatives with them or already in place to support them, few work skills, limited education, and not knowing how to speak the language of their new home.  Asian refugees often come from Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Burma, Indonesia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and East Timor.

Refugees are displaced people.  People who can no longer live in their home countries for fear of losing their lives or those of family members.  They often need intensive support services from government, private non-profit agencies, and informal community networks to adapt well to their new homes.  Sometimes support services are available, and sometimes they are not, and refugees have to make do.  It may not be too surprising then, that some Asian immigrants, especially those from refugee backgrounds, still struggle to get by and still need support services.

While I am glad to think that more and more of the incoming Asian immigrants today are highly skilled and educated, and will probably become valued and sought-after employees and dynamic entrepreneurs, I know from personal experience that this is just one facet of Asian immigration.  Like most things in life, while labels and categories are convenient to help organize our thinking, they should be a guide only, and not become rigid walls that stop us from recognizing the real factors that affect people’s lives.

A tribute to a Vietnamese mother on Mother’s Day

Sunday, May 13th, 2012

One of my favorite news magazines is The Week.  I was an early subscriber, when it was a very slim compilation of the week’s news, opinions, and reviews  from diverse sources, and had very few ads.  It has bulked up since then – mostly with ads, but still retains its essential character of delivering relevant snapshots of what’s happened in the past week.

This week, The Week excerpted some tributes to mothers from This I Believe (“The invaluable weight of a mother’s gifts”), a collection of essays from youths and adults about their core va;ies and beliefs.  The third story is about a single mother of two little girls who set off to escape Communist Vietnam, and the courage it took to make that decision and see it through to completion – acceptance into the United States as political refugees, and building new lives here.  For those of us who were once boat people ourselves it will bring back poignant, wrenching memories of journeys marked by fear, uncertainty, and also strength and bravery.  For others, it will provide a glimpse into what it means to be part of the Vietnamese diaspora known as the “Boat People.”

Words matter: unauthorized immigrant versus criminal alien invader

Tuesday, November 1st, 2011

Being a practicing immigration attorney and someone who routinely interacts with immigrant communities on a pro bono basis, certain themes and questions recur in my experience of dealing with immigrants and the policy issues that immigration law raises.

One recurring theme that may seem technical and boring but  plays out in important ways is the status of immigration as civil rather than criminal law.  Immigration violations are not generally criminal violations, and thus foreign nationals who fail to maintain their lawful immigration status or who enter the country without permission are not per se criminals.  Although in the past I have tried to equate immigration violations to other civil penalties like a parking violation such as an expired meter, or not maintaining a proper business license or zoning permit, such as running a hair salon on property zoned for office use, this never felt accurate.

The fact is, an immigration violation is a different animal than a parking or zoning violation.  Although each type of regulatory regime – immigration, motor vehicle, and zoning – purports to regulate individuals for the greater public good, regulation of the use of personal property such as cars or regulation of the use of real property is different from regulation of where people can live and work.  The latter regulatory scheme can have a much more significant impact on people’s lives, controlling whether you can live with your spouse if you happen to fall in love transnationally, or whether you can work for a company that is more attractive to you than those in your home country.  Immigration laws have prevented clients of mine from attending a wedding in the United States, from working for a mom-and-pop business where the owners want to bring a foreign-national family member into the workforce, and from living in the United States with a foreign-national spouse.  Immigration laws have mandated the deportation of clients who have lived here since early childhood, established families here and sunk down deep roots here such that being returned to their “home” country would be akin to moving to a foreign country.

In addition to the way that immigration law regulates where foreign nationals can live in this country and whether they can can lawfully work here, once a foreign national falls out of lawful immigration status (or maybe never had lawful immigration status) he or she can be “detained,” a watered-down way of saying “thrown in jail.”  Although immigration detention is supposedly merely a means to an end, that is, making sure that the detainee is available for deportation if warranted, detention is a punishment – taking away an individual’s freedom – that is criminal in nature.  Some immigrant detainees are even housed with a prison’s criminal population.  Being detained means you don’t have  access to your important documents and cannot collect evidence to help build your case for relief from deportation but rather must rely on the goodness in the hearts of friends or family to act for you, and the effectiveness of your attorney.

But immigration laws in America maintain the fiction that detention is a civil penalty, and thus detainees do not have the rights of criminal defendants such as the right to counsel, regardless of ability to pay, or the right to confront adverse witnesses.  It’s a Catch-22.  You can be treated as a criminal, demonized as an “illegal” human, but once you are in custody the fact that immigration is a civil scheme of laws is used as the reason why you cannot claim such rights as are routine for criminal defendants.

Another recurring question in immigration is what to call foreign nationals who are present in America without proper authorization.  Some of these foreign nationals entered the country lawfully but then overstayed their temporary visas.  Others entered unlawfully, bypassing all checkpoints.  Others lost their permanent resident status due to a variety of reasons, including criminal convictions, findings of fraud on their original applications, etc.  If you an advocate for immigrants, you refer to this population as “undocumented immigrants” or “unauthorized immigrants” or, simply, people “without papers.”  If you feel that unlawful immigration is a scourge that is dragging our country down, you call this population “illegal aliens” or, more dehumanizingly, “alien invaders.” These latter labels suggest that this whole population becomes something to be eliminated, end of discussion.

Words matter.  Someone without papers is a very different person than an alien invader.  A person without papers can exist in a broad range of circumstances, and can be a good person or a bad person, or, like most of us, a complicated combination of characteristics, some admirable, others not.  An alien invader or an illegal alien is a person – or rather a thing, a criminal, a bad element – that should be summarily ejected, and need not be treated with basic human decency.  If we label this population “illegal” aliens, why do we not call parking violators “illegal” drivers and zoning violators “illegal” business owners?  The use of the word “illegal” acts to deem the entire person “illegal,” and therefore disposable, rather than just the person’s actions.  There is a difference between being unlawfully present and being an illegal human being.

De Hieu Tran – another immigration scam artist

Thursday, November 11th, 2010

On August 12, 2010, a 42-year-old Vietnamese man was arrested in Kentwood, Michigan, for falsely holding himself out to be a U.S. Marine and ICE officer, and for scamming the local Vietnamese community for immigration benefits. Only a licensed immigration lawyer or BIA accredited representative can perform this kind of service, and people seeking citizenship should be cautious when choosing their help in order to avoid scams like this.

De Hieu Tran was ordered deported in 2002, but instead of going back to Vietnam it appears that Tran used his experience with the immigration system to trick other Vietnamese into paying him money to deliver immigration benefits. Tran is accused of accepting large cash payments in return for his promises to get his ‘clients’ their “immigration paperwork” and “expedite their becoming naturalized United States citizens.”

Reports indicate that Tran has never served in any U.S. military branch nor been employed by ICE (ICE generally doesn’t employ deportees). Tran is reported to have even gone so far as to wear a Purple Heart, the military award given for being wounded or killed in combat, to impress his victims. When he was arrested, he was wearing a U.S. military flight suit with a USMC captain insignia. This raises the question, for me, of why he would bother. What real Marine goes about his or her civilian life routinely dressed in uniform? Did he think that being in uniform would make his claims of being able to deliver immigration benefits in exchange for money more believable? Apparently it worked, as reports indicate that Tran received thousands of dollars from at least four Vietnamese nationals for his ‘help.’ His victims thought they were paying a bribe for special, fast-track treatment, such as getting citizenship less than five years after becoming a permanent resident.

While Tran himself is a fine example of what you DO NOT want your children to grow up to be, I find that I also have little sympathy for his ‘victims.’ They bought into his promises of special treatment in return for a bribe. They wanted to jump the line and thought that they could buy their way in. Let me just say, to anyone thinking of taking a ‘shortcut’ by lying or falsifying documents, sure, there’s a chance you might get away with it, and get your citizenship a little sooner. After all, immigration officials are only human. They don’t know everything, and sometimes make mistakes. If you’re caught, however, you not only risk jail time and fines, but also losing whatever rights to immigration benefits you had before.

Applying for immigration benefits can be costly, time-consuming, and frustrating, and the process is often easier with the help of an immigration lawyer.  Believe me, I know this. I know it better than most people. Sometimes the law doesn’t make much sense. But if you don’t respect the law as it exists, and try to go around it for your sole, selfish benefit, please don’t expect to get any sympathy when you get caught. Not only do you do a disservice to yourself and your family, but you also do a disservice to the other members of your community, who must now deal with the bad reputation that your actions will bring upon them. When in doubt as to the law or your options, choose an experienced immigration lawyer to help you address your problems the right way.

Djung Tran, Esq.

Tran Law Associates

834 Chestnut Street #206
Philadelphia, PA 19107
(215) 690-1933

Double jeopardy if your father, rather than your mother, is a U.S. citizen

Sunday, October 3rd, 2010

In law school, I remember reading Nguyen v. INS (U.S. 2001).  This was an immigration case in which a young man, born out of wedlock in Vietnam to a U.S. citizen father and a Vietnamese mother and who had lived in the United States since he was six, was ordered deported after being convicted of sexual assault of a child.  As an immigration lawyer, the case stayed with me because the petitioner was Vietnamese, like me, and the gender discrimination issue was a thorny one to grapple with.

The young man at the heart of Nguyen v. INS, Tuan Anh Nguyen, had uncontested legal permanent resident status, but only citizenship status would save him from deportation.  The law at the time of Nguyen’s birth imposed different requirements for unwed U.S. citizen fathers to transmit citizenship to their children than for unwed U.S. citizen mothers.  For the record, the requirements for unwed fathers and unwed mothers are still different under current law, but to a lesser degree.  In Nguyen’s case, for an unwed father to transmit citizenship to his child, the father must have resided in the United States for a total period of at least five years at the time of the child’s birth, with at least two of those years being after the father turned 16.  In addition, the father had to meet a number of other conditions, one of which was to establish the paternity of the child before that child turned 18.  It was this particular requirement that prevented Nguyen from establishing his U.S. citizenship through parentage, as Nguyen’s father did not take this step until after Nguyen turned 18.  Had Nguyen’s mother been the U.S. citizen, rather than his father, she would only have needed to have resided in the United States for 12 continuous months at the time of his birth to transmit citizenship to him.  Nguyen challenged the higher standard for unwed fathers to transmit citizenship as violating Equal Protection.

The Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision, held that, pursuant to an intermediate scrutiny standard, the different treatment of unwed mothers and fathers did not violate Equal Protection.  The majority, in a less-than-convincing opinion, justified the different treatment of unwed mothers and fathers based on (1) the fact that women give birth makes it reasonable to require that fathers provide some additional proof to establish paternity; and (2) the fact that women give birth gives mothers a greater opportunity to develop a meaningful parent-child relationship with their children than fathers with their children.

The end result was that Nguyen is not a U.S. citizen and presumably was deported to Vietnam, even though he had not lived there since he was six years old.

This term, the Supreme Court will be deciding another immigration gender discrimination case in which the ability of unwed U.S. fathers to transmit citizenship to their children is again held to a higher standard than for unwed U.S. mothers.  In Flores-Villar v. United States, another young man faces deportation even though his father is a U.S. citizen.  Ruben Flores-Villar came to the United States at two months of age and has lived here ever since.  He was first ordered deported for an importation of marijuana conviction.  He kept coming back home, however (imagine that!), and kept being re-deported.  Finally, during the seventh deportation proceeding, Flores-Villar raised the defense that he is a citizen because the different rules for transmission of citizenship for unwed mothers and unwed fathers violates Equal Protection.

In Flores-Villar’s case, the applicable statutory provision that prevents him from being a U.S. citizen by parentage is the requirement, for unwed U.S. citizen fathers, that the father have resided in the United States for at least five years after the age of 14.  This effectively means that men could not transmit citizenship to any children they had before the age of 19, as it would be chronologically impossible to accumulate this five-year residency requirement before turning 19 years old.  Flores-Villar’s father was 16 when he was born.  Had Flores-Villar’s mother been the U.S. citizen, though, she would only have needed to have resided in the United States for a period of 12 continuous months to transmit citizenship.

The United States is arguing that the lowered standard for unwed mothers is aimed at preventing the creation of stateless children, that is, children who can claim no nationality and thus can claim no country’s protection.  This is based on the fact that in some countries a child born to an unwed mother is treated as having the nationality of the mother, rather than the nationality of the country of birth.  If the United States were to make it difficult for an unwed U.S. citizen mother to transmit citizenship to her child then there might be a lot of children out there who don’t have U.S. citizenship but also don’t have the citizenship of the country in which they were born.  One might then ask, why put up any roadblocks to this goal by mandating time-in-residency requirements for either unwed mothers or unwed fathers?  But another competing policy consideration from the government’s standpoint is to ensure that children who receive U.S. citizenship through a parent have some ties to the United States, and the solution to this concern appears to be the requirement that the parent has spent some time living here.  The question is, does the goal of reducing the potential for stateless children justify the different treatment of unwed fathers’ versus unwed mothers’ ability to transmit U.S. citizenship?

With Flores-Villar, I can at least see both sides of the legal arguments:  the Supreme Court is being asked to weigh the government’s purported interest in preventing the children of unwed mothers from being deemed stateless against the resulting discrimination against unwed fathers.  What I find particularly troubling is the result that no unwed father under the age of 19 can transmit U.S. citizenship, while unwed mothers of any age can.  This creates an unacceptable risk of creating stateless children of unwed U.S. fathers and this provision should be struck, if nothing else.  It should not be impossible for a U.S. citizen to transmit citizenship to his children based solely on his age at the time of the child’s birth.

In Nguyen, the Court’s reasoning that the biological fact of birth makes it easier to determine maternity than paternity and, further, makes unwed mothers more likely to form a stable, lasting relationship with their children than unwed fathers is outdated and sexist.  DNA testing and evolving parental roles make it ever less likely that men who want to help their children claim U.S. citizenship by parentage will not actually be the biological fathers of these children and not be integrally involved in their children’s lives.  In addition, the lower standard for unwed mothers allows women to have much less established relationships with their children and yet still be able to transmit U.S. citizenship.  This discrepancy allows the identified goal of ensuring that a child has sufficient ties to the United States to fall by the wayside when it is the mother transmitting citizenship.

But putting aside the legal arguments, what is at stake here is that individuals whose only known home country is the United States, and who have committed crimes but served their time, are being forced into exile, and even an immigration lawyer cannot help them in such a case.  Had their mothers been U.S. citizens instead of their fathers, they would not be subject to deportation.  It must seem bizarre to Nguyen and Flores-Villar and to everyone else in this situation that such a twist in some obscure immigration law can have such a profound effect on their lives.  It’s like being subject to double jeopardy, being punished for your crime and then deported, but only if your father were the U.S. citizen parent.  Having your mother be the U.S. citizen parent is like the get-out-of-jail-free card.

Deportation of foreign nationals who come here as adults and commit serious crimes is a necessary tool in policing our communities.  But the deportation of those who came here as young children and who have the strongest ties to communities here in the United States, while serving to get rid of people with unsavory criminal histories, also devastates the U.S. communities to which these individuals belong.  And keep in mind that the deportee will find himself or herself a stranger in a strange land, more than likely without the support of a caring community.  What kind of new life will the deportee build?  Is this really what we want to be doing?

Djung Tran, Esq.

Tran Law Associates