If you have been hired for a job in the United States at any time since 1986, you have probably filled out an I-9 Employment Eligibility Verification Form.

It’s a form that the U.S. government requires employers to use to confirm an employee’s eligibility, based on immigration status, to accept employment in the United States. Falsely claiming to be a citizen of the United States or a U.S. national on an official document such as an I-9 form can be quite tempting.

Sometimes in their enthusiasm to secure a job and succeed in the United States, foreign nationals may check the box for either “citizen” or “national” on the I-9 Form. Unfortunately, many people may not realize that falsely claiming to be a U.S. citizen or a U.S. national can have severe, negative, and permanent consequences for anyone hoping eventually to obtain legal status or/and become a citizen of the United States.

If you are a foreign national in the United States, it is imperative to protect yourself from legal trouble with the immigration authorities.

The best way to obtain a green card or to become a naturalized citizen of the United States is with the help of a good immigration lawyer. In most cases, an experienced Las Vegas immigration attorney can help anyone reach his or her goals in the United States without falsehood or deception.

Falsely claiming citizenship will result in a denial of adjustment of status or/and the denial of a green card.

In fact, falsely claiming citizenship can make a person inadmissible to the United States forever, and that person will never be able to acquire a green card, become a naturalized citizen, or even reenter the country. The U.S. Code – the federal law of the United States – specifies that, “An alien becomes inadmissible when, inter alia, he falsely represents himself as a citizen of the United States for any purpose or benefit under the Immigration and Nationality Act.” (8 U.S.C. § 1182(a)(6)(C)(ii).

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WHAT ARE THE CONSEQUENCES OF FALSELY CLAIMING CITIZENSHIP?

The potential negative consequences for anyone who falsely claims to be a United States citizen were recently demonstrated once again when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit upheld an immigration judge’s ruling – and a Board of Immigration Appeals ruling – in the case of Munna Godfrey v. Loretta E. Lynch. In Godfrey, Mr. Godfrey’s adjustment of status request was denied by an immigration judge after that judge learned that Mr. Godfrey had chosen in the past to represent himself falsely as a U.S. citizen on an I-9 Employment Eligibility Verification Form.

Munna Godfrey is a 36-year-old native of Tanzania who came to the United States in May 2002 to attend Wichita State University with an F-1 nonimmigrant student visa. Mr. Godfrey dropped out of Wichita State in August 2002, but he remained in the United States.

In 2004 he married Traci Godfrey, a U.S. citizen, with whom he has one biological son and four stepchildren. Godfrey attended other schools and has been employed at a supermarket and at a nursing home. Each employer asked Mr. Godfrey to complete an I-9 Employment Eligibility Verification form, and each time he filled out the form, he checked a box indicating he was “a citizen or national of the United States.”

Mr. Godfrey then applied for a green card based on his marriage to a U.S. citizen. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) denied the green card application in 2009 because it found that Mr. Godfrey had violated the terms of his original student visa by lying about U.S. citizenship.

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WHEN IS REMOVAL JUSTIFIED?

Mr. Godfrey then sought adjustment of status under the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA).

That act allows adjustment of status during removal proceedings provided the immigrant is eligible for a visa and is admissible to the United States.

The Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, however, determined that the original immigration judge’s ruling was proper, and the Eighth Circuit Court also determined that because Mr. Godfrey claimed to be a citizen in order to obtain and keep his job, his removal was justified.

While the Eighth Circuit Court said that simply checking the box on the I-9 form indicating that an individual is a U.S. “citizen or national” doesn’t necessarily or always render someone inadmissible to the U.S., the judges found that Munna Godfrey actually intended to represent himself as a citizen to obtain and keep his job. Thus, Mr. Godfrey’s case was denied for review by the United States Court of Appeal, Eighth Circuit on September 21, 2015.

According to court records, Mr. Godfrey earlier testified that he didn’t know the difference between a citizen and national, but he also testified that he in fact did intend to represent himself as a citizen because he knew it would help him to obtain and keep his job, and he also knew that being a “citizen” was in some way “better” than being a “U.S. national.”

Godfrey also continued to represent himself as a citizen even subsequent to the start of removal proceedings, the Eight Circuit Court noted. Judges additionally rejected Godfrey’s argument that he is eligible for a waiver of inadmissibility under the Immigration and Nationality Act. The Eighth Circuit Court ruled that the INA does not waive inadmissibility when that inadmissibility is based on false claims of citizenship to obtain a benefit.

More specifically, the Immigration and Nationality Act makes inadmissible any foreign national who has represented that he or she is a U.S. citizen for “any purpose or benefit” under state or federal law.

The phrase “any purpose or benefit” is important because it makes this ground of inadmissibility very broad – meaning that it can cover a number of different situations. The court also decided that Godfrey was not denied due process when the original immigration judge permitted the admission of his I-9 forms as evidence. The Eighth Circuit Court previously ruled that I-9 forms may be admitted as evidence in deportation proceedings.

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WHAT IS A BETTER OPTION?

Falsely claiming to be a U.S. citizen is never a smart choice.

If someone is not a U.S. citizen, claiming to be a citizen will not help that person obtain a job, a loan, or any other benefit. In fact, the deception will be discovered, and that person may also be charged with criminal fraud and put at risk for deportation, like Munna Godfrey.

It is illegal to claim falsely to be a citizen of the United States on an I-9 employment form, and it is also illegal to claim falsely to be a citizen to obtain a loan, public assistance, housing, a passport, or for any other reason.

Instead of making false claims, it’s much better for people to get the immigration help they genuinely need by working with an experienced immigration lawyer.

The cautionary Godfrey case offers insight into how seriously a false claim of U.S. citizenship can impact someone’s hopes and plans to gain legal status in the United States. One must be extremely careful.

Even unintentionally making a false claim because of a misunderstanding could still result in placement in removal proceedings and ultimately result in deportation.

If someone is deported for falsely claiming U.S. citizenship – whether the claim was intentional or unintentional – that person may become permanently inadmissible to the United States, meaning no reentry and thus no chance for a green card or naturalized citizenship.

In some situations, waivers are available that allow an applicant who has been found inadmissible to receive a green card, but the government offers no waiver to anyone who has falsely claimed U.S. citizenship.

Caution is also required when completing and filing any forms that request information about citizenship. Employers based in the United States require all newly-hired workers to complete the I-9 Employment Eligibility Verification Form, but several other legal forms have also been commonly used to claim citizenship falsely, such as student loan applications, voter registration forms, DMV registration forms, and U.S. passport applications. These are just a few of the many opportunities for someone to claim citizenship falsely, but the consequences of having false citizenship claims discovered always far outweigh the benefits of making a false claim.

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HOW CAN AN IMMIGRATION ATTORNEY HELP?

When anyone completes an I-9 employment form or any other form that asks about citizenship, that person must tell the truth. Deception can’t help, but an experienced immigration lawyer probably can.

In fact, possibly the most well-known job of an immigration lawyer is helping people become naturalized United States citizens. Immigration attorneys gather and review the necessary documents for naturalization, answer their clients’ questions, and offer their clients guidance and advice along the pathway to citizenship.

However, help with becoming a citizen is only one of an immigration attorney’s many roles. Immigration lawyers help international students, professionals, entrepreneurs, and investors obtain visas, solve legal problems, and overcome other obstacles to entering and remaining in the United States.

Immigration attorneys help families to reunite in the U.S., and they help employers hire immigrants and stay compliant with a vast number of immigration-related employment laws and regulations. Obtain the sound legal advice and immigration guidance you need to reach your goals – whatever they may be – in the United States by consulting with an experienced Las Vegas immigration attorney regarding any immigration-related legal issue.