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10 Years of Lies Undermine 'Good Moral Character' Assertion

By Robyn Hagan Cain | Last updated on

The distant past can come back to haunt a naturalization applicant.

To qualify for naturalization, an applicant must demonstrate that he is "a person of good moral character." In a matter of first impression, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled this week that a district court can consider events that precede a naturalization application by more than one year in determining that an applicant could not demonstrate good moral character as a matter of law.

Anthony Ngomi Kariuki entered the United States on a six-month visitor visa. He never left. Since then, he has misrepresented his immigration status repeatedly. For example:

  • In 2000, Kariuki enlisted in the U.S. Army by means of a false passport stamp denoting permanent residency. He was discharged for “fraudulent enlistment.”
  • In 2001, Kariuki pleaded guilty to violating 18 U.S.C. § 911 by checking the box on an INS Form I-9 which attested, under penalty of perjury, that he was a “citizen or national of the United States.”
  • In the same 2001 incident, Kariuki had erased the words “Not Valid for Work Without INS Verification” from his Social Security card, which he had presented to a prospective employer along with the INS Form I-9.
  • Kariuki applied for naturalization in 2004 pursuant to 8 U.S.C. § 1440. During his naturalization interview, he claimed under oath that he never had falsely represented himself as a U.S. citizen.

Kariuki seems to have a problem with truthfulness in his government interactions.

Citizenship and Immigration Services denied Kariuki’s application in 2009, finding that he was not “a person of good moral character.” Kariuki administratively appealed — the appeal was denied — and later sued petitioning for review of his denied application. In July of 2011, during a deposition for the instant proceedings, Kariuki again claimed under oath that he never had falsely represented himself as a U.S. citizen.

Some people never learn, right?

The district court rejected Kariuki’s claims, and he appealed. Kariuki contends that the district court erred by considering conduct that preceded the filing of his application by more than one year, despite the one-year “good moral character” time limit for military naturalizations. The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed.

While 8 C.F.R. § 329.2(d) sets a one-year good moral character time limit, 8 C.F.R. § 316.10(a)(2) explains that a reviewing tribunal “is not limited to reviewing the applicant’s conduct during the [one year] immediately preceding the filing of the application.” Instead, the tribunal “may take into consideration, as a basis for its determination, the applicant’s conduct and acts at any time prior to that period” (i) “if the conduct of the applicant during the statutory period does not reflect that there has been reform of character from an earlier period”; or (ii) “if the earlier conduct and acts appear relevant to a determination of the applicant’s present moral character.”

The Fifth Circuit agreed with the district court that the evidence of Kariuki’s past wrongs was admissible, and affirmed the decision.

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