Hiding the Skeletons, But Not the Hubby

People have different reasons for wanting to become a United States citizen. For many, the attraction is being able to secure a United States passport. For others, it may be the opportunity to vote in elections. But, like the physical journey many immigrants endure in coming to the United States, the process of applying for naturalization can be fraught with risk.

That is what Plaintiff-Appellant Lakshmi Injeti, a native and citizen of India, found out after USCIS denied her application for naturalization and a federal appeals court affirmed a United States district court's summary judgment ruling in favor of USCIS. In Injeti vs. United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit held that Injeti's false answers on her application for adjustment of status to that of lawful permanent resident barred her from naturalizing.

Injeti was a housekeeper for a family who sponsored her for permanent residence by filing an employment-based immigrant visa petition. Injeti subsequently filed an application for adjustment of status, which was approved. But in a later immigration proceeding, it was discovered that Injeti had failed to disclose on her application that she had been married twice. Injeti claimed that her family members told her that husband number one had died. Injeti attempted to prove this by submitting a copy of her first husband's death certificate, which USCIS determined was fraudulent.

Injeti blamed her attorney for the fiasco. But neither USCIS nor the Court believed Injeti, reasoning that she had engaged in a pattern of deceiving the United States government about the status of her first marriage. The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals concluded that Injeti was never lawfully admitted to permanent residence and that she lacked the good moral character necessary to become a United States citizen. It didn't help that a boyfriend of Injeti's daughter tipped off USCIS that Injeti and her second husband gave USCIS fraudulent death certificates for their former spouses.

Injeti argued that her misrepresentations could not be considered material, since they would not have made any difference to the outcome of her application for adjustment of status. USCIS countered, and the Fourth Circuit of Appeals agreed, that (1) Injeti had committed the crime of bigamy, which rendered her inadmissible to the United States as a lawful permanent resident, even though she was never actually charged with or convicted of a crime and (2) had Injeti disclosed her first marriage on her application for adjustment of status, USCIS would have investigated the matter further, and might not have approved her application in the exercise of discretion.

I'm not sure I am in complete agreement with the Fourt Circuit's analysis. Injeti denied knowing that her first husband was alive when she married her second husband, so it is not clear that Injeti admitted to each element of the crime of bigamy. Even had Injeti mentioned her first husband during the adjustment of status process, the issue should not have had any bearing on the outcome of her application for a green card. Because her adjustment of status application was based on a job offer, and not on marriage to a United States citizen or lawful permanent resident, the validity of her second marriage was irrelevant to the type of immigration benefit she was seeking.

That being said, the lesson to be learned from the Injeti case, for any person considering applying for naturalization, is that USCIS will look into the applicant's past to determine whether he or she was lawfully admitted to permanent residence in the first place. Prospective applicants for naturalization should therefore consider seeking a consultation with a qualified immigration attorney in order to understand the risks before submitting an application to USCIS.

Timothy D. Widman is a San Jose Immigration Attorney and the owner of the Law Office of Timothy D. Widman.