Respondent falsely claimed U.S. Citizenship on I-9 Form
By Bruce Buchanan, Siskind Susser P.C.
The 8th Circuit Court of Appeals in Etenyi v. Lynch upheld the Board of Immigration Appeals’ (“BIA”) decision, wherein it found an individual’s status could not be adjusted because he had falsely claimed that he was a United States citizen on an I-9 form.
Etenyi, a citizen of Kenya, applied for Adjustment of Status. The USCIS denied the adjustment because Etenyi filled out an I-9 form for an employer claiming to be a United States citizen. After being placed into removal proceedings, a hearing was held before an immigration judge (“IJ”). Etenyi testified that the I-9 form had been pre-populated with his personal information. Although he confirmed that his name, address, social security number, and date of birth were correct, he claimed that he did not notice the checked box asserting, under penalty of perjury, that he was a “citizen of the United States.”
The IJ and the BIA held that Etenyi was removable because he had signed the I-9 form and thereby adopted its contents. The evidence at issue, as noted by the IJ, included the I-9 form with the false claim of citizenship, Etenyi’s testimony that he reviewed other information on the form before signing it, Etenyi’s signature, and the fact that Etenyi had a college-level education from an American university.
The Court did not agree with Etenyi’s arguments. First, he argues that an I-9 form cannot serve as the basis for a false claim of citizenship in a removal proceeding. The BIA and the Court have consistently held that the language of 8 U.S.C. § 1324a(b)(5) does not preclude the use of an I-9 form in removal proceedings. Second, Etenyi relies upon Kirong v. Mukasey, 529 F.3d 800 (8th Cir. 2008), to argue that DHS must present more than the I-9 form to satisfy its burden of proof. However, the Court found the I-9 form discussed in Kirong reflected the format of a prior version of the I-9 form, where an employee could check the box - “I am a citizen or national of the United States.” “This disjunctive phrasing rendered the alien’s statement ambiguous as to whether his ‘attestation involved a claim of citizenship or nationality.’” The box on Etenyi’s I-9 form states only that the applicant is “citizen of the United States.” Because this phrasing is unambiguous, an employee who attests to the validity of the checked “citizen of the United States” box by signing this I-9 form has made an objectively false representation of citizenship.
This decision demonstrates the enormous consequences that falsely claiming U.S. citizenship can have on an immigration case. One can no longer rely upon the ambiguity of marking “U.S. Citizen or U.S. National” if the I-9 form was completed in the last six years. That’s when the USCIS separated the two statuses into separate boxes.