Federal Court of Appeals Rules that Only the Executive Branch Can Correct an Incorrect Naturalization Certificate
The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals recently ruled that the courts do not have the ability to help a naturalized citizen change her birthdate listed on her certificate of naturalization. In 1965, Yu-Ling Teng first came to the United States on a student visa. At this point, she held a Taiwanese passport that said she was born on August 9, 1939. The Social Security Administration (SSA) issued Teng a Social Security card which stated this 1939 birth year. Teng later applied for a green card in 1974. The signed application given to Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) included a declaration from her aunt that incorrectly stated that Teng was born on August 9, 1944. Based on the application and its accompanying documents, INS issued Teng a green card listing her birthdate as August 9, 1944. When Teng became a U.S. citizen in 2001, she received a naturalization certificate from INS that stated her birth year as 1944. The problems started for Yu-Ling Teng in 2004, when she attempted to renew her California driver’s license. She was denied due to the different birth years on file with the SSA and the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Teng attempted to fix the problem by filing a request for a replacement naturalization certificate from USCIS. Three years later, a USCIS officer met with Teng and informed her that under agency regulations, he had no authority to change the birth date because she had signed off on the document stating her birth year as 1944. Teng turned to the SSA in an attempt to change the birthdate on file as well, with no success. After five years of working with USCIS, the SSA, and the California Department of Motor Vehicles, Teng was able to obtain a temporary driver’s license. However, the license was not a verified identification, did not allow her to establish eligibility for voter registration, public benefits, or employment, and expired less than two months after it was issued. Finally, a representative from Teng’s local assemblywoman’s office advised her to file a petition in federal court against the Department of Homeland Security. The district court dismissed Teng’s petition after concluding that it had not been given the subject matter jurisdiction to amend a naturalization certificate issued by an agency (defined as the authority of the court to hear cases of a particular type). Teng then appealed to the Ninth Circuit Court. The Ninth Circuit, though sympathetic to Teng’s tenuous situation, agreed with the district court. Though courts initially had the exclusive jurisdiction to naturalize immigrants before 1991, the Immigration Act of 1990 transferred this authority to the Attorney General in the executive branch under the President. Thus, the Attorney General of the United States has the sole ability to change and update naturalization certificates. This case illustrates the importance of having documents that have the correct information on them. If Yu-Ling Teng had caught the misstatement of her birth year in the declaration from her aunt submitted with her application for a green card and changed it before signing it, she could have avoided over a decade of trouble. This is exactly the situation an immigration attorney could have helped her avoid. As Maximilian Law Inc’s website states, “When it comes to immigration law, the devil is in the details.” Contact Maximilian Law Inc to get help with your immigration into the United States today.