Articles Posted in Citizenship

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flagsApplying for immigration benefits involves a substantial amount of paperwork, and it requires close and careful attention to detail. While mistakes can cause delays and other difficulties in an application, outright falsehoods have far worse consequences. The Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) affirmed a removal order last year based, in part, on a finding that the respondent falsely represented himself as a U.S. citizen. Matter of Richmond, Int. Dec. 3867, 26 I&N Dec. 779 (BIA 2016). A key question before the BIA was whether a person’s intent in making a false statement is relevant.

The Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) provides a lengthy list of grounds for inadmissibility, including health problems, criminal activity, and national security concerns. Prospective immigrants with a history of immigration violations may also be deemed inadmissible. This includes someone “who falsely represents, or has falsely represented, [themselves] to be a citizen of the United States for any purpose or benefit under [the INA] or any other Federal or State law.” 8 U.S.C. § 1182(a)(6)(C)(ii)(I). The words “purpose or benefit” are important.

According to the BIA’s ruling, the respondent in Richmond is a citizen of Trinidad and Tobago, who entered the U.S. on a nonimmigrant visa in May 2001. After a conviction for second-degree assault—which was later overturned on appeal—the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) brought removal proceedings. It alleged that he was deportable for overstaying his visa under 8 U.S.C. § 1227(a)(1)(B) and for a conviction of an aggravated felony under § 1227(a)(2)(A)(iii).

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By LaNicoya- (http://www.flickr.com/photos/lanicoya_/1721626888/) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia CommonsU.S. immigration law does not provide a specific definition of “citizen.” The Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution identifies as a citizen anyone born in the U.S., except for children of foreign diplomats, and anyone naturalized after their birth. Since this is still not a distinct definition, U.S. citizenship is perhaps better described as a set of rights and duties, including the duty of loyalty to this country. Some people who become naturalized U.S. citizens retain citizenship in their country of origin. The U.S. Department of State (DOS) does not encourage dual citizenship, but the Supreme Court has held that it is permissible despite language in federal immigration statutes suggesting otherwise. Immigrants who wish to become naturalized U.S. citizens should consider the effect it might have on their relationship to their country of origin, and their future relationship to this country.

The Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) defines a “national” as “a person owing permanent allegiance to a state.” 8 U.S.C. § 1101(a)(21). It defines a “national of the United States” as someone who meets the previous definition with regard to the U.S., or who is a U.S. citizen. Id. at § 1101(a)(22). Congress has modified the laws regarding citizenship in, or allegiance to, more than one country on numerous occasions. Currently, the INA states that a person seeking to become a naturalized U.S. citizen must take an “oath of renunciation and allegiance,” which includes a statement that they “renounce and abjure absolutely and entirely all allegiance and fidelity” to any other country. Id. at § 1448(a)(3).

While a renunciation of allegiance to any other country is a requirement for naturalization, the INA does not provide a clear means of enforcing this oath. It states that both native-born and naturalized citizens can lose their U.S. nationality by “voluntarily…obtaining naturalization in a foreign state upon his own application,” serving in the military of a country “engaged in hostilities against the United States,” and other voluntary acts. Id. at §§ 1481(a)(1), (3). This does not, however, address most situations in which a naturalized citizen continues to avail themselves of citizenship in another country.

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USGC [Public domain], via Wikimedia CommonsThe current election season has seen a great deal of rhetoric regarding immigration, citizenship, and what it means to be an American. Most of the recent discussion has centered on questions like how many immigrants to admit to the country, and how to deal with undocumented entry. As the arguments grow heated, it is worth taking a step back and looking at how this country’s laws define terms like “citizen,” and how “we the people” fit together as a nation.

Federal law does not have one, distinct definition of a “citizen” of the United States. Rather, it is a collection of rights and obligations obtained by birth or by naturalization. U.S. Const. Amdt. XIV, § 1. “Birthright citizenship” refers to the principle that anyone born within the United States is automatically a citizen. A U.S. citizen is generally considered a citizen of both the United States as a whole and the state in which they reside. The rights of citizenship include travel to and from the U.S., consular services while abroad, and voting in local, state, and national elections. Obligations include payment of taxes and service on juries.

For the purposes of U.S. immigration law, a “state” includes the fifty U.S. states (i.e. Alabama through Wyoming), the District of Columbia, and the U.S. territories of Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. 8 U.S.C. § 1101(a)(36). Anyone born within these geographic areas, as well as other areas during a time when they were territorial holdings of the U.S., is deemed to have birthright citizenship. 8 U.S.C. §§ 1401-07. Children born to U.S. citizens outside of the territorial jurisdiction of the U.S. are generally also considered birthright citizens, or may obtain that status. 8 U.S.C. §§ 1431, 1433.
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German,_British,_American_warships_in_Apia_harbour,_Samoa_1899.jpgAn ongoing court battle illustrates the complex definition of “citizenship” in the United States. The general understanding of U.S. citizenship is that anyone born on U.S. soil is a citizen by birth, and that others can petition the government to become naturalized U.S. citizens. The question is more complicated, however, for people born in certain areas that are, technically, “U.S. soil.” People born in U.S. territories are not necessarily guaranteed citizenship by birth.

American Samoa is an “insular area” of the United States, meaning that it is not part of a state or federal district. The U.S. acquired it through a treaty with Germany in 1899. The Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) defines it as an “outlying possession of the United States.” 8 U.S.C. § 1101(a)(29). People born in American Samoa are classified as “nationals” of the United States, not citizens. 8 U.S.C. § 1408(1). The same is not the case for people born in certain other U.S. territories, such as Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Five people born in American Samoa filed suit for declaratory and injunctive relief, arguing in part that the INA’s denial of citizenship rights to the people of American Samoa violates the Citizenship Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The district court dismissed the plaintiffs’ complaint, finding that they had failed to state a claim on which it could grant relief. Tuatua v. United States, 951 F.Supp. 88 (D.D.C. 2013). The case is currently on appeal to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.
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Samoa_Cram_Map_1896.jpgThe Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution defines a “citizen” as anyone “born or naturalized in the United States.” The U.S. did not have a single, uniform system for naturalization until the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) of 1952, which forms the backbone of today’s federal immigration laws. The “born in the United States” part of the Citizenship Clause, however, is more complicated than it might appear with regard to certain U.S. territories.

While the U.S. never had a colonial empire like Spain or the United Kingdom, it continues to hold several territories acquired in the 19th and 20th centuries. About four million people live in five “unincorporated territories” of the United States. The U.S. took control of Puerto Rico and Guam from Spain after the Spanish-American War in 1898, acquired American Samoa through an 1899 treaty with Germany, purchased the U.S. Virgin Islands from Denmark in 1917, and took over the Northern Mariana Islands from Japan after World War II in 1945. Each territory elects a non-voting delegate to the U.S. House of Representatives but has no representation in the Senate and no electoral votes in presidential elections.

These territories are classified as “unincorporated organized territories” (UOTs), except for American Samoa, which is an “unincorporated unorganized territory” (UUT). They are also known as “insular areas,” which are not part of a U.S. state or federal district. The term “unincorporated” means that the U.S. Supreme Court has held that the Constitution does not fully apply in those territories. The term “organized” means that Congress has enacted a body of laws to govern the territory—albeit with no electoral input from the territory’s residents. See, e.g. 48 U.S.C. Sec. 731 et seq. (Puerto Rico). American Samoa has no organic act. See 48 U.S.C. Sec. 1661 et seq.
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Usnaturalization.jpgThe New York Times reported the story of a man who came to the United States from Pakistan as a child, faced possible deportation several times, and finally became a U.S. citizen after years of waiting. Mohammad Sarfaraz Hussain came to the U.S. with his mother, and remained here after she died. He became fully “Americanized,” according to the Times, but the nation’s response to the events of September 11, 2001 put him and others in a difficult position. He was required to register with the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS), a now-defunct program created as part of the “War on Terror.” He avoided deportation and obtained asylum. By enduring some of the worst the immigration system has to offer and becoming a citizen, Hussain offers quite the success story.

According to the Times story, Hussain’s uncle, a physician in Queens, New York, petitioned for an immigrant visa for his sister, Hussain’s mother. As her minor son, Hussain would share her immigrant status. While the petition was pending, she was diagnosed with cancer and traveled to the U.S. on a tourist visa for treatment, bringing eight year-old Hussain with her. Hussain’s mother died in New York, and he overstayed his visa to remain with his uncle. His father died of a heart attack in Pakistan when he was fifteen. Another relative petitioned for an immigrant visa for Hussain, but the September 11 attacks occurred while it was pending.

The Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), the predecessor to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), created NSEERS in 2002. The program required certain nationals or citizens of various countries in the Middle East, North Africa, and South Asia to register with INS. This included male nationals of Pakistan who were over the age of fifteen at the time. 67 Fed. Reg. 77136 (Dec. 16, 2002). NSEERS was heavily criticized as a form of racial profiling that was both offensive and ineffective. The Department of Homeland Security began scaling the program back as early as 2003, and effectively ended it in 2011. Hussain registered with NSEERS in early 2003, and managed to avoid deportation when massive public support led ICE, which had by then replaced INS, to exercise “prosecutorial discretion” and dismiss the case.
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Us-passport.jpgThe U.S. Department of State (DOS) announced a significant increase in the fee it charges to process renunciations of U.S. citizenship. The DOS states in its Interim Rule, published in the Federal Register on August 28, 2014, that processing expatriations is both costly and complicated, requiring extensive investigation by consular officials overseas, followed by final approval in Washington, DC. Under the new fee structure, which took effect on September 6, 2014, the processing fee has increased from $450 to $2,350.

The number of renunciations of U.S. citizenship, also known as expatriations, has reportedly shown a sharp increase in the past two years: 932 in 2012, nearly 3,000 in 2013, and more than 1,500 in the first half of 2014. The specific reasons people choose to renounce U.S. citizenship probably vary widely from one person to another, but U.S. tax policy seems to be a common reason. The Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA), which took effect in March 2010, targets concealment of offshore assets by U.S. citizens. It requires citizens, including those living abroad, to disclose offshore financial accounts and other assets to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).

The DOS requires that a person seeking to renounce citizenship appear in person before a U.S. diplomatic or consular officer to sign an “oath of renunciation.” This must take place in a foreign country, usually at a U.S. Embassy or consular office. 8 U.S.C. § 1481(a)(5). Attempts at expatriation that do not meet these criteria have been ruled invalid by U.S. courts. The DOS must investigate the renunciation to confirm that it is truly voluntary, which includes confirmation that the person understands that renunciation is, with very limited exceptions, irrevocable.
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Conscientious_Objector_memorial,_Tavistock_Sq_Gardens.jpgU.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) denied a woman’s applicant for naturalization based on her stated reasons why she would not be willing to “bear arms on behalf of the United States.” Federal immigration law allows a naturalization applicant to decline to take an oath to bear arms if he or she can demonstrate a religious objection. The woman stated in her application that she is an atheist with significant personal convictions against war and violence, and USCIS denied her application. It reversed its decision after secular advocacy groups, such as the American Humanist Association (AHA) intervened on her behalf. The woman’s case is the second in the past year involving the denial of a naturalization application based on religion.

The applicant, who is originally from Colombia, became a permanent resident of the United States in 2008. She applied for naturalization in October 2013. In her Form N-400, she identified herself as an atheist and provided a statement explaining her unwillingness to take the full oath of allegiance. She described her own history of advocacy for non-violence, and drew on Martin Luther King, Gandhi, Albert Einstein, and Jiddu Krishnamurti to provide a secular explanation for her principles. She also noted that it was unlikely that she would ever be called to serve in the military, but that she wanted to provide an honest answer. On January 29, 2014, USCIS denied her application, reportedly solely because of her opposition to bearing arms.

Federal immigration law requires applicants for naturalization to state their willingness to take an oath of allegiance to the United States, including an oath “to bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by law.” 8 U.S.C. § 1448(a)(5)(A). The statute allows a person to omit the “bear arms” provision if they show, by clear and convincing evidence, that they are opposed to military service “by reason of religious training and belief.” The statute also specifically states that this term refers to “belief in relation to a Supreme Being” but not “political, sociological, or philosophical views or a merely personal moral code.”
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169849_3851.jpgImmigration reform has been a contentious topic all over the country for months, and proposed reform bills continue to make their way through the legislative process in Washington DC. The U.S. Senate passed a bill in June 2013, which now awaits the House of Representatives. Closer to home, a recent study showed that the immigration reform provisions expanding work eligibility could increase New Jersey’s tax revenue by tens of millions of dollars. New Jersey would benefit more than most states from an expanded tax base. The state already receives hundreds of millions of dollars in taxes, mostly sales and excise taxes, from undocumented immigrants living here.

The U.S. Senate passed S. 744, the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act, on June 27, 2013. The bill resulted from the work of a bipartisan group of senators, known as the “Gang of Eight,” which included New York Senator Charles Schumer and New Jersey Senator Robert Menendez. It includes provisions for border security, employer compliance with work authorization laws, and new and modified nonimmigrant visa categories. It also includes the Registered Provisional Immigrant (RPI) Program, part of what has been called a “path to citizenship” for undocumented immigrants currently living in the U.S. Work authorization would be included in RPI and other immigrant and nonimmigrant categories.
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1046480_19872499.jpgU.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) released the first volume of a planned twelve-volume comprehensive Policy Manual (the “Manual”) earlier this year. The first volume, actually designated as Volume 12, covers policies related to citizenship and naturalization. It took effect January 22, 2013, and takes the place of a “field manual” and a set of policy memoranda with rather inefficient organization. The Manual is the result of several years of review of the decade-old immigration agency’s policies and procedures. It will hopefully bring greater organization and efficiency to USCIS, although from the standpoint of immigration attorneys and advocates, that lack of organization sometimes works to the benefit of clients.

Previous USCIS Resources

USCIS officially came into being on March 1, 2003, thanks to the Homeland Security Act of 2002. The former Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) split into three separate agencies within the newly-created Department of Homeland Security, with USCIS charged with “national immigration services.” This includes processing of most petitions and applications for immigration benefits. Prior to the Manual, the two primary sources of USCIS policies and procedures were the Adjudicator’s Field Manual (AFM) and the set of immigration policy memoranda maintained by USCIS on its website.
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