If a foreign national pretends to be a U.S. citizen to get a benefit, they can face serious criminal penalties, as well as deportation. Sometimes a foreign national believes that they are a citizen and makes a false claim unintentionally, but this still may expose them to deportation. After being deported, moreover, the foreign national will be permanently inadmissible to the U.S. There are very few defenses in these cases.
Perhaps the most common situation in which a foreign national makes a false claim of citizenship is when they register to vote in elections. A false claim also may occur when a foreign national tries to get a U.S. passport, tries to get a student loan that requires being a citizen, or states that they are a citizen on an I-9 Employment Eligibility Verification form. Stating that you are a citizen to certain private parties also may expose you to deportation and other penalties. For example, you might be deported if you state that you are a U.S. citizen when you are applying for a mortgage or another loan that involves federal funds. A false claim can occur whenever a foreign national pursues a benefit that requires U.S. citizenship for eligibility, even if the government does not directly offer the benefit.
False Claims Related to Voting
You may be asked if you want to register to vote when you get or renew a driver’s license. The government employee probably will not ask you for proof of citizenship at this time, and signing the application may amount to a claim of citizenship. In some cases, the application will involve checking a box to verify U.S. citizenship. If the applicant asks someone else to complete the form on their behalf, though, they might not ask the applicant about their citizenship before checking the box. The applicant still will be held responsible for the false claim.
Many foreign nationals misunderstand their voting eligibility. You should not rely on statements by a campaign worker or canvasser about immigration laws regarding voting. If you are not a citizen, but you find out from your local election board that you are registered to vote, you should take your name off the voter registration rolls and get confirmation of its removal. Registering to vote when you were not eligible to vote can defeat your eligibility for certain types of immigration statuses.
False Claims Related to Passports and Government Forms
You can face criminal penalties and deportation if you provide a false birth certificate or other forged evidence of citizenship when you are pursuing a U.S. passport. If you apply for a green card through the adjustment of status process, you may be asked whether you have made a false claim of citizenship, even though this question does not appear on the adjustment of status application (Form I-485). Also, you will need to answer this question on the citizenship application (Form N-400) if you apply for citizenship. If you lie in response to this question when you are applying for a green card or citizenship, your status may be revoked if the falsehood is discovered.
Exceptions and Defenses to Findings of False Claims
After the Child Citizenship Act of 2000, many foreign nationals became confused about whether they were citizens through acquisition or derivation. These are forms of citizenship that are based on the citizenship of your parents, rather than the formal naturalization process. The Act shields foreign nationals from deportation based on a false claim of citizenship in certain situations. They would need to show that they made the false claim when they were under 18, they got a green card before they turned 16, their parents were U.S. citizens, and they reasonably believed that they were a U.S. citizen when they made the false claim.
There is also an exception for a false claim made before September 30, 1996, since the law on false claims went into effect on that date. Another narrow exception covers people who made a false claim while they lacked legal status in the U.S., if they immediately and voluntarily retracted the lie before it was discovered. (Most of these people will be deportable or inadmissible on other grounds.)
If a false claim was unintentional, a foreign national may be able to receive cancellation of removal. This requires proving good moral character if they do not have a green card. Showing good moral character will be difficult if the false claim was intentional.