What is a considered to be a false claim to U.S. citizenship?

Making a false claim of U.S. citizenship is a federal criminal offense punished by 18 U.S.C.A. § 911. It is also a cause of inadmissibility and removability from the United States.

This offense has three essential elements:

  • There must be a false claim of being a U.S. citizen;
  • The claim must be made willfully, and
  • The false statement must be made to a person who has a legitimate reason to inquire into an individual's immigration or citizenship status.

This last element is not present in the statute, but was added by the U.S. Court of Appeal for the Ninth Circuit in U.S. v. Romero-Avila, 210 F.3d 1017 (2000).

A statement that one is a "citizen" without specifying "U.S." is not sufficient for a conviction under 18 U.S.C.A. § 911. Nor is sufficient a false statement regarding birth in the U.S., it does not automatically mean that one is a U.S. citizen.

Even if, as explained, a non-citizen may not be convicted of 18 U.S.C.A. § 911, he or she may still be subject to inadmissibility or deportability grounds.

There are limited exceptions and defenses against a false claim of U.S. citizenship.

One exception is for individuals that were residing in the U.S. before the age of 16, had at least 1 U.S. citizen parent, and made the misrepresentation in good faith because they reasonably believed they were U.S. citizens.

Another exception is for false claims of U.S. citizenship made before September 30, 1996. In cases like this a waiver under former INA § 212(i) may be available.

If you have been denied an immigration benefit because of a false claim of U.S. citizenship, you should speak to an immigration lawyer to see if any exception applies to your case, you can appeal the denial, or you can apply for a waiver.

Categories: Deportation
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