Injeti v. USCIS, No. 12-1167 (4th Cir. 2013)

Annotate this Case
Justia Opinion Summary

Plaintiff, a native and citizen of India, sought review of USCIS's denial of her application for naturalization. The district court granted summary judgment to USCIS finding that plaintiff was ineligible for naturalization because she had not been lawfully admitted for permanent residence, and that she failed to demonstrate good moral character. The court found that plaintiff failed to show that she was legally entitled to the grant of the LPR status she received and concluded that she was not lawfully admitted for permanent residence. Therefore, plaintiff was ineligible for naturalization and the district court did not err in granting summary judgment on this ground. Accordingly, the court affirmed as to that portion of the district court's judgment. Because a failure to satisfy any one of the statutory prerequisites rendered an applicant ineligible for naturalization, the district court's finding of moral character was not essential to its grant of summary judgment. Accordingly, the court vacated that portion of the district court's judgment addressing plaintiff's good moral character.

Download PDF
PUBLISHED UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE FOURTH CIRCUIT No. 12-1167 LAKSHMI INJETI, Plaintiff Appellant, v. UNITED STATES CITIZENSHIP AND IMMIGRATION SERVICES, Defendant Appellee. Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Maryland, at Greenbelt. Roger W. Titus, District Judge. (8:11cv-00584-RWT) Argued: September 18, 2013 Decided: December 11, 2013 Before DAVIS, WYNN, and DIAZ, Circuit Judges. Affirmed in part and vacated in part by published opinion. Judge Diaz wrote the opinion, in which Judge Davis and Judge Wynn joined. ARGUED: Jeffrey Brian O'Toole, O'TOOLE, ROTHWELL, NASSAU & STEINBACH, Washington, D.C., for Appellant. Erez Reuveni, UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE, Washington, D.C., for Appellee. ON BRIEF: Karen Burke, O'TOOLE, ROTHWELL, NASSAU & STEINBACH, Washington, D.C., for Appellant. Stuart Delery, Acting Assistant Attorney General, Civil Division, Samuel P. Go, Senior Litigation Counsel, Office of Immigration Litigation, UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE, Washington, D.C., for Appellee. DIAZ, Circuit Judge: Lakshmi Injeti, a native and citizen of India, entered the United States on a nonimmigrant visa in 1991. In 2001, she was granted an adjustment of status to lawful permanent resident ( LPR ). course Injeti applied for naturalization in 2006, and in the of reviewing her application, Immigration Services ( USCIS ) application for status LPR U.S. discovered contained a Citizenship that her and prior misrepresentation. Although Injeti had in fact been married twice, the application stated that she had no former husbands. that, Injeti in connection had with submitted first husband. a a separate fraudulent USCIS also discovered immigration death proceeding, certificate for her On the basis of this information, it denied her application for naturalization. Injeti District sought Court for review the of USCIS s District of decision Maryland. in the U.S. Finding that Injeti was ineligible for naturalization because she (1) had not been lawfully admitted for permanent residence, and (2) failed to demonstrate good moral character, the district court granted summary judgment for USCIS. order, arguing that she Injeti appeals the district court s satisfied both conditions. As we explain below, we affirm the district court s judgment in part, and vacate it in part. 2 I. A. Injeti was born in Andhra Pradesh, India in 1960. married her first husband, Rajurao sometime between 1974 and 1977. with Mr. Injeti s parents Injeti ( Mr. She Injeti ), The two lived together in India until 1981, when Injeti Qatar, without her husband, to seek employment. moved to Though living apart, they remained in intermittent contact until 1987. Injeti alleges that, in 1988, she received a letter from Mr. Injeti s parents informing her that he had died. Injeti claims she has neither seen nor heard from Mr. Injeti since. In June 1991, Injeti married Mohammed Farook Shaikh, an Indian citizen According marrying Shaikh to whom Injeti, Shaikh had she also she met because been did she in 1988 not while obtain believed previously living a divorce Mr. married, Injeti but in Qatar. prior was Injeti to dead. claims Shaikh informed her that he was a widower. Injeti entered the United States on a nonimmigrant visa in November 1991 to work as an employee of a Qatari diplomat. Sometime thereafter, she began working as a housekeeper for an American couple, Stewart and Sharon Karr. employment-based visa petition on approved in December 1993. 3 Stewart Karr filed an Injeti s behalf, which was On the basis of the approved petition, application for adjustment to LPR status. Injeti filed an Injeti s application indicated that her husband, Shaikh, was applying with her, and also listed the names of three children from her first marriage. However, in response to a question about the identity of former husbands or wives, none. J.A. 117. Injeti s application incorrectly stated According to Injeti s then attorney, this inaccuracy arose from his own inadvertent error: although Injeti informed him that she was a widow, he mistakenly entered none in the box where the name of a former spouse should be entered. J.A. 261. Nevertheless, Injeti signed the application, certifying under penalty of perjury that the information it contained was true and correct. J.A. 137. Injeti was granted LPR status on January 19, 2001. Shaikh was accorded LPR status as a derivative beneficiary, as were two of Injeti s children. Sometime thereafter, Injeti and Shaikh filed an application for derivative LPR status for Shaikh s son. During the application process, immigration officials discovered that Shaikh, fraudulent in death applying for certificate LPR for Shaikh s first wife was alive. status, his first had wife. submitted In a fact, Based on this information, the government initiated removal proceedings against Shaikh, Injeti, and Injeti's two children in June 2005. 4 Shaikh obtained a divorce from his first wife and remarried Injeti in April 2006. of the removal Around the same time, during the course proceedings, Injeti submitted to immigration officials a document purporting to be a death certificate for her first husband, Mr. Injeti. According to Injeti, she received this document by mail sometime between 1999 and 2001 after requesting it from Mr. Injeti s parents. Although USCIS would later determine that the death certificate for Mr. Injeti was also fraudulent, terminated the in removal the interim, proceedings an against immigration Injeti, judge concluding that Shaikh s misrepresentation regarding his first wife was only attribut[able] to [his] actions. On May 11, naturalization application, 2006, with this Injeti USCIS. J.A. 27. filed Like application an her omitted her application prior for adjustment marriage to Mr. Injeti, answering 1 to a question asking [h]ow many times have you been married? J.A. 195. According to the attorney who assisted Injeti with completing her application, this error occurred as a direct result of the prior inaccuracy on her adjustment application. Injeti s naturalization application was prepared, automated in part, by computer software, and the software simply transfer[red] the inaccurate information from the adjustment J.A. 371. application to the naturalization application. The attorney stated in an affidavit that he did not 5 become aware of either error until after both forms had been submitted. While Injeti s naturalization application was under review, USCIS received a letter from an individual named Anton, who claimed to be the boyfriend of Injeti s daughter Suvarna. letter stated that Injeti and Shaikh had each The submitted fraudulent death certificates for their former spouses, and that Mr. Injeti remained alive in India. The letter further stated that Injeti and Shaikh had threatened Suvarna not to tell the truth to an immigration judge. J.A. 254. Although the letter did name, listed not provide Anton s last it two e-mail addresses and a mailing address in Australia where he could be reached. USCIS subsequently interviewed Injeti, who stated that she had previously been married to Mr. Injeti. contacted officials in Injeti s purported death previously submitted, India, who USCIS officials then informed certificate, was them which fraudulent. In that Mr. Injeti had fact, the certificate s registration number was associated with a valid death certificate for another individual. USCIS did not U.S. Court for the immediately take further action. Injeti filed suit in the District District of Maryland seeking adjudication of her naturalization application. In connection with 6 these proceedings, she submitted an affidavit from her attorney, David Rothwell, explaining the inaccuracies in her application forms. She also submitted her and Shaikh s original marriage certificate, which stated that both were widowed at the time of their marriage. 1 The district court remanded the case to USCIS for adjudication. USCIS denied Injeti s application for naturalization. USCIS reasoned that, because Injeti had omitted mention of her first husband from her adjustment application and had later submitted a fraudulent death certificate, she failed to meet her burden of establishing eligibility for naturalization. Specifically, she had not been lawfully admitted for permanent residence and did not possess good moral character required for naturalization under 8 U.S.C. § 1427(a). as J.A. 275. In response, Injeti sought a hearing before an immigration officer. After conducting additional evidence, USCIS another again interview denied and Injeti s considering application. It based its decision on several related considerations. First, in the absence of proof that Mr. Injeti had died in 1988, USCIS concluded that Injeti had been married to more than one person 1 In his affidavit, Rothwell stated that he also submitted this marriage certificate with Injeti s original application for LPR status. J.A. 261. However, the certificate is not attached to the version of Injeti s application that appears in the record, and our review of the record does not otherwise reveal any indication that immigration officials received it. 7 at the same time. J.A. 28. crime of moral turpitude. She had thus committed bigamy, a As a result, negative answers she gave in her interview to questions regarding whether she had ever committed a crime or been married to more than one person at once had in fact been false. along with Injeti s This crime and false testimony, submission certificate, all prevented character. Additionally, her of from because a fraudulent establishing Injeti had death good moral procured [her] lawful permanent residence through misrepresentation, she had not been lawfully admitted for permanent residence. J.A. 31. Finally, USCIS concluded that Injeti had deliberately engaged in an ongoing pattern of misrepresentation and deceit. 31. J.A. Therefore, she was statutorily and permanently ineligible for naturalization. J.A. 32. B. Injeti filed a new complaint in the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland, seeking review of the denial of her naturalization application pursuant to 8 U.S.C. § 1421(c). Injeti s complaint asserted that she met all the requirements for naturalization and had not committed bigamy. The district court held a hearing on USCIS s motion to dismiss or for summary judgment. At the conclusion of the hearing, the court granted summary judgment in favor of USCIS. Delivering its decision from the bench, the district court explained that Injeti was 8 ineligible for naturalization because she had: (1) not been lawfully admitted for permanent residence; and (2) failed to establish good moral character. First, regarding Injeti s permanent resident status, the district court held that she had an absolute duty to inform [USCIS] of her previous husband. that information from her J.A. 94. application Because she omitted for adjustment to LPR status, she did not have proper immigration status in the first place and therefore naturalization. could J.A. 95. not be a Second, proper because candidate for she the made misrepresentation under penalty of perjury, Injeti s statement constituted false testimony under 8 U.S.C. § 1101(f)(6), barring a finding of good moral character. J.A. 96. Because Injeti was ineligible for naturalization on either basis, the court held, USCIS was entitled to summary judgment. II. A. Courts review application de novo. a decision denying a naturalization Dung Phan v. Holder, 667 F.3d 448, 451 (4th Cir. 2012); see 8 U.S.C. § 1421(c). Similarly, we review the district court s grant of summary judgment de novo, viewing the facts in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Dung Phan, 667 F.3d at 451. 9 To qualify for naturalization, an applicant bears the burden of establishing, among other prerequisites, that she: (1) has resided continuously in the United States for at least five years after being lawfully admitted for permanent residence, and (2) has character been, during and the still is, relevant § 1427(a); 8 C.F.R. § 316.2. a person time of periods. good moral 8 U.S.C. Arguing that the district court s grant of summary judgment to USCIS was improper, Injeti contends that the district court erred in finding that she could not satisfy either of these conditions. We first consider whether Injeti was lawfully admitted for permanent residence. B. The term lawfully admitted for permanent residence means the status of having been lawfully accorded the privilege of residing permanently in the United States as an immigrant in accordance with the immigration laws. As one of our sister circuits has 8 U.S.C. § 1101(a)(20). aptly noted, [t]his definition is somewhat circuitous, and where there is ambiguity, we must give deference to the agency s interpretation, if it is reasonable. Arellano-Garcia v. Gonzales, 429 F.3d 1183, 1186 (8th Cir. 2005) (citing Chevron, U.S.A., Inc. v. Natural Res. Def. Council, Inc., 467 U.S. 837, 842-43 (1984)). 10 The Board of Immigration Appeals ( BIA ) has explained that the term lawfully denotes compliance with substantive legal requirements, not mere procedural regularity. In re Koloamatangi, 23 I. & N. Dec. 548, 550 (B.I.A. 2003) (internal quotation marks omitted). has obtained was otherwise not entitled to it--has not been lawfully admitted. See id. In indication of other words, fraud, an LPR status According to the BIA, an alien who even alien by in cases has not fraud--or where been who there is lawfully no admitted if her admission, at the time it was granted, was not in substantive compliance with the immigration laws. See Shin v. Holder, 607 F.3d 1213, 1217 (9th Cir. 2010). The BIA has applied this non-fraud doctrine in other cases, ranging from those where a petitioner has obtained LPR status through petitioner oversight. the has fraud received of third parties to those LPR status due an administrative See, e.g., Walker v. to where a Holder, 589 F.3d 12, 19 (1st Cir. 2009) (affirming a BIA order concluding that petitioner had not been lawfully admitted because he had acquired LPR status through the fraud or misrepresentation of third parties ); Arellano-Garcia, 429 F.3d at 1186-87 (agreeing with a BIA order concluding that petitioner had not been lawfully admitted because his LPR status was obtained by a negligent mistake made by the government ). 11 Every other circuit that has addressed the BIA s construction of lawfully has deferred to it as reasonable, and seeing no reason to reach a contrary conclusion, we follow suit. 2 Thus, to establish that she was lawfully admitted for permanent residence, Injeti must do more than simply show that she was granted LPR status; she must further demonstrate that the grant of that status immigration laws. 3 was in substantive compliance with the See Shin, 607 F.3d at 1217. Injeti concedes that her application for adjustment to LPR status contained a misrepresentation regarding whether she had previously been married. Specifically, she inaccurately stated none when asked whether she had any former husbands. 117. Nevertheless, Injeti contends that she was J.A. lawfully admitted for permanent residence because the misrepresentation-which she explains resulted from a mistake by her attorney--was not fraudulent or willful, and was immaterial to her eligibility 2 See, e.g., Gallimore v. Att y Gen., 619 F.3d 216, 223-25 (3d Cir. 2010); Shin, 607 F.3d at 1217; Walker, 589 F.3d at 1921; De La Rosa v. U.S. Dep t of Homeland Sec., 489 F.3d 551, 554-55 (2d Cir. 2007); Savoury v. U.S. Att'y Gen., 449 F.3d 1307, 1313-17 (11th Cir. 2006); Arellano-Garcia, 429 F.3d at 1186-87. 3 This does not mean that any time a person applies for naturalization, she must affirmatively come forward with proof to refute every conceivable basis for concluding that her admission did not comply with applicable law. Rather, such proof is required only where there is some articulable reason to suspect that the applicant s admission was improper. 12 for LPR status in the sense that she was not excludable on the true facts. See Appellant s Br. at 34. Therefore, she argues, her adjustment to LPR status complied with the immigration laws both procedurally and substantively. First, we reject misrepresentation in We disagree. Injeti s her application contention eligibility for LPR status. was that immaterial the to her Despite Injeti s argument to the contrary, finding that a misrepresentation is material does not require concluding that it necessarily would have changed the relevant decision. Rather, in Kungys v. United States, 485 U.S. 759 (1988), the Supreme Court held that a misrepresentation in an immigration proceeding (there a denaturalization proceeding) is material if it ha[s] a natural tendency to influence the decision[] of [immigration officials]. Id. at 772; see also United States v. Garcia-Ochoa, 607 F.3d 371, 375-76 (4th Cir. 2010) (noting numerous that the contexts ). Kungys As materiality one circuit test court applies has in concluded, [t]his is most definitely not a but for analysis, . . . that is, the government need not establish that but for the misrepresentation the application for LPR status would not have been granted. Kalejs v. INS, 10 F.3d 441, 446 (7th Cir. 1993). The BIA considers a misrepresentation material if it tends to shut off a line of inquiry which is relevant to the alien s eligibility and which might well 13 have resulted in a proper determination that he be excluded. Matter of Kai Hing Hui, 15 I. & N. Dec. 288, 289 (B.I.A. 1975) (quoting Matter of S-- & B-C--, 9 I. & N. Dec. 436, 448-49 (A.G. 1961)); see also Cooper v. Gonzales, 216 F. App x 294, 297 (4th Cir. 2007) (applying the BIA s materiality standard); Gozun v. Att y Gen., 375 F. App x 276, 279 (3d Cir. 2010) (deferring to the BIA s definition of a material misrepresentation as reasonable ). To the extent that these materiality standards differ, we need not determine which of the two applies Injeti s misrepresentation meets either one. here because Cf. Solis-Muela v. INS, 13 F.3d 372, 377 (10th Cir. 1993) (declining to decide whether the Kungys or BIA materiality standard applied because [r]egardless of the standard employed, the misrepresentation at issue was material). As USCIS explained in its decision denying Injeti s naturalization application: Had USCIS properly known that [Injeti] w[as] previously married, they would have inquired deeper into the matter. The fraudulent death certificate of [Mr.] Injeti would have been discovered around the same time as that of the fraudulent death certificate of . . . Shaikh s first wife. This would have gone to the heart of [Injeti s] eligibility to become a lawful permanent resident. . . . Had it been known that [Injeti] w[as] married to two individuals at the same time, [she] would have been precluded from establishing eligibility for lawful permanent residence. J.A. 30. In other words, because commission of bigamy, a crime of moral turpitude, renders an alien inadmissible, see 8 U.S.C. 14 § 1182(a)(2)(A)(i), had a natural Injeti s tendency to omission influence of her the prior evaluation marriage of her application for LPR status, see Kungys, 485 U.S. at 772, by shut[ting] off inquiry into the propriety of her second marriage, Matter of Kai Hing Hui, 15 I. & N. Dec. at 289. The misrepresentation the was therefore material, whether or not true facts would have actually led to denial of her application. 4 Nor was it necessary for the district court to determine whether As Injeti s explained misrepresentation previously, and as was our fraudulent sister or willful. circuits have repeatedly observed, [t]he adverb lawfully requires more than the absence of fraud. Savoury, 449 F.3d at 1313. Indeed, [i]t requires consistency with all applicable law, id., and an alien has not been lawfully admitted when she was not legally entitled to LPR status for any reason, Gallimore, 619 F.3d at 224. See In re Koloamatangi, 23 I. & N. Dec. at 550. In arguing that her admission was consistent with applicable law, and thus that she was legally entitled to LPR status, Injeti attempts to rely on 8 U.S.C. § 1182(a)(6)(C)(i), which designates as inadmissible any alien who seek[s] to 4 Injeti contends that she would have been inadmissible only if she had knowingly been married to two men at once. For reasons we explain later, we find it unnecessary to determine whether Injeti committed bigamy. 15 procure admission material fact. by fraud Injeti or argues willfully that her misrepresenting admission was a not inconsistent with this provision because her misrepresentation on her application was neither fraudulent nor willful. Nor, according to Injeti, was she inadmissible under any of the other applicable statutory bars. In particular, she contends that she did not commit bigamy, so as to render her inadmissible under the bar against aliens who have committed a crime of moral turpitude, see 8 U.S.C. § 1182(a)(2)(A)(i), because she believes Mr. Injeti died prior to her marriage to Shaikh. Injeti s argument incorrectly presumes that admissibility is the only requirement for being entitled to LPR status. To be sure, Injeti would not have been entitled to adjust her status to permanent resident had Admissibility, however, condition adjustment statute for governing she is to adjustment a been statutorily necessary, LPR of but status. status inadmissible. not Indeed, makes sufficient, while the admissibility a prerequisite for receiving a grant of LPR status, see 8 U.S.C. § 1255, the ultimate determination as to whether an alien will receive that status is left to the Attorney General in his discretion and under such regulations as he may prescribe. Id. (emphasis added). One such regulation, 8 C.F.R. § 103.2(a)(2), requires the applicant to certify that all 16 information contained in the application is true and correct. Because Injeti s application contained a material misrepresentation, and thus was not true and correct, it did not comply with § 103.2(a)(2). 5 See also United States v. Sadig, No. 05-4733, 2007 WL 4553963, at *4 (4th Cir. Dec. 27, 2007) ( [T]he oath at the end of the application specifically and absolutely requires that the answers be true and correct. ). It follows that Injeti did not satisfy the legal requirements for adjusting to LPR status under 8 U.S.C. § 1255, regardless of whether the misrepresentation on her application was willful, and even if she did not commit bigamy. Cf. In re F---- M----, 7 I & N Dec. 420, 421-22 (B.I.A. 1957) (concluding that a visa granted on the basis of an application that contained a material misrepresentation was not a valid one, despite [applicant] the made record the fail[ing] to establish misrepresentation that willfully the and purposefully ). 5 By its terms, 8 C.F.R. § 103.2(a)(2) does not limit the duty to ensure that an application is true and correct to material facts. However, given that the regulation seems intended to facilitate USCIS s assessment of whether the applicant is eligible for the benefit sought, we read it to imply such a limitation. That is to say, we do not believe a mistake or misstatement with no possible bearing on an applicant s eligibility, and which is therefore immaterial, see Kungys, 485 U.S. at 772, necessarily violates the duty imposed by § 103.2(a)(2). 17 Accordingly, we find that Injeti failed to show that she was legally entitled to the grant of LPR status she received, and conclude that she was not lawfully admitted for permanent residence. Injeti is therefore ineligible for naturalization, and the district court did not err in granting summary judgment for USCIS on this ground. C. In addition to finding that Injeti had not been lawfully admitted for permanent residence, the district court also held that Injeti s unlawful acts bar[red] a finding of good moral character. one of J.A. 96. the However, because a failure to satisfy any statutory prerequisites renders an applicant ineligible for naturalization, this latter conclusion was not essential to the district court s grant of summary judgment. See Fedorenko v. United States, 449 U.S. 490, 506 (1981) ( [T]here must be strict compliance with all the congressionally imposed prerequisites to the acquisition of citizenship. ). In light of the possibility that Injeti might, in the future, seek immigration benefits to which her character is relevant, we vacate that portion of the district court s judgment addressing Injeti s good moral character. In doing so, we express no opinion on the merits of the district court s analysis. AFFIRMED IN PART AND VACATED IN PART 18