Federal Court Decision Reminds Applicants to Read Before Signing, and Watch Out for Claiming to Be a U.S. Citizen

September 25, 2015 Eighth Circuit upholds BIA decision denying adjustment of status to immigrant who checked citizen box on Form I-9.

There was nothing terribly surprising about the recent Etenyi v. Lynch decision, issued by a federal court in the Eighth Circuit. As with previous court decisions in similar cases (for example, a 2012 case called Crocock v. Holder), the court held that falsely checking the “citizen or national” box on Form I-9 (the form that everyone must fill out when starting a new job in the U.S.) is sufficient to make someone inadmissible and therefore ineligible for a U.S. green card (lawful permanent residence).

Lying about being a U.S. citizen in order to work is one of the ways in which a person can become inadmissible under U.S. immigration law.

In the Etenyi case, the applicant tried to defend himself by saying that when he was given the form, the box saying he was a citizen had been prepopulated by a computer program (in other words, already filled in), along with other information. He simply signed it, supposedly overlooking that X mark.

His story is a not-unlikely scenario. Attorneys or agencies serving immigrants commonly use computer softward to generate forms, for convenience' sake. What's more, Mr. Etenyi was not in the U.S. illegally when he took the job -- he was here on a student visa (though he should have obtained an employment authorization document before taking a job).

The immigration judge, Board of Immigration Appeals, and ultimately the federal appeal court had no sympathy. They concluded that, by signing the form, the applicant adopted its contents (especially given that the man had a college education and therefore was capable of reading over the form).

There is no waiver for this ground of inadmissibility. The fact that Mr. Etenyi was married to a U.S. citizen and applying on that basis was of no help to him in this situation.

The lesson here is a clear one: Be extremely careful when filling out any official U.S. government forms or immigration paperwork. Even if you had help filling it out, ask the attorney or form preparer to explain anything that you don't understand or that doesn't look right to you. A simple mistake on Form I-9 or any other government form might be considered a false claim to citizenship and thus bar you from getting a green card or other immigration benefit.