Ninth Circuit Holds that False Claim to Citizenship to Police Does Not Trigger Inadmissibility

Last Updated

July 28, 2023

In a precedential decision interpreting the false claim of citizenship ground of inadmissibility, INA § 212(a)(6)(C)(ii)(I), the Ninth Circuit held that such a claim made to police officers during a criminal arrest does not trigger inadmissibility. Ramírez Muñoz v Garland, --- F. 4th ---, 2023 WL 4168884 (9th Cir. 2023). In reaching its conclusion, the Ninth Circuit rejected the Board’s broad interpretation of this inadmissibility ground and instead found persuasive the Third Circuit’s reasoning in an earlier, precedential decision. Castro v. Att’y Gen., 671 F.3d 356, 370 (3d Cir. 2012). The Ninth Circuit concluded that Congress’s intent in creating this ground of inadmissibility was to prevent individuals from obtaining a legal benefit reserved for citizens, such as employment or certain public benefits. However, Congress did not intend the inadmissibility ground to apply in a case such as this one where a noncitizen falsely claims citizenship to minimize the risk that the police would report an arrest to DHS. Ultimately, the Ninth Circuit concluded that minimizing the risk of removal proceedings is not, in itself, a legal benefit under federal or state law.

Summary of Facts and Procedural History 

Mr. Ramírez Muñoz is a native and citizen of Mexico who was admitted to the United States in 1997 and remained here since that time. A few years after arriving in the United States, Mr. Ramírez acquired a U.S. birth certificate belonging to David Arthur Vargas, which he used to obtain a driver’s license in Vargas’s name. Mr. Ramírez also used Mr. Vargas’s name when seeking employment, as well as for identity purposes during two arrests for driving under the influence of alcohol. He later sought adjustment of status through his U.S. citizen son in removal proceedings.

The Immigration Judge (IJ) denied the adjustment application, finding that Mr. Ramírez was inadmissible and ineligible for a waiver. The IJ made factual findings that Mr. Ramírez had falsely claimed citizenship in two ways: (1) to avoid the negative legal consequences of removal proceedings following his two arrests, and (2) to obtain private employment. The Board upheld only the first of these factual findings and therefore the Ninth Circuit reviewed only the factual finding relating to the false claim to citizenship following his arrests. The Board found that falsely claiming U.S. citizenship to avoid the negative legal consequences of removal proceedings was for “any purpose or benefit” under federal or state law, in accordance with its precedential decision in Matter of Richmond, 26 I&N Dec. 779 (BIA 2016). However, the Ninth Circuit disagreed and rejected the Board’s reasoning.


The Ninth Circuit specifically rejected the Board’s interpretation of the term “under” as used in the state as “overly broad” and “incoherent.” The Ninth Circuit found that under the Board’s interpretation, the ground of inadmissibility would apply when an individual lies about his citizenship — not just to the police but to anyone at all— to minimize the risk of being detected by immigration authorities. Looking at the Congressional history, the Board found that Congress did not intend this bar to sweep so broadly. The Congressional record shows that legislators were concerned with noncitizens seeking employment and receiving public benefits, not with an abstract concern about the orderly functioning of the immigration laws.

The Ninth Circuit also noted that to avoid First Amendment concerns and serious constitutional questions about restrictions on free speech, the false claim of citizenship must “be made to a person having some right to inquire or adequate reason for ascertaining [the] defendant’s citizenship” and not merely “to stop the prying of some busybody.”

In rejecting the Board’s interpretation of the term “under” as applied to this statute, the Ninth Circuit looked to its own precedent to determine that the better definition of the term “under” is “in accordance with.” Thus, for the ground of inadmissibility to apply, the noncitizen must have made the false claim to comport with some specific legal requirement. Applying the test to the instant case, the Ninth Circuit found that the Board had failed to identify a specific federal or state law that required Mr. Ramirez to establish his citizenship status.

Implications for Practitioners 

The decision in Ramírez Muñoz is a positive one in that it may allow more noncitizens, particularly in the Ninth Circuit, to qualify for adjustment of status. If a practitioner sees evidence of a false claim to citizenship in an applicant’s arrest records or other documentation, it is important to dig deeper into the legal implications. The first step is always to investigate whether in fact there was a false claim to citizenship made; often arrest reports and FBI records contain factual errors made by law enforcement. In those circumstances, practitioners should argue that the ground of inadmissibility does not apply because there was in fact no false claim to citizenship.

However, even if a false claim to citizenship was made to local law enforcement, that is not the end of the inquiry as to inadmissibility. It is important to investigate further whether that false claim was “for any purpose or benefit under” federal or state law. The argument is easier if the advocate can point out that a person’s citizenship status has no bearing on how a local criminal proceeding is handled. Those were the facts of the Third Circuit’s decision in Castro v. Att’y Gen. The Castro decision is acknowledged by the Board in its precedential decision in Matter of Richmond and incorporated into the USCIS Policy Manual. However, the Ninth Circuit took the Castro decision even further, finding that even if there is evidence that a state had a particular policy of reporting noncitizens to DHS, this is not sufficient to trigger INA § 212(a)(6)(C)(ii)(I) in the absence of a legal requirement to disclose citizenship status. Thus, practitioners should not shy away from advocating that the false claim to citizenship ground of inadmissibility should be interpreted narrowly, especially when it comes to the harsh consequences of a finding of inadmissibility under this ground.