Friday, December 9, 2011

USCIS Official Jaime Yslas Testifies Falsely About Dual Citizenship

From the 2008 transcript of the prosecution questioning of USCIS agent Jaime Yslas during Esteban Tiznado's 2008 trial for Illegal Reentry

In addition to the false and misleading testimony of a US government official, this post documents the successful appeal of Esteban's cousin in June, 2011,
relying on the same evidence that also proves Esteban's citizenship

Last week I had the opportunity to read the transcript for Esteban Tiznado's 2008 trial in which an Arizona jury found him "Not Guilty" of Illegal Reentry because the copious evidence of his father's U.S. citizenship was consistent with Esteban's defense of U.S. citizenship, as argued by his court-appointed counsel, Jesse Smith.

The chief witness for the prosecution was Citizenship and Immigration Services (CIS) agent Jaime Yslas who, he asserted, was the "subject matter expert" on citizenship policies for District 25, which encompasses Arizona and Nevada.

If this guy's the "expert" no wonder U.S. citizens are ending up deported.

In addition to partial and misleading characterizations of the case documents and agency practices, Yslas made a statement about dual citizenship and nationality that is simply inaccurate. This and other partial truths Yslas made were all toward the end of depriving Tiznado of his U.S. citizenship.

Throughout the hearing ,the prosecution points out instances in which Tiznado states he is born in Mexico and a citizen of Mexico -- and the defense shows all the statements Tiznado made indicating that he is a U.S. citizen. Tiznado's attorney, Smith, points out that at the various points at which Tiznado failed to appeal his deportations and accepted the government's designation of him as a citizen of Mexico that he was in government custody and that conceding this would be a way to be released from it.

Smith also points out that Tiznado's statements acknowledging birth in Mexico, and thus Mexican citizenship, do not contradict an assertion of U.S. citizenship as well. In response, the prosecution pursues the following line of inquiry with CIS agent Yslas:
Q. Jaime, there's a discussion earlier about dual citizenship. If a person from another country applies for United States citizenship, can he retain or she retain their citizenship from that other country?

A. To become a U.S. citizen, whether you are naturalized or you derive citizenship, you are required to take an oath of allegiance where you denounce citizenship from your original country of birth or citizenship.

Q. So the United States does not recognize dual citizenship?

A. No, sir, but they recognize that other countries will possibly recognize dual citizenship.
This statement is demonstrably false. Here's a correct statement of U.S. policy on dual citizenship, derived from a definition of dual nationality, appearing courtesy of the State Department - drawing on 8 USC 1481 sec. 349 (a) (1):

The concept of dual nationality means that a person is a citizen of two countries at the same time ... Persons may have dual nationality by automatic operation of different laws rather than by choice. For example, a child born in a foreign country to U.S. citizen parents may be both a U.S. citizen and a citizen of the country of birth.

A U.S. citizen may acquire foreign citizenship by marriage, or a person naturalized as a U.S. citizen may not lose the citizenship of the country of birth. U.S. law does not mention dual nationality or require a person to choose one citizenship or another. Also, a person who is automatically granted another citizenship does not risk losing U.S. citizenship. However, a person who acquires a foreign citizenship by applying for it may lose U.S. citizenship. In order to lose U.S. citizenship, the law requires that the person must apply for the foreign citizenship voluntarily, by free choice, and with the intention to give up U.S. citizenship.

Note that there is no requirement for someone who derives citizenship, i.e., obtains it automatically by operation of law, to swear allegiance to the United States, a ludicrous requirement even hypothetically since this happens at birth. Also, the policy statement concludes, "The U.S. Government recognizes that dual nationality exists but does not encourage it as a matter of policy because of the problems it may cause." Note the initial reference to acquiring dual nationality due to an "automatic operation of different laws" -- the circumstance for Esteban's U.S. citizenship -- and the final reference requiring "intent" for relinquishing U.S. citizenship.

(I am quoting from the government paraphrasing 8 USC 1401 sec. 349 to emphasize that the U.S. government's policy of recognizing dual nationality or dual citizenship is the government's own interpretation of the statute, not mine.)

In other words, the CIS expert for District 25, in charge of adjudicating citizenship claims for the last 15 years, either does not know or is deliberately misstating a crucial policy on dual citizenship.

Other issues that come up raising serious questions about how the CIS handling of acquired citizenship claims for people born in Mexico are the time frame for these adjudications and Yslas's statement minimizing the importance of using an attorney when appealing a denial of a claim to U.S. citizenship.

Timeline Problem
The CIS received N-600 applications to award Certificates of U.S. Citizenship to the ten Tiznado children on June 18, 1981. CIS did not even bother to respond to the application until May 5, 1989, EIGHT YEARS LATER!

The Office of Inspector for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) should look into the response times for N600 applications for people born in Mexico in comparison for those on behalf of people born in other countries -- I don't know anyone of European descent who had to wait EIGHT YEARS for a decision on an application for US citizenship. This delay itself is a sign of bad faith on the part of the CIS.

Mischaracterizing Relevance of Attorneys to an Appeal
CIS allows appeals of its N-600 decisions, for a price. As Smith points out, in 1989 that price as $110/person, or $1,100 for the Tiznado brood, not to mention attorney fees. The prosecution attempts to minimize this by pointing out that attorneys are not required for these appeals, and gets Yslas to play along:
Q: Do most people who apply for citizenship have a lawyer
representing them?
A: Very few do, sir.
The effect here is to suggest that lack of resources for a lawyer is no obstacle to a successful appeal and to further insinuate that the absence of an appeal implies a weak case for the Tiznados' citizenship claims. Both of these inferences are false. Of course an applicant with no legal training and no resources is going to give up, and this says nothing about the viability of their underlying claims. As the government expert and in the interest of justice, it would be Yslas's responsibility to explain this.

Nirav Parikh of the Parikh Law Group, LLC, Heartland Immigration, a national firm, told me his office receives about six inquires daily concerning denials of N-600 applications "from all over the world," estimating "five out of these six are viable, but only one of these five have the financial resources" to hire his firm, and thus about 80% either will not pursue the appeal or do so at a severe disadvantage: "For any appeal you need an attorney, someone who is familiar with the issues," Parikh explained, "You can do anything on your own, but you can't do it well an attorney," a point born out in the Tiznado case in particular.

Successful N-600 Appeal for Humberto Tiznado
As mentioned earlier, Esteban Tiznado's cousin, Humberto Tiznado, also had been deported and also had his initial application for US citizenship turned down. However, an attorney with the Federal Public Defenders office in San Diego, Sara Peloquin, filed an appeal and on June 11, 2011 prevailed. USCIS found that Humberto, who also had been in prison for Illegal Reentry, was indeed a U.S. citizen and that he had acquired this from his father, also called Humberto (and also wrongfully deported in the 1970s).

Humberto's great-grandfather is Esteban's grandfather. The CIS found that the copious documents of Esteban's grandfather's and his uncle's (Humberto's grandfather's) birth and presence in Arizona, obtained by a private investigator the Federal Defenders hired, proved that Miguel Gonzales Tiznado (Humberto's father) was born in Arizona in 1915. In doing so, the CIS relied on documents that should have been used by ICE to authenticate Esteban Tiznado's claims for U.S. citizenship through his father, Jesus Tiznado, the brother of Miguel Gonzales Tiznado. Had they followed the law, they would have heeded Esteban's plea to investigate further, rather than just throw him out, again.

Bad Faith at the CIS
During the initial questioning the prosecutor sought to establish that the CIS is a neutral party ("[Prosecutor]: How would you describe your relationship with the applicant? Are you their adversary?
[Yslas]: No, sir.") and thus their 1989 assessment of the application should be taken at face value. During the closing statement the prosecutor references statements by the CIS in 1989 claiming Jesus Tiznado was born in Mexico and says, "I can't imagine that the citizenship office would just manufacture that. I mean, that doesn't make any sense. Why would
they do that?"

Why indeed? Why did Jaime Yslas invent claims about the U.S. policy on dual citizenship to reflect poorly on Esteban, even while asserting no adversarial relationship between them? Why did CIS take 8 years before reviewing Esteban's N-600? Why did Yslas imply that one could effectively appeal a denial of an N-600 application without an attorney?

These are not hypothetical questions but part of the sad record of ethnic cleansing by the CIS. That someone with an Hispanic name is part of this should come as no surprise. The deportation machine would shut down without their participation. (Anyone who has spent a little time in an immigration jail knows that much of the daily business is conducted in Spanish, so much so that non-Spanish-speaking, English-speaking immigrants object to not being able to follow what is being said to them while in ICE custody.)

The fact that the immigration attorney is receiving calls daily from people who have viable U.S. citizenship claims CIS denied but that would appear to prevail on appeal, yet who lack the means to proceed, especially in light of Humberto Tiznado's effective appeal obtained through such services, is a matter of great importance to the civil rights of thousands and even tens of thousands of U.S. citizens.

In overruling a defense motion for a dismissal, District Court Judge Frank Zapata explained the central factual question on which the 12 members of the jury would decide.

The jury reviewed the CIS documents and decided Esteban was a U.S. citizen.

Instead of the prosecutor's hypothetical question, the real question is, Why assume that the mishandling of Jesus Diego Tiznado's application for his children's citizenship certificates is an isolated case? The refusal to recognize the U.S. citizenship for applicants born in Mexico deserves close scrutiny by the DHS Office of the Inspector General.

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