Case Study: When Klutz and Chutzpah Combine in the Immigration Business

By David North on December 27, 2010

Once upon a time there was an illegal alien with a remarkable imagination, unlimited nerve, but limited intelligence. This is a story of what happened to him, and what did not, in the immigration decision-making process. (I stumbled on the case while researching something else.)

It is clear that our non-hero is a male, probably well over 50 years of age, and probably a resident of California, but because of the ridiculous privacy rules of the Administrative Appeals Office (of USCIS) we do not know his name, despite the fact that AAO ruled that he had committed a fraud on the U.S. government. Nor do we know, for similar reasons, the name of his accomplice, someone who worked for the Bay Area Law Center.

Here's the story as pieced together from the heavily censored decision handed down by the AAO on August 21, 2008.

One of the most obscure elements of the immigration law – and there are lots of them – is that a former employee of either the Panama Canal or the Canal Zone government can, all else being equal, claim permanent legal residence status by applying to USCIS. Many of the workers for these entities were not U.S. citizens. (The U.S. relinquished its ownership of the canal on October 1, 1979, more than 31 years ago.)

We will call the alien in question PC. PC probably was illegally present in the U.S. because his accomplice, to quote the decision, said he would file "papers to get legal" with USCIS.

PC signed an application for adjustment to permanent resident alien status on the basis that he was eligible because of his employment with the Authoridad del Canal de Panama (ACP). He submitted a letter from an executive of ACP, saying that he had been an employee starting in January 1979 and had been stationed at Fort Jackson.

Here is where the klutz came in. ACP is not only not the Panama Canal nor the Canal Zone, nor an entity within either, it was not, as AAO pointed out, even created until December 27, 1997, 20 years after the handover of the canal. Further, AAO said that they could discern no evidence that there was ever a Fort Jackson in the Canal Zone. (I looked in a battered 1948 Rand McNally atlas in my library, and found many forts in the Zone, but no Fort Jackson.)

When told these facts, PC responded (with chutzpah) that he had been mislead by his lawyer. AAO checked a little further and found that the accomplice that PC regarded as his lawyer was neither accredited to work with USCIS nor a member of the California – or any other – bar. AAO concluded, in a nice double-negative, that "the advice of a non-attorney cannot form the basis of a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel."

Since this was the case, and since PC had signed his petition, AAO ruled: "The appeal is dismissed with a finding of fraud and wilful misrepresentation of a material fact."

That was AAO's action, but what did not happen, or at least did not happen on the record, was any referral to ICE or to a U.S. attorney for either prosecution for fraud or, at the very least, a recommendation of removal.

USCIS and AAO had both ruled properly in the case, and PC was not going to get a green card. But PC, presumably long in illegal status, was just left in limbo, not adversely affected by his attempted fraud, or at least not on the record.

PC is probably still in the Bay Area, probably still an illegal.

For the full text of the decision, see here.