Monthly Archives: February 2015

Wanted: Systems for Your Law Practice (whether you’re dead or alive)

Solo practitioners and many small firm lawyers play multiple roles in their law practice. They are not only attorneys handling client matters, but also managers performing administrative functions and business people running their firms.

Like all other small business owners, they must be technicians, managers and entrepreneurs.

Lawyers’ capacity to do work are limited by the hours in a day, their energy level, their attention span, and the resources available to them.

Regardless of their circumstances and priorities, lawyers must provide competent and diligent representation to clients. Systematizing their law practice helps them do just that. Systems are clearly defined, step-by-step plans, procedures, processes and policies to complete routine tasks and address common issues.

Rule 1.1: Competence

Rule 1.1 of the Minnesota Rules of Professional Conduct (MRPC) requires you to provide competent representation to clients, which includes “the legal knowledge, skill, thoroughness, and preparation reasonably necessary for the representation.” Competent representation further involves preparing for an unexpected inability to practice law.

Rule 1.3: Diligence

You must also “act with reasonable diligence and promptness in representing a client,” states Rule 1.3 of the MRPC.

Diligence requires you to avoid getting too busy or too overwhelmed to the detriment of your clients. Comment 2 states:

A lawyer’s work load must be controlled so that each matter can be handled competently.

Even when you’re dead, disabled or ill, you should have safeguards to prevent neglect of client matters. Comment 5 states:

To prevent neglect of client matters in the event of a sole practitioner’s death or disability, the duty of diligence may require that each sole practitioner prepare a plan, in conformity with applicable rules, that designates another competent lawyer to review client files, notify each client of the lawyer’s death or disability, and determine whether there is a need for immediate protective action.

If you die or become temporarily unable to practice law, and have no contingency plan, the court may appoint a trustee under Rule 27 of the Minnesota Rules on Lawyers Professional Responsibility. Otherwise, another lawyer may fill in informally to manage the practice and handle client matters as best as he can.

Rules 1.1. and 1.3 do not outline specific steps you must take in the event of unexpected death, disability, or incapacity, unlike Rule 1.17, which describes what you must do when you sell your law practice.

Nonetheless, you still need to protect your clients (even when you’re dead) and run your firm effectively (without running yourself into the ground).

Why Do You Need Systems?

Imagine what would happen to your client matters if you suddenly died or became disabled or incapacitated, and had no backup plan.

Think about the potential effects on your health if your workload routinely exceeded your capacity and you had no time to self care.

Ponder whether you could take your practice to the next level if you handled all the work and could not attend to strategic planning for your firm.

Chances are, your clients, your health, your practice and your firm would take a hit if you had no systems to allow your business to run without you and to free up your time and energy to do what matters most.

Systems may include an office manual documenting the various business functions at your firm, a detailed checklist for your most common types of cases, and template letters for following up with prospects and closing out client files.

In E-Myth: Why Most Legal Practices Don’t Work and What to Do About It, Michael E. Gerber and co-authors argue that most attorneys work in their practice as technicians (getting the work done/tactical), rather than work on their practice as entrepreneurs (developing a vision/strategic). Bridging the gap between the two involves building and using systems to achieve consistent results, usually through others. This requires attorneys to also serve as managers (turning vision into action/tactical and strategic).

Solos can team up with another attorney, hire a contract paralegal, or work with a virtual assistant to complete tasks systematically. And even if the solo has no attorneys, paralegals, or assistants helping him, he can still benefit from having systems.

The more your business grows, the tougher it gets to personally answer every inquiry from prospects, handle every client matter, or tackle every business issue. So set up your systems before business growth and before your practice reaches full capacity, not after.

Systems are Critical to Handling Client Matters and Running Your Firm

Client matters are more prone to falling through the cracks when you try to do it all yourself and have no systems to automate or streamline routine tasks.

Mistakes and neglect can also occur when you delegate tasks ineffectively and inappropriately.

Well-documented and well-designed systems allow you to cut the amount of time you need to get things done. Systems can also enable your practice to operate and your firm to run without your direct input.

Systems are Crucial to Protecting Clients’ Interests and Your Own Interests In the Event of Sudden Practice Interruption

As professionals, most lawyers genuinely want to protect clients’ interests in the event of sudden practice interruptions. When the interruption is caused by temporary illness or disability, lawyers will also want to set up a transition plan to avoid permanent loss of clients and to protect their reputation.

Which Systems Do You Need? 

Documenting your processes and policies, as well as systematizing repetitive tasks, can help you streamline your practice and create more consistent, high-quality results (no matter how heavy your work load).

Systematization doesn’t mean you provide cookie-cutter solutions or drop the uniqueness of your brand. Rather, they help you automate routine activities and daily operations so your firm runs like a business instead of just as a practice that depends completely on you.

The key systems you need to set up, consistently use, and extensively document include:

1. Operations management system. e.g. setting up operations procedures and administrative processes around business functions, instead of around people.

2. Calendaring, scheduling and tickler system. e.g. recording important hearings and meetings and setting reminders for due dates and deadlines.

3. Client file management system. e.g. providing steps for running conflicts checks, opening new client files, closing files, and destroying old files.

4. Client communication system. e.g. having a policy for responding to telephone calls, emails and other communications from clients; providing a script for resolving a billing dispute.

5. Client service and retention system. e.g. creating templates for repetitive letters and emails; providing step-by-step procedures and checklists for  routine matters; preparing written instructions and answers to FAQs for clients.

6. Client attraction and acquisition system. e.g.  implementing a specific process for responding to online and telephone inquiries from prospects; developing a policy for post-consultation and post-meeting follow-ups with prospects.

7. Case management system. e.g. using online software like MyCase or even an Excel spreadsheet to manage cases and track the status of each.

8. Billing and invoicing system. e.g. using Quickbooks or other financial software to monitor income and expenses and automate invoicing to clients.

9. Firm management system. e.g. providing a written office manual that contains contact information for key personnel; location and account numbers for business and trust accounts; passwords for computer and voice mail; location of business documents such as leases, service contracts, and business credit cards.

10. Contingency management system. e.g.  creating a succession and transition plan or an emergency handbook for dealing with unexpected practice interruptions.

Although systems take a lot of extra time to create and implement, they are necessary for your practice to run smoothly and your firm to succeed.

Whether you’re a solo or small firm lawyer, systems help you avoid redundant work, attend to client matters with greater efficiency, scale the growth of your firm, and prepare for sudden practice interruptions.

Systems free up your time to do what matters most. They help you provide competent and diligent representation whether you’re alive, incapacitated, or dead.

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This article provides general information only. Do not consider it as legal advice for any individual case or situation. The sharing or receipt of this information does not create an attorney-client relationship.

The author, Dyan Williams, is admitted to the Minnesota state bar and focuses on the Minnesota Rules of Professional Conduct in her articles.  Check your individual state rules of professional conduct, regulations, ethics opinions and case precedents, instead of relying on this article for specific guidance. 


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Photo by: Paw Paw

Applying for DACA? Here are the pros and cons

The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program doesn’t come close to the proposed DREAM Act, which offers undocumented immigrants, who came to the U.S. as children, a path to permanent residence or citizenship.

But DACA offers key benefits, including relief from removal and work permits for three years.

Qualified applicants must weigh the pros and cons before filing a DACA request.


Who Qualifies for DACA?

DACA was introduced in 2012 by then-DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano. You may apply for DACA by filing a Form I-821D along with your Form I-765 and documentation proving that you:

  • Were under the age of 31 as of June 15, 2012;
  • Came to the United States before the age of 16;
  • Have continuously resided in the United States since June 15, 2007;
  • Are at least 15 years old (unless you are in removal proceedings or have a final removal or voluntary departure order, in which case you may apply even if you are under 15);
  • Were physically present in the United States on June 15, 2012, and at the time of filing your DACA application with USCIS;
  • Had no lawful status on June 15, 2012;
  • Are currently in school, have graduated or obtained a certificate of completion from high school, have obtained a general education development (GED) certificate, or are an honorably discharged veteran of the Coast Guard or Armed Forces of the United States; and
  • Have not been convicted of a felony, significant misdemeanor,or three or more other misdemeanors, and do not otherwise pose a threat to national security or public safety.

The new DACA – which was expected to roll out on February 18 but was temporarily blocked by a federal court order – expands relief to those who:

  • Entered the United States before January 1, 2010, instead of before June 15, 2007;
  • Have lived in the United States continuously since at least January 1, 2010, rather than the prior requirement of June 15, 2007;
  • Are out of status as of November 20, 2014, rather than as of June 15, 2012
  • Are of any age (removes age limit requiring the person to be born since June 15, 1981, as long as the person entered the United States before age 16).

[UPDATE #1 : On June 23, 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a 4-4 opinion in United States v. Texas that allows the temporary injunction to stand. The new DACA is still unavailable as a result.]

[UPDATE #2: On September 5, 2017, the Trump Administration announced the rescission of the DACA program. No initial applications filed on or after this date will be considered. Renewal applications filed by DACA holders, whose benefits expire on or before March 5, 2018, will be considered up October 5, 2017.]

What Are the Pros and Cons of Applying for DACA? 


Here are a few reasons to apply for DACA:

You get relief from removal and work authorization for three years

Previously, the deferred action period and work permits under DACA were issued in two-year renewable periods. As of November 25, 2014, these benefits are extended to three years and may be renewed as long as DACA continues.

Those who are currently in removal proceedings, have a final removal order, or have a voluntary departure order can also file for DACA. If you are in immigration detention or in the custody of Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE), you must first obtain your release as a DACA-qualified applicant. If you are released from custody, you may then file your DACA request with USCIS.

You are in authorized stay and are not accumulating unlawful presence

DACA is a form of authorized stay in the U.S. This means you are not accumulating unlawful presence during the deferred action period.

Normally, you begin accumulating unlawful presence in the U.S. once you turn 18, which may bar you from reentry to the U.S. for three or ten years (even if you otherwise qualify for an immigrant visa or green card). If you are unlawfully present in the U.S. for more than 180 days but less than 1 year, you are barred from re-entering the U.S. for three years. If the unlawful presence is 1 year or more, you are barred from re-entering the U.S. for 10 years.

If you came to the U.S. illegally, you must usually depart the U.S. to consular process your immigrant visa based on marriage to a U.S. citizen or permanent resident.  The 3-year/10-year bar kicks in once you depart the U.S. to attend your immigrant visa interview at the U.S. Consulate abroad. You would then need to obtain a waiver by showing your absence from the U.S would cause “extreme hardship” to your  U.S. citizen or permanent resident spouse. The waiver can be very difficult to get due to the strict requirements.

You will continue to accrue unlawful presence while your DACA request is pending, unless you are under 18 at the time of the request. If you are under 18 when you submit your request, you will not accrue unlawful presence while the request is pending, even if you turn 18 and the request is still pending. If you receive DACA, you will not accrue unlawful presence during the deferred action period.

Although deferred action does not give you lawful nonimmigrant status or immigrant status in the U.S, it helps protect you from accruing unlawful presence, which carries immigration penalties. Having authorized stay in the U.S. during the deferred action period can be especially beneficial if you were to later qualify for an immigrant visa.

You may travel outside the United States with advance parole

As a DACA recipient, you may apply for advance parole to leave the U.S. and return legally in DACA status. But you must first apply for advance parole by filing a Form I-131, Application for Travel Document.

USCIS will grant advance parole only if your travel abroad is for:

  • humanitarian purposes, including travel to obtain medical treatment, attending funeral services for a family member, or visiting an ailing relative;
  • educational purposes, such as semester-abroad programs and academic research, or;
  • employment purposes such as overseas assignments, interviews, conferences or, training, or meetings with clients overseas.

Advance parole allows you to leave the U.S. for these purposes, but is not to be used for vacation or for general travel.

You receive social benefits and economic opportunities

In general, DACA recipients have more economic opportunities and are more socially integrated than those who do not qualify for DACA. With authorized stay and work permits, they find it easier to get a new job, open their first bank account and receive their first credit card.

Getting a driver’s license is a key benefit, especially for young immigrants. Currently, otherwise-eligible DACA recipients can apply for a driver’s license in every state except Nebraska.

Some state laws and college systems also allow certain students to pay in-state tuition, regardless of their immigration status.

A Star Tribune article states “For many who did apply, DACA has paid off. A national survey of DACA recipients last year found that almost 60 percent obtained a new job, 45 percent increased their earnings, about half opened their first bank account and 57 percent got a driver’s license.”

Your information, for the most part, will not be shared with enforcement agencies and will not be used against you 

USCIS has stated that it will not share information provided in a DACA request with ICE and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) for the purpose of removal proceedings against you or your family members, unless your case involves fraud, a criminal offense, a threat to public safety or national security, or other exceptional circumstances.


Here are a few drawbacks to consider when applying for DACA:

You have no path to permanent residence or citizenship in the U.S.

Past DREAM Act proposals includes a path to permanent residence and citizenship in the U.S. The DREAM Act is a legislation that must be passed by Congress to become law.

Meanwhile, DACA offers only work permits and relief from removal for a temporary period, but no path to lawful immigrant status. It is not new law.

Basically, DACA is a program or policy directing DHS on how to enforce immigration laws. Deferred action existed long before DACA, but DACA provides a formal process for qualified applications to seek this temporary relief. Because it was made available by an Obama Administration policy, it could easily end under a new U.S. President.

You have no lawful immigration status in the U.S. 

As a DACA grantee, you are considered lawfully present in the U.S., but you still have no lawful nonimmigrant or immigrant status.

Lawful immigration status refers to an immigration benefit such as lawful permanent residency (green card) or temporary visa classification, such as H-1B worker, B-1/B-2 visitor, or F-1 student.

Employers and state officials sometimes believe your lack of immigration status means you are unlawfully present. You might be wrongly denied a job, driver’s license, etc. because you have DACA status, instead of lawful immigration status. Although deferred action gives you authorized stay, your lack of immigration status can make it tougher for you to get social benefits and economic opportunities.

You have no right to travel and return to the U.S. based on DACA grant alone

DACA gives you no lawful status that allows you to travel abroad and return to the U.S. Instead, you must first pay the  filing fee for advance parole (travel document) and file the Form I-131 with USCIS. If you depart the U.S. without first receiving advance parole, your departure automatically terminates your deferred action under DACA.

Being approved for advance parole does not guarantee that you will be able to return to the U.S. At the port of entry, the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer may deny your entry if he finds you are “inadmissible” due to health or security reasons or other factors.

If you leave the U.S. after being ordered deported or removed, and your removal proceeding has not been reopened and administratively closed or terminated, your departure (even with advance parole) could mean you followed through with the deportation or removal.

Your opportunities to integrate socially and economically are temporary

Congressional Republicans seek to defund DACA. House Republicans attached amendments affecting the 2012 deferred action program to the DHS 2015 fiscal year funding bill. While the bill passed the House, it has been blocked by Senate Democrats.

DHS has also halted the rolling out of the expanded DACA on February 18, due to a federal district court order temporarily blocking its implementation. The new Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA), which would extend to certain parents of U.S. citizen and lawful permanent residents and was expected to kick off in May 2015, is also on hold.

On Monday, U.S. District Court Judge Andrew Hanen in Texas sided with the Texas-led coalition of 26 states that filed a lawsuit to block the implementation of the expanded DACA and the new DAPA.

While applicants can continue to file and renew requests under the old DACA, the future of this program is uncertain. And the expanded DACA and new DAPA are being challenged even before kick off.

[UPDATE #1: On June 23, 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a 4-4 opinion in United States v. Texas that allows the temporary injunction to stand. The new DACA is still unavailable as a result.]

[UPDATE #2: On September 5, 2017, the Trump Administration announced the rescission of the DACA program. No initial applications filed on or after this date will be considered. Renewal applications filed by DACA holders, whose benefits expire on or before March 5, 2018, will be considered up October 5, 2017.]

Your information may be shared with enforcement agencies and may be used against you in certain situations

USCIS may share the information in your DACA request with national security and law enforcement agencies, including ICE and CBP, for purposes other than deportation, including to identify or prevent fraudulent claims, for national security purposes, or for the investigation or prosecution of a crime.

If USCIS denies your DACA request and your case involves a criminal offense, fraud, or a threat to national security or public safety (or exceptional circumstances), USCIS will refer your case to ICE. You may then face the risk of being removed from the U.S.

Persons who have been convicted of certain crimes or apprehended at the border or at ports of entry while trying to unlawfully enter the U.S. are considered to be enforcement priorities. Other enforcement priorities include persons suspected of terrorism, espionage, or abusing the visa or visa waiver programs. To a lesser extent, persons who have been issued a final removal order after January 1, 2014 are also enforcement priorities.

Consult an Experienced Immigration Attorney Before You Apply for DACA

Overall, the benefits and protections you get from applying for DACA outweigh the risks and limitations.

Before you request DACA, you should first consult a reputable attorney or get authorized legal assistance to help you weigh the pros and cons.

Beware of immigration services that are not authorized to offer legal advice. For help on how to avoid and report immigration scams, go to or

[UPDATE #1: On June 23, 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a 4-4 opinion in United States v. Texas that allows the temporary injunction to stand. The new DACA is still unavailable as a result.]

[UPDATE #2: On September 5, 2017, the Trump Administration announced the rescission of the DACA program. No initial applications filed on or after this date will be considered. Renewal applications filed by DACA holders, whose benefits expire on or before March 5, 2018, will be considered up October 5, 2017.]

This article provides general information only. It is based on law, regulations and policy that are subject to change. Do not consider it as legal advice for any individual case or situation. Each legal case is different and case examples do not constitute a prediction or guarantee of success or failure in any other case. The sharing or receipt of this information does not create an attorney-client relationship.


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 Photo by: Môsieur J. [version 9.1]

Federal Judge Issues Injunction; Expanded DACA and New DAPA on Hold for Now

In response to a federal judge’s order temporarily blocking President Obama’s executive action on immigration, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has halted plans to roll out the expanded Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program today. Whether DHS will launch the new Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA) program in May 2015 is also uncertain.

On Monday, U.S. District Court Judge Andrew Hanen in Texas sided with the Texas-led coalition of 26 states that filed a lawsuit to block the implementation of the expanded DACA and the new DAPA.

The White House said  Obama’s actions “are well within his legal authority.” The U.S. Department of Justice plans to appeal and will likely request an emergency stay of Judge Hanen’s decision at the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans.

Money, Money, Money

In his 123-page decision, Judge Hanen ruled that the Obama administration failed to comply with the Administrative Procedures Act because it did not follow the notice-and-comment rulemaking process in implementing the new policies. The judge did not rule on the primary legal claim that the deferred action programs are unconstitutional.

The Texas-led coalition of states in the lawsuit are Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, West Virginia and Wisconsin.

The judge found that Plaintiffs would suffer economic injuries as a result of the deferred action programs and therefore have standing to file the lawsuit.

Texas, in particular, stated that the DHS Directive would create a new class eligible to apply for driver’s licenses, the processing of which would add substantial costs to its budget. The judge noted, “Texas’ undocumented population is approximately 1.6 million, and Plaintiffs’ evidence suggests that at least 500,000 of these individuals will be eligible for deferred action through DAPA.” The judge added there would be increased costs associated with processing a wave of new driver’s licenses.

In 2013, an estimated 86.3% of the U.S. workforce commuted to work in private vehicles. This is especially true in the 26 states that filed the lawsuit, as none of them have extensive mass transit systems.  Because federal law requires the issuance of driver’s licenses to deferred action recipients, Judge Hanen found that the states would suffer economic injuries as a result of the new programs.

Plaintiffs also argued that the DHS Directive will create a discriminatory employment environment that encourages employers to hire DAPA beneficiaries instead of lawful residents.  They noted that DAPA beneficiaries are more affordable to hire because it is likely that employers will not be required to provide them with health care or suffer a penalty for not doing so.

“…no effective way of putting the toothpaste back in the tube…”

On page 120 of his order, the judge reasoned, “If the preliminary injunction is denied, Plaintiffs will bear the costs of issuing licenses and other benefits once DAPA beneficiaries  – armed with Social Security cards and employment authorization documents – seek their benefits. He added, “once these services are provided, there will be no effective way of putting the toothpaste back in the tube should Plaintiffs ultimately prevail on the merits.”

Although the deferred action programs will add to social and economic costs, they will also bring additional benefits and revenues. The net effect of socially and economically integrating deferred action recipients into the American community is positive.

DACA and DAPA recipients with work permits will be able to work lawfully as employees, and are likely to increase their tax payments. These programs are expected to generate federal and state income tax revenue.

The programs will also help prevent unscrupulous employers from taking advantage of undocumented workers by paying them low wages and subjecting them to unacceptable working conditions. This should lead to an overall improvement in wages and working conditions for U.S. workers.

In one report, the Immigration Policy Center, American Immigration Council describes the various ways in which executive action on immigration creates a positive impact. It states, “Immigrants – including the unauthorized – create jobs through their purchasing power and entrepreneurship, buying goods and services from U.S. businesses and creating their own businesses, both of which sustain U.S. jobs.” It further states, “The presence of new immigrant workers and consumers in an area spurs the expansion of businesses, which also creates new jobs.”

Judge Hanen’s Ruling Does Not Involve Old DACA

In his February 17 statement, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson announced:”The Department of Justice will appeal that temporary injunction; in the meantime, we recognize we must comply with it.”

Johnson added, “Accordingly, the Department of Homeland Security will not begin accepting requests for the expansion of DACA tomorrow, February 18, as originally planned. Until further notice, we will also suspend the plan to accept requests for DAPA.”

Under the expanded DACA, more undocumented immigrants or those who fell out of status and arrived in the U.S. as children would qualify for deferred action and receive employment authorization for three years. The new DAPA would extend to undocumented parents of Americans and lawful residents. The implementation of both programs are now on hold.

There is no set timeline for when the Fifth Circuit would issue a ruling on an appeal from the Justice Department. In the meantime, qualified applicants who are interested in applying for deferred action under expanded DACA or new DAPA should continue collecting required documents, in the event that the injunction is lifted.

Judge Hanen’s ruling does not involve the old DACA that was introduced in 2012 by then DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano. Those who qualify for deferred action and work authorization under the old DACA can still apply and re-apply for these benefits.

[UPDATE: On September 5, 2017, the Trump Administration announced the rescission of the DACA program. No initial applications filed on or after this date will be considered. Renewal applications filed by DACA holders, whose benefits expire on or before March 5, 2018, will be considered up October 5, 2017.]

This article provides general information only. It is based on law, regulations and policy that are subject to change. Do not consider it as legal advice for any individual case or situation. Each legal case is different and case examples do not constitute a prediction or guarantee of success or failure in any other case. The sharing or receipt of this information does not create an attorney-client relationship.


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Photo by: Michael Lynch

Why Lying About Being a U.S. Citizen Can Stop You from Becoming a Permanent Resident (and what you can do to overcome this obstacle)

If you lie about being a U.S. citizen to work, vote in elections, or receive public benefits in the United States, this could stop you from getting a green card or immigrant visa. It can also get you deported from the United States, even if you are already a permanent resident.

A false claim to U.S. citizenship creates a lifetime ban to obtaining permanent residence through a family or employment-based petition.

While a false U.S. citizenship claim seems relatively harmless, it is one of the most serious forms of fraud or willful misrepresentation to obtain immigration benefits. It can also have more dire consequences than a criminal conviction.

If getting a green card or immigrant visa is on your wish list, you should avoid lying about being a U.S. citizen to gain immigration benefits or any benefits under federal or state law.

When Does a False U.S. Citizenship Claim Arise? 

Multiple Situations

False U.S. citizenship claims arise in multiple situations. They include registering to vote in a local, state, or federal election when only U.S. citizens are allowed to do so; claiming to be a U.S. citizen on a job, college, student loan, or mortgage application; and stating that you are U.S. citizen to obtain any benefit for which U.S. citizenship is required.

Most Common Situation: I-9, Employment Eligibility

False U.S. citizenship claims most commonly arise when the non-citizen completes and signs the Form I-9, Employment Eligibility Verification, upon being hired for a job.

All U.S. employers must use the I-9 to document verification of the identity and employment authorization of each new employee (both citizen and non-citizen) hired after November 6, 1986, to work in the United States.

In the Employee Information and Attestation section of the Form I-9, the employee is required to check one of four boxes to show why he is eligible to work in the United States. Section 1 of the Form I-9 (Rev. 03/08/13) states:

I attest, under penalty of perjury, that I am (check one of the following):

  • A citizen of the United States
  • A noncitizen national of the United States (See instructions)
  • A lawful permanent resident (Alien Registration Number/USCIS number) __________
  • An alien authorized to work until (expiration date, if applicable, mm/dd/yy) ________. Some aliens may write “N/A” in this field.

Wrongfully checking that you are a citizen of the United States generally amounts to a false U.S. citizenship claim.

The use of a U.S. citizen’s social security number or other identification, or the use of a fake U.S. birth certificate or a fake social security card (that contains no employment restrictions) is further evidence of a false U.S. citizenship claim.

Employers must record the document title (e.g. driver’s license and birth certificate) on the Form I-9. They may, but are not required, to retain copies of the documents.

Employers must retain a Form I-9 for all current employees. They also have to retain a Form I-9 for three years after the date of hire, or one year after the date employment ends, whichever is later.

When you seek to adjust to permanent resident status, you need to complete the Form I-485 and file it with U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS). Unlike the Form N-400, Application for Naturalization, the I-485 does not ask whether you have ever misrepresented being a U.S. citizen.

The I-485 application, however, must be accompanied by a Form G-325A, Biographic Information, which requires you to list your employers for the last five years.

Those who are applying for an immigrant visa at the U.S. Consulate must complete and file the DS-260, online immigrant visa application. The DS-260 does ask questions about your employment history.

At your I-485 or immigrant visa interview, the adjudication officer could ask whether you have ever made a false claim to citizenship. The officer may also ask about what documents or information you presented to the employer to be eligible to work. This line of inquiry is not very common, but is generally relevant.

Although the employer — not the employee — is responsible for keeping the I-9 records, the officer could request you produce the I-9s from past employers or current employers as a condition for approving your immigration case.

Some USCIS officers might also subpoena the I-9 records from your prior employer or current employer. If the employer is not under investigation for violating I-9 requirements or hiring unauthorized workers, it might refuse to hand over the I-9 records. But many employers simply forward the available records to USCIS upon request, without objection.

If the citizen box is checked on the I-9, the officer may find that you made a false claim to U.S. citizenship and therefore do not qualify for a green card or immigrant visa.

The U.S. Supreme Court, in Chamber of Commerce of the United States v. Whiting, stated that the I-9 and any information contained in it or attached to it may not be used for any purpose other than for enforcing the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 (IRCA) and other specified provisions of federal law. False U.S. citizenship claims did not make a person inadmissible or removable until 1996, which was after IRCA was passed in 1986.

But federal courts, including the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, have found that an I-9 form can serve as evidence of a false claim to U.S. citizenship, particularly in removal proceedings.

What are the Possible Consequences of a False U.S. Citizenship Claim? 

Since September 30, 1996, non-citizens who made false U.S. citizenship claims “for any purpose or benefit” under the Immigration & Nationality Act (INA) or any federal or state law are permanently inadmissible. This means you have a lifetime bar to obtaining a family-based or employment-based green card or immigrant visa.

False U.S. citizenship claims not only makes a foreign national inadmissible to the U.S, but also removable from the country. A non-citizen who is in the U.S. and who is found to have lied about being a U.S. citizen to obtain immigration benefits or other benefits under any federal or state law may be placed in removal proceedings before the Immigration Court.

Unlike those who are convicted of crimes involving moral turpitude or those who engaged in fraud or willful misrepresentation to obtain immigration benefits, a person who is found to have made a false U.S. citizenship claim does not qualify for an immigrant waiver to overcome this permanent bar. There is no such waiver available, even if the person has a U.S. citizen spouse who will suffer extreme hardships without his presence in the U.S.

(NOTE: A special authorization for admission as a  nonimmigrant for false claims of U.S. citizenship is available under section 212(d)(3)(A) of the Immigration & Nationality Act.  Whether you qualify for the nonimmigrant visa itself is a separate issue.)

What are the Potential Defenses to a False U.S. Citizenship Claim? 

Because there is no waiver available for this permanent bar, the person has to raise a defense, which may include the following:

1) The false claim was made prior to September 30, 1996

False U.S. citizenship claims made before September 30, 1996, when the immigration laws changed, does not permanently disqualify you from obtaining a green card or immigrant visa.

If your false claim to U.S. citizenship was made to a private entity, such as an employer or a bank, prior to September 30, 1996, the lifetime bar does not normally apply.

False U.S. citizenship claims before this date must have been willfully made to a U.S. government official in connection with a visa application, a request for admission to the U.S,. or an attempt to obtain immigration benefits, for you to be deemed inadmissible or removable on this ground. (NOTE: You might still, however, need a waiver for the fraud or willful misrepresentation.)

2) The false claim was not for a “purpose or benefit”  under immigration law or any other federal or state law 

One could argue that the potential benefit is not directly linked to a false U.S. citizenship claim (i.e. the outcome would have been the same regardless of the person’s citizenship status).

One could also argue that the false U.S. citizenship claim was made to avoid a negative outcome, and not to obtain a benefit.

An example is lying about being a U.S. citizen to a police officer to avoid being reported to the immigration authorities (where the arrest would have been made despite citizenship status and where avoiding deportation is not a”benefit”).

3) The false claim was not intentionally or knowingly made, particularly if you were a minor at the time

Immigration officers, immigration judges, government counsels, and U.S. Consulate officers generally agree that the false U.S. citizenship claim must be intentionally or knowingly made. Your mental capacity and English language skills  could be relevant to whether you intentionally or knowingly made a false claim.

You have an affirmative defense if you made the false claim while you were a minor. The Foreign Affairs Manual states that persons under age 18 “lacked the capacity (i.e., the maturity and the judgment) to understand and appreciate the nature and consequences of a false claim to citizenship.”

There is also a specific exception preventing deportation if you were under age 18 when you made the false claim, you permanently resided in the U.S. (with a green card) before you turned 16, each of your natural or adopted parents were U.S. citizens or are U.S. citizens, and you reasonably believed you were a citizen, too.

There is also ambiguity in old versions of Form I-9, which combined a “citizen or national of the United States” into one box. In this situation, the person may argue that the I-9 doesn’t show clearly whether he claimed to be a citizen or national. Immigration law punishes false claims to U.S. citizenship, but not false claims to U.S. nationality.

(NOTE: The new version of Form I-9, which became effective April 3, 2009,  splits “citizen or national” into two separate boxes: “citizen of the United States” and “noncitizen national of the United States”. Therefore, the “citizen/national” ambiguity is becoming a less relevant defense.)

4) The false claim was made by someone else 

False claims made by someone else on your behalf, when you were not aware of and did not participate in the claim, should not disqualify you from getting a green card or immigrant visa.

For example, you might have signed the I-9 form, but did not check the box indicating your immigration status or eligibility to work. Rather, the employer checked the box on your behalf without your knowledge (even though, by law, they are not supposed to do this).

5) The false claim was timely and voluntarily retracted

If you timely and voluntarily retract your false U.S. citizenship claim, you will probably not be found inadmissible or removable. For this defense to work, you would have to timely and voluntarily take back your false claim and correct the error before the lie is exposed or is about to be exposed.

What would qualify as a timely retraction depends largely on the facts, but must be done at the first opportunity.

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It can be tempting to falsely claim U.S. citizenship when there is no other way to find employment or gain entry into the U.S.  But this could later cause harm to your green card or immigrant visa application if, for example, you marry a U.S. citizen or find a U.S. employer who is willing to petition for you.

If you are already a permanent resident, a false claim to U.S. citizenship can prevent you from establishing good moral character for naturalization and subject you to removal from the United States.

False U.S. citizenship claims do not prohibit foreign nationals from applying for certain types of relief, such as a U visa and asylum (which can lead to permanent resident status) and cancellation of removal (which results in permanent resident status). But these forms of relief carry strict eligibility requirements. For example, an Immigration Judge may find that a Cancellation of Removal applicant who makes a false claim lacks the “good moral character” necessary to obtain this relief.

If you ever want to become a permanent resident through a family or employment-based petition, your best choice is to avoid making false claims to U.S. citizenship for benefits under immigration law or benefits under federal or state law. The potential defenses are sometimes hard to establish and don’t always work.

This article provides general information only. It is based on law, regulations and policy that are subject to change. Do not consider it as legal advice for any individual case or situation. Each legal case is different and case examples do not constitute a prediction or guarantee of success or failure in any other case. The sharing or receipt of this information does not create an attorney-client relationship.


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Photo by: Matteo Parrini, barriers