Wednesday, March 28, 2012

What constitutes a claim of citizenship?

US v. Castillo-Pena:  Appellant Humberto Jose Castillo-Pena appeals his convictions for falsely representing himself as a United States citizen and of committing identity theft of another individual in relation to his false claim of citizenship.  The Fourth Circuit affirmed the convictions. 

Castillo-Pena first came to the U.S. in 1987, when he began dating Yolanda Bernal.  The two married and subsequently divorced; Bernal served as a witness at her then-husband's first INS immigration proceeding in 1991.  As part of this proceeding, Castillo-Pena provided a sworn affidavit including his full name, his birthplace and citizenship in Nicaragua; he was also fingerprinted at that time. 

After the couple divorced in 1995, Castillo-Pena informed his wife that he would henceforth be known as Erick Cardona.  He attempted to apply for a passport under this pseudonym.  The real Erick Cardona, born in Puerto Rico and a U.S. citizen, had never met Castillo-Pena. An investigation of Castillo-Pena for deportation began with an interview with ICE agent Cindy Yang.  At the interview, Castillo-Pena responded to Yang's question about whether he would like to make a statement that he was a United States citizen, and Castillo-Pena, claiming to be Cardona, responded, "yes, I would like to."  Additionally, Castillo-Pena's fingerprints, taken in 2010, matched those taken in 1991. 

This statement constituted a false representation of U.S. citizenship, and the jury at Castillo-Pena's trial concluded that he willfully misrepresented himself as a U.S. citizen, and that this statement constituted a direct claim of American citizenship.  Additionally, on appeal, Castillo-Pena did not challenge the evidence put on by the government that he attempted to assume the identity of Erick Cardona to apply for a passport. 


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