World-renowned cyclist Lance Armstrong recently admitted in an interview with American TV host Oprah that he used banned drugs to score victories on his Tour de France competitions.
According to Armstrong, he now feels “disgraced, humbled and ashamed by his actions.” Telling the truth may have liberated him from living a lie for 17 years, but this revelation comes with consequences.
In an immigration context, lying to an immigration examiner or on the immigration application also comes with serious consequences. There are lies that may be forgiven through waivers and lies that result not only in a denial of one’s current application but in permanent bars to receiving future visas.
Isabel entered the United States using a passport with a US visa under the name of “Maricel.” She did not have to appear before the consular officer in 2000 to get the visa. A phony travel agent claimed that she looked like the picture on the passport and that she would be allowed to use the visa. Since Isabel always wanted to travel to the US, she paid a significant amount of money to the agency and was able to enter. After more than five years in the US, she met her partner in life. A petition was filed on her behalf but the US Citizenship and Immigration Service denied the petition and her waiver application. Isabel was brought to the immigration court for deportation.
In court, she renewed her application for her green card and her request for waiver. She admitted before the immigration judge that she used an “assumed name” when she entered the US. The immigration judge was observing Isabel while she was testifying and noticed that there was lack of remorse on her part in admitting to the fraud. It was at that point that the judge asked her a moral question: “do you know what is right from wrong?” Isabel answered “yes” to the question. The judge then continued to question her in this fashion until Isabel broke down in tears and admitted the reason she actually lied to the immigration officer about her identity. Still in tears, Isabel asked for forgiveness and pled for compassion from the judge to allow her to stay in the US so she could continue to live with her ailing husband. She said she regretted getting herself into this mess, she regretted being part of such a scheme (assuming someone else’s identity). She said she was never at peace during the years she was using someone else’s identity but she had hoped to be given a second chance. The immigration judge granted her waiver and she was spared from deportation. She was granted a chance to right the wrong she committed.
But not all who engaged in fraud in immigration petitions are successful in obtaining waivers. The circumstances of each case are taken into account in determining whether an individual merits a grant of waiver. Those who are not granted waivers will not be issued visas and risk deportation.
Not all lies will constitute fraud for purposes of denial of visa applications. Lies turn to fraud when it is a serious and material lie or misrepresentation. The most common types of serious “lies” in immigration are those involving (1) actual marital status; (2) good faith marriages; (3) traveling with a different or assumed name and (4) political asylum applications.
There are those who are able to get away with the fraud and travel, like in the case of Isabel. But once the fraud is discovered, the US Department of Homeland Security will take steps to make sure that the individual who engaged in fraud is either prosecuted or put in deportation proceedings. Those found to have engaged in fraud in obtaining visas are specifically excluded from receiving benefits from recent immigration pronouncements such as prosecutorial discretion, deferred action, or provisional waivers. This indicates that fraud is as high a priority in the denial of visas as those who have been convicted of crimes or deemed to be national security threats.
Waivers of fraud
Since “fraud” in visa applications is specifically mentioned as a ground for denial of visas, it has been difficult to obtain waivers of fraud.
Prior to 1997, filing a waiver for the inadmissibility ground of fraud simply required the filing of an accomplished I-601 form and filing fee. But after the enactment of the Illegal Immigration Reform Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA), the law requires proof of extreme hardship to US citizen or lawful permanent resident spouses or parents. Extreme hardship must be supported by strong evidence. Again, each case is different and the immigration examiner has discretion to adjudicate the waiver applications.
The courage not to lie
It is not easy to admit a lie. Watching Armstrong admit his biggest lie is like watching an individual admitting his mistakes and lies before an immigration judge. Armstrong is a public figure, a legendary sports hero. His admission resulted not only in great loss to him monetarily but forever damaged his iconic place in the world of sports and philanthropy.
While a person in removal proceedings is not under the same level of scrutiny, he certainly faces the same predicament. Like Armstrong, a person enjoying immigration benefits acquired through lying may get away with the lie, even for a long time, but it does not mean that the wrong is somehow righted, or that at some point, the lie would not be revealed. And if the reckoning comes, one has to deal with the lie, admit it, and accept its consequences. This is difficult and it is disgraceful. So instead of going through the ordeal, one should deliberate seriously on the possible consequences before choosing to engage in fraud or lie in immigration applications. The courage is not in one’s ability to admit to a lie, greater courage is required not to commit one.
(Tancinco may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 887-7177 or visit her website at www.tancinco.com)