32-Year-Old Ghanaian National Convicted for Lying on Immigration Forms

A 32-year-old Ghanaian national who possesses US permanent residence was convicted in federal court this week in connection with making false statements on an immigration application.

The Ghanaian was convicted of one count of willfully and knowingly making false statements; one count of making false statements under oath relative to naturalization, citizenship or alien registry; and one count of unlawful attempted procurement of citizenship or naturalization.The crimes for which the Ghanaian was convicted will garner potentially stiff punishments.

He will–in spite of possessing “permanent” residence for several years–be deported, but there is more:

  • for the crime of making false statements, the court will sentence the Ghanaian to no more than five years in prison, three years of supervised release, and a $250,000 fine;
  • for the crime of making false statements under oath for naturalization, the court will sentence the Ghanaian to no more than five years in prison, three years of supervised release, and a $250,000 fine; and
  • for the crime of unlawful attempted procurement of citizenship or naturalization, the court will sentence the Ghanaian to no greater than 10 years in prison, three years of supervised release, and a $250,000 fine.

We mention this case because it appears that, even in the age of Donald Trump, potential immigrants or immigrants already in the United States frequently under-appreciate how bad things can get if (1) they–perhaps because of their DIY-work or a non-lawyer’s work–are believed to have lied on a form or in an interview, or (2) they are perceived to have committed fraud.

We also mention this case because–perhaps due to the fact that online, self-help, DIY forums seem to present a disproportionately positive view of individuals and families handling immigration matters on their own, or perhaps because notarios and online-based, bedroom-headquarted immigration-application businesses lie about their case-approval statistics,[note]In the case of DIY immigration forums, truly bad immigration results are underrepresented unintentionally: after all, who wants to log into the forum to post about their dream-destroying immigration results? In the case of notarios and non-law firm immigration-application businesses, the bad results are believed to be underrepresented intentionally: these businesses are not regulated by any bar association and can get away with being untruthful about a wide-range of subjects, including their  effectiveness.[/note] or perhaps for some other reason–people frequently fail to appreciate and guard against the worst-case scenario with regard to filing immigration forms or answering questions at interviews.

Still more, we mention this case because there is a common misconception that an immigrant will not be imprisoned for his answers on immigration forms or his responses to questions during an interview. Further, there is a misconception that the government will not yank away one’s permanent residence after the government grants it. Similar to this misconception, there is a misconception that US citizenship cannot be revoked after it is awarded.

Frequently, to save somewhere between three hundred and two thousand dollars, immigrants put their futures at risk by not consulting with a lawyer or using a lawyer’s help to get an immigration benefit.  This is the equivalent of building a multi-million dollar family home near a fault line. It appears that the Ghanaian national could have avoided prosecution if he had only decided to engage an immigration attorney for a consultation, if the attorney would have advised him about the risks of seeking naturalization, and if the Ghanaian national appreciated those risks and decided not to seek US citizenship.

So, what exactly happened in the Ghanaian nationals case? We will tell you, according to the government, what happened. In June 2008, Ghanaian national Samer El-Sayed entered the United States on a non-immigrant visa. Several months later, in February 2009, El-Sayed entered into a sham marriage with a US citizen to whom he paid thousands of dollars. In March 2010, after he applied for marriage-based permanent residence, the government granted him conditional permanent resident status. In 2012, El-Sayed submitted false statements on a petition filed with USCIS and subsequently provided false statements under oath to USCIS during an interview that occurred in January 2014. Then, in May 2014, El-Sayed submitted an application for United States citizenship to USCIS and provided false information and statements in that application.

Mr. El-Sayed will be sentenced in April 2018.