Illegal immigrants who claimed to be US citizens

There is no more serious crime by illegal immigrants than claiming to be US citizens when it comes to a foreigner trying to become legal in America.  Unfortunately, it is also the easiest one to commit, because when an undocumented alien declares him/herself to be an American, there is typically no need to provide any evidence.  Therefore, this is the most preferred route because claiming to be a green card holder requires one to furnish a number and/or the actual permanent resident card.  That is why millions of illegal immigrants are living with some combination of false claim of US citizenship, fake papers showing a Social Security number, and outright identity theft by assuming the identity of a real American (which is undoubtedly claiming US citizenship).

So how does USCIS deal with aliens who have ever claimed to be US citizens?  The decision in this matter is very simple: absolute denial of any immigration benefit and immediate deportation.  It is not clear what law Congress will pass as part of Obama Amnesty and Comprehensive Immigration Reform and if it will specifically condone such action, but it seems highly unlikely.

How does USCIS find out that an foreigner has claimed US citizenship?  Those DREAMers who applied for DACA know very well that President Obama made the process so simple that none of these questions were even asked.  The DACA program even condoned use of a fake Social Security number to work (which in normal course is a serious crime) but USCIS has clarified that it does not mean that these crimes will not disqualify an alien in the future or she will not be prosecuted.  The way the process will work is that when an alien will file Form I-485 for adjustment of status (a standard step for anyone trying to gain permanent residency in the United States) -- this is the process that all undocumented immigrants as well as DREAMers will need to follow after their turn comes to apply for green cards after their probationary legal status has been approved -- the USCIS will look very carefully at your application.  It is common for straightforward employment based applications for green card to be approved without an interview, and while it is not clear if all illegal immigrants will need to appear for an interview (though I expect that there will be an interview for all illegals), if the officer has even a tiny doubt that an alien may have claimed US citizenship, he can order the immigrant to either provide evidence (through RFE) to simply show up for an interview.



In the meantime, the USCIS will subpoena the school/college/employers to send all documentation related to the individual.  The prosecutors are particularly interested in I-9 forms or other forms filled out by applicants that may have allowed them to claim benefits at universities reserved for citizens.  Since this process is not perfect, in many cases the files never arrive (that is what causes all those delays in approvals that makes immigrants go nuts), but most employers simply do whatever is required by law and will mail a copy of your employee file (the employers are typically not liable in such cases because as long as they have made a reasonable effort for paperwork, they are good, so do not be surprised that your employer who gladly hired you might stiff you now that the Feds come calling).  So when you go for the interview, you are not aware of what exactly the adjudication officer knows about you, what documents are in your alien file, you will swear to tell the truth (remember that the interview is a legal proceeding even though it does not look like the courts in movies -- most likely you will be sitting on a table with an officer in a tiny room or cubicle), and you will be required to explain how you were able to work without authorization (interestingly enough, those illegal immigrants who merely claimed to have the authorization to work or presented fake papers might be okay).  If it is indeed the case that you deliberately claimed US citizenship knowing fully well that you were not a citizen, the officer will deny your amnesty application and tell prosecutors to seek deportation and permanent bar on entry into the United States.

What are the options for illegal immigrants who claimed false citizenship?  While it is not yet clear what the forms will look like but the Obama amnesty that will grant a provisional legal status (that will give you right to live, travel, and work indefinitely) may not ask about claim of US citizenship and if the process is similar to DACA, it may never be an issue.  In that case, while you may never be able to apply for a green card, you will be able to live without fear.  Just keep renewing your permits and you will be good.

What if you claimed US citizenship believing that you were a citizen?  Many DREAMers have been in this situation that their own parents lied to them and/or provided them with false papers.  If you will be able to demonstrate to a judge that you genuinely believed that you were a citizen when you checked the US citizenship box on an I-9 form, you will be fine, but this is not going to be easy for most immigrants.  Most aliens find out by the time they are ready to go to college or get a job after graduation that they were illegal and it will be nearly impossible to convince a judge that you did not know you were not an American (so that little job you got at a burger joint as a teenager might be okay but the one you got after graduating from college might be a huge problem).  It can be particularly problematic for those DREAMers who have provided their W-2 forms from employers to prove their being in the country and if the employment was obtained on claim of false citizenship, it will come to bite them.

What should an alien do if she or he ever claimed American citizenship?  Do not even think about applying for any immigration benefit without consulting an excellent immigration attorney.  DIY application will not work for you.  Your lawyer might be able to guide you through the process and maybe your best option will be to remain illegal or return to your native country.  It is important to consult with a good attorney because many of them just want to make a fast buck and hate to tell a client not to apply.  So make sure that you pay for an hour of consultation for this particular issue rather than take advantage of free consultations that lawyers often provide when they are trying to sign you up for applying (in that free time the attorney is really not interested in the complexity of your case but just wants you to file the paperwork because that is how he makes money).  Also make sure that you meet with a real attorney and not just a paralegal or secretary or notary public.