The process of applying for immigration benefits starts with filling-out specific forms prescribed by the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Every question in those forms collects information that would determine whether one is qualified to receive the benefit or not.
It may just be a question-and-answer form asking for a name or any other name used; present address or address in the last five years; last date of entry into the US; previous marriages; names of children, etc. Some questions may appear simple, but misguided responses can make or unmake one’s fate in continuing to stay legally in this country. In the immigration world, dishonesty is a problem and too much honesty can be as well.
Let’s take two examples: (a) Noel came to me for advice on his affirmative (yes) response to a question in his naturalization application asking if he ever claimed to be a US citizen. He was proud to say that he completed the application form without legal assistance. Fortunately, before going to the citizenship interview he was advised by a friend to check with an immigration lawyer on the consequences of having claimed to be a US citizen.
He made the claim when he had a job interview with a shop owner, who casually asked (i) if he was born here, and he said “no”, and (ii) if he can legally work here, he said “yes”. At that time, he was undocumented.
In that interview, there were no questions regarding US citizenship. Neither was Noel asked to fill out an application form in which he wrote that he is a US citizen.
Noel should not have answered “yes” to such a question in the naturalization application form because it was only in his own mind that he thought he claimed to be US citizen, but he never actually did.
Lack of plausible and clear explanation or inconsistencies during the interview can lead to further questioning by the officer, and this can cause not only the denial of the citizenship application but the revocation of a green card as well – that is if indeed you are found to have falsely claimed to be a US citizen.
Claiming to be a US citizen when one is not can trigger removal from the US even if you are a green card holder.
Another example: (b) Eugenio was petitioned by his US citizen wife from the Philippines. After his petition was approved, Eugenio filled out his visa application form leaving blank the part regarding children. He was admitted to the US, and after five years, he applied for citizenship.
During the interview, it was discovered that he was sending money to support his children in the Philippines. He said that he did not list the names of his children in the visa form because he thought he was not supposed to do so. His children were born out of wedlock with a previous live-in partner whom he never married.
Eugenio was intensely interrogated to determine if there was any fraudulent intent to mislead the government at that time. Could it be luck?
The officer deemed it an honest mistake on his part to believe that only legitimate children should be listed in the visa forms. Besides, whether he has children or not is not relevant in his wife’s spousal petition. Failure to disclose such fact did not cause him trouble. If Eugenio deliberately and consciously lied about the children knowing or fully aware that they should be included, the conclusion would have been different.
Not everyone can be a Noel or Eugenio. “Honest mistakes” are recognized in immigration law on a case-to-case basis. Take preventative rather than remedial measures. A legal consultation fee is a sound investment, dollars well spent.