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Davis v. Sessions

United States District Court, S.D. Texas, Houston Division

February 22, 2018

JEFFERSON B. SESSIONS, et al. Defendants.


          Lee Rosenthal Chief United States District Judge

         In April 2014, Remilekun Davis filed a N-400 naturalization application, seeking naturalization based on his military service. Davis interviewed for naturalization in March 2015. The United States Citizen and Immigration Services determined that Davis was ineligible for naturalization because he failed to demonstrate good moral character. Davis administratively appealed the Service's decision, which was denied on March 20, 2017. Davis sued, seeking judicial review in this court.

         The government moved for summary judgment on the ground that, as a matter of law, Davis cannot establish himself as a person of good moral character. (Docket Entry No. 46). Davis cross-moved for summary judgment on the same issue. (Docket Entry No. 48).

         Based on a careful consideration of the motions, the responses, and the reply, the administrative record, and the applicable law, Davis's motion for summary judgment is denied and the government's motion for summary judgment is granted. The reasons are set out below.

         I. Background

         A. Factual Background

         Davis's history is unclear. He had changed his own accounts of his life frequently. Any history he has provided is unreliable, to say the least. Davis claims to be “stateless, ” because he knows neither where he was born nor where his parents were born or currently are. Davis previously filed an asylum application in January 1997. Davis was ordered to show cause and appear before an immigration judge, but he failed to do so. The court granted Davis voluntary departure. Davis failed to leave the United States voluntarily and was ordered removed. Instead, Davis moved to Missouri and got a driver's license under a different name. (Docket Entry No. 8 at 1-2).

         Davis served in the U.S. Army between April 2001 and August 2004, and was involuntarily discharged under honorable conditions. (Docket Entry No. 47 at 66). The Army Discharge Review Board's record does not explain his discharge. He has applied for military naturalization four times, without success: once in 2004, twice in 2009, and once again in 2014. (Docket Entry No. 8 at 2). Davis twice used fraudulent documents to attempt to obtain citizenship. In 2003, Davis pleaded guilty to making a false statement on an application for a U.S. passport by using a fraudulent birth certificate. (Docket Entry No. 47 at 59). In 2005, he pleaded guilty to making a false claim to citizenship and a false declaration before a grand jury. (Docket Entry No. 47 at 94).

         Davis meets three of the four requirements for military naturalization. He served honorably in the military during a designated period of hostility, was separated honorably from the military, and was lawfully admitted to the United States as a permanent resident after enlistment. The issue is the fourth and final requirement: whether Davis can establish himself as a person of good moral character.

         In March 2015, Davis interviewed with the United States Citizen and Immigration Services as part of his most recent naturalization application. During that interview, he made several undeniably false statements. First, Davis testified to never having used fraudulent identification documents to apply for or obtain any type of federal government benefit. In response to the question, “Have you ever used a false name or identity to apply for or obtain any type of U.S. Government benefit?” he said, under oath, “No ma'am.” (Docket Entry No. 47 at 29). Davis used several false identities to obtain a fraudulent birth certificate and a state-issued driver's license. Davis also used a falsified birth certificate to apply for a U.S. passport and a false Social Security number to obtain his High School Equivalence Certificate.

         Davis also stated in his interview that he did not know the circumstances surrounding his discharge from the Army Reserve, nor did he know if he had been discharged voluntarily or involuntarily. This was false. Davis had previously stated in an application to USCIS that he had been discharged from the military because he had used fraudulent documents to enlist. Davis had also received a letter from the Army Discharge Review Board stating that his discharge had been involuntary.

         Finally, when asked if he knew that the birth certificate he had used to apply for a U.S. passport was fraudulent, Davis responded “no ma'am.” But Davis separately admitted under oath that he had altered his two-year-old daughter's birth certificate and submitting it with his passport application as his own. Davis pleaded guilty to this fraud.

         Davis does not dispute the government's claim that he gave false testimony in his naturalization interview. Davis contends that, because his false testimony was immaterial and made without subjective intent to obtain a government benefit, it does not bar his naturalization. The government argues that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law because the statute does not require materiality and the parties do not dispute the falsity of Davis's testimony.

         B. The Government's Motion for Summary Judgment

         The government argues that Davis is ineligible to naturalize under 8 U.S.C. § 1440 because he cannot show his good moral character during the relevant period. (Docket Entry No. 46). The parties do not dispute that Davis made false statements under oath during his March 2015 naturalization interview, which the government argues bars his naturalization as a matter of law. The government contends that each false statement, standing alone, is enough to bar Davis's naturalization.

         The government identifies three categories of Davis's false statements: (1) statements about his past identities used to obtain government benefits; (2) statements about the circumstances of his discharge; and (3) statements about his fraudulent passport application. The government alleges that because Davis made each false statement with the intent to obtain an immigration benefit, he is precluded from establishing good character under § 1101(f)(6).

         The government also argues that the court is not limited to considering Davis's conduct during the year before his naturalization application, but “may take into consideration as a basis for such determination [of good moral character] the applicant's conduct and acts at any time prior to that period.” 8 U.S.C. § 1427(e). The government points to Davis's history of multiple convictions for crimes of dishonesty as evidence of a larger pattern of false statements and misrepresentations in attempts to obtain government documents and United States' citizenship.

         Davis responds that the government has failed to prove that he made the false statements “with the subjective intent to obtain an immigration benefit.” (Docket Entry No. 49 at 4). Davis argues that the government has failed to show how his past crimes bear on his present moral character but instead argues only that they come “dangerously close” to the definition of an aggravated felony under the Act. (Id. at 5). Finally, Davis argues, the government applies the wrong legal standard to assess his reformation.

         C. Davis's Motion for Summary Judgment

         Davis cross-moves on the basis that the regulation the government cites to argue that any falsity, regardless of materiality, bars naturalization is invalid under Chevron. See 8 C.F.R. § 316.10(b)(2)(vi). Applying the first step in the Chevron framework, Davis argues that the implementing statute unambiguously requires materiality. To interpret the statute otherwise, Davis argues, would make the subjective-intent requirement meaningless. Davis argues that even if the statute is silent or ambiguous as to materiality, the regulation fails Chevron step two because the agency's interpretation is unreasonable. Davis argues that the Fifth Circuit held in Gonzalez-Maldonado v. Gonzales, 487 F.3d 975, 978 (5th Cir. 2007), that a misrepresentation must be material to bar cancellation of removal under 8 U.S.C. § 1229(b)(1), based on the same “good character” statute at issue here. To require materiality in one context but not another, Davis argues, would create an unreasonable result that Congress did not intend. Davis also points to the Supreme Court's recent decision in Maslenjak v. United States, 17 S.Ct. 1918 (2017), ...

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