United States of America v. Mejia

Filing 12

ORDER Granting Plaintiff's 5 Motion for Summary Judgment. Signed by Judge Roger T. Benitez on 1/10/2017. (All non-registered users served via U.S. Mail Service)(knb)

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1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT 9 SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA 10 11 UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Case No.: 3:16-cv-00509-BEN-WVG Plaintiff, 12 13 v. 14 ORDER GRANTING PLAINTIFF’S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT JESUS DANIEL MEJIA, a/k/a JESUS DANIEL MEJIA VELASCO, 15 [ECF No. 5] Defendant. 16 17 18 The United States of America has filed a Complaint to revoke the United States 19 citizenship of Defendant Jesus Daniel Mejia, also known as Jesus Daniel Mejia Velasco, 20 for concealing a drug offense during the naturalization process. (Compl., ECF No. 1.) 21 Plaintiff now moves for summary judgment. (Mot., ECF No. 5.) Mejia never filed an 22 opposition but instead filed a letter with the Court, accepted on discrepancy, stating that 23 he “would like to have a chance to fight [his] case against the United States of America.” 24 (Ltr., ECF No. 8.) He later filed a motion for appointment of counsel (ECF No. 9), which 25 this Court denied (ECF No. 10). For the reasons that follow, the Court GRANTS Plaintiff’s motion for summary 26 27 judgment. 28 /// 1 3:16-cv-00509-BEN-WVG 1 BACKGROUND 2 Mejia was born in 1978 in Mexico and became a permanent resident of the United 3 States in 1993. (Application for Naturalization, Form N-400 (“Form N-400”), Mot. Ex. 4 A.) On August 16, 2011, Mejia signed an Application for Naturalization, Form N-400, 5 which was filed with the San Diego District Office of the U.S. Citizenship and 6 Immigration Services (“USCIS”) shortly thereafter. (Form N-400 at Part 11; Compl. ¶ 9 7 & Affidavit of Good Cause ¶ III.) 8 9 On October 25, 2011, the United States Drug Enforcement Administration (“DEA”) intercepted telephone calls between Mejia and George Casarez, a known 10 operator of a narcotics trafficking organization. (DEA Report of Investigation (“DEA 11 Report”), Mot. Ex. B.) The intercepted calls indicate that Mejia met with Casarez’s 12 subordinates and provided them with a controlled substance. (Id.) The substance was 13 later seized. (Id.) Mejia was not arrested at the time. (See id.) 14 On December 1, 2011, USCIS Officer Stacey P. Johnson interviewed Mejia 15 regarding his naturalization application to determine his eligibility. (Form N-400 at Part 16 13.) Mejia swore under penalty of perjury that the contents of the application were true 17 and correct. (Id.) During the interview, Officer Johnson made notations on Mejia’s 18 application using red pen indicating the questions she reviewed with him during the 19 interview. (Form N-400; Compl. Affidavit of Good Cause ¶ IV.B.iv.) Officer Johnson 20 asked Mejia whether he had ever committed a crime or offense for which he had not been 21 arrested and whether he had ever given false or misleading testimony to any U.S. 22 Government official while applying for any immigration benefit. (Form N-400 at Part 23 10.) Under oath, Mejia answered “no” to both questions. (Id.) On the basis of Mejia’s 24 application and interview, Officer Johnson approved Mejia’s Application for 25 Naturalization on December 1, 2011. (Id. at 1.) 26 /// 27 /// 28 /// 2 3:16-cv-00509-BEN-WVG 1 On January 20, 2012, Mejia took the oath of allegiance at a naturalization 2 ceremony in Chula Vista, California and was admitted as a citizen of the United States. 3 (Certificate of Naturalization, Mot. Ex. C.) He was issued a certificate of naturalization. 4 (Id.) 5 Subsequently, on July 20, 2012, Mejia was charged in the Superior Court of the 6 State of California for the County of Los Angeles with possession for sale of a controlled 7 substance (cocaine) in violation of California Health and Safety Code Section 11351, a 8 felony, for his actions on October 25, 2011. (Felony Compl. for Arrest Warrant at 2, 9 Mot. Ex. E.) On September 17, 2013, Mejia pled guilty to the section 11351 violation 10 and admitted that the cocaine exceeded twenty kilograms by weight within the meaning 11 of California Health and Safety Code section 11370.4(a). (Electronic Docket, People of 12 the State of California v. Jesus Daniel Mejia (“Docket”) at 4, Mot. Ex. D.) The Superior 13 Court sentenced Mejia to seven years in County Jail. (Id.) 14 On February 26, 2016, the United States filed this action to revoke Mejia’s 15 citizenship pursuant to 8 U.S.C. § 1451. The Complaint alleges that Mejia illegally 16 procured his United States citizenship because his commission of a crime and false 17 testimony precluded the establishment of good moral character, and alleges that he 18 concealed and willfully misrepresented material facts during the naturalization process. 19 (Compl. Counts I-IV.) The United States now moves for summary judgment on all 20 counts. 21 LEGAL STANDARD 22 Summary judgment is appropriate when “there is no genuine dispute as to any 23 material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 24 56(a); see also Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986). Material 25 facts are those that may affect the outcome of the case. Id. at 248. A genuine issue of 26 material fact exists only if “the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could find for the 27 nonmoving party.” Id. 28 A moving party bears the initial burden of showing there are no genuine issues of 3 3:16-cv-00509-BEN-WVG 1 material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). It can do so by 2 negating an essential element of the non-moving party’s case, or by showing that the non- 3 moving party failed to make a showing sufficient to establish an element essential to that 4 party’s case, and on which the party will bear the burden of proof at trial. Id. Once the 5 moving party establishes the absence of genuine issues of material fact, the burden shifts 6 to the non-moving party to set forth facts showing that a genuine issue of disputed fact 7 remains. Id. 8 When ruling on a summary judgment motion, the evidence of the nonmovant is to 9 be believed, and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in his or her favor. Anderson, 10 477 U.S. at 255. The Court must not make credibility determinations or weigh evidence. 11 Id. Where the non-moving party has failed to oppose the motion, the Court may only 12 grant summary judgment if the standard of Rule 56 is satisfied. Henry v. Gill Indus., Inc., 13 983 F.3d 943, 950 (9th Cir. 1993). 14 In denaturalization proceedings, the United States carries the “heavy burden” of 15 providing “clear, unequivocal, and convincing” evidence that citizenship should be 16 revoked. United States v. Dang, 488 F.3d 1135, 1139 (9th Cir. 2007) (quoting Fedorenko 17 v. United States, 449 U.S. 490, 505 (1981)). The United States’ evidence supporting 18 denaturalization must “not leave the issue in doubt.” Id. (quoting Fedorenko, 449 U.S. at 19 505). “Thus, summary judgment for the government in a denaturalization proceeding is 20 warranted in narrow circumstances: if, viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to 21 the naturalized citizen, there is no genuine issue of material fact as to whether clear, 22 unequivocal, and convincing evidence supports denaturalization.” United States v. 23 Arango, 670 F.3d 988, 992 (9th Cir. 2012). 24 25 DISCUSSION The denaturalization statute, 8 U.S.C. § 1451, provides that denaturalization may 26 be commenced if the citizen’s naturalization was “illegally procured” or “procured by 27 concealment of a material fact or by willful misrepresentation.” § 1451(a). The United 28 States contends that both grounds are present here. 4 3:16-cv-00509-BEN-WVG 1 2 I. “Illegally Procured” Naturalization Naturalization is “illegally procured” when the individual has failed to comply 3 with all congressionally imposed prerequisites for naturalization before and including the 4 time he became a naturalized citizen. Fedorenko, 449 U.S. at 506. Strict compliance 5 with all statutory requirements for naturalization is required. Id. Noncompliance with 6 any statutory prerequisite renders naturalization “illegally procured.” Id. 7 One of the requirements for naturalization is that the applicant must be “a person 8 of good moral character” for the five-year period preceding the filing of an Application 9 for Naturalization and continuing until the applicant takes the oath of allegiance. 8 10 U.S.C. § 1427(a)(3); United States v. Bangalan, No. 13-CV-2570-H, 2014 WL 11 12531202, at *3 (S.D. Cal. Oct. 6, 2014). Under 8 U.S.C. § 1101(f)(1) through (8), an 12 individual cannot have good moral character if he falls within certain enumerated classes. 13 See 8 U.S.C. § 1101(f)(1)-(8). Three provisions are at issue here. 14 A. Conviction for Controlled Substance Violation 15 An applicant who commits a violation of a controlled substance law during the 16 time period in which he or she must show good moral character, and is convicted or 17 admits commission of the offense, is statutorily precluded from being found to be a 18 person good moral character. 8 U.S.C. § 1101(f)(3); 8 U.S.C. § 1182(a)(2)(A)(i)(II). 19 Possession for sale of cocaine in an amount exceeding twenty (20) kilograms by weight is 20 a violation of a controlled substance law within the meaning of federal immigration law. 21 See 21 U.S.C. §§ 802(6) (defining which drugs constitute controlled substances), 812 22 (identifying cocaine as a Schedule II drug). 23 Here, Mejia pleaded guilty to possession for sale of cocaine in an amount 24 exceeding twenty kilograms, a violation of a controlled substance law, for events 25 occurring on October 25, 2011, the time period in which he was required to establish 26 good moral character. (See DEA Report; Felony Compl.; Docket.) The United States 27 has provided clear, convincing, and unequivocal evidence. There is no genuine issue of 28 material fact that Mejia committed a controlled substance violation during the relevant 5 3:16-cv-00509-BEN-WVG 1 time period and that he admitted to and was convicted of the offense. Thus, Mejia could 2 not establish he was a person of good moral character and did not meet the requirements 3 for naturalization. Accordingly, his naturalization was illegally procured. The Court 4 GRANTS Plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment on Count I, illegal procurement of 5 citizenship based on violation of a controlled substance law. 6 B. False Testimony 7 Section 1101(f)(6) bars a finding of good moral character as to any person who, 8 during the statutory period, provides false testimony to obtain naturalization. 8 U.S.C. § 9 1101(f)(6). “False testimony” is limited to oral statements made under oath with the 10 subjective intent to obtain an immigration benefit. Kungys v. United States, 485 U.S. 11 759, 780-81 (1988). Accordingly, false oral statements made under oath during the 12 interview portion of the naturalization process constitute “false testimony” within the 13 meaning of section 1101(f)(6). See United States v. Nunez-Garcia, 262 F. Supp. 2d 1073, 14 1083 (C.D. Cal. 2003) (citing Bernal v. INS, 154 F.3d 1020, 1023 (9th Cir. 1998)). 15 Testimony does not need to be material to qualify as false testimony. Kungys, 485 U.S. 16 at 779; 8 C.F.R. § 316.10(b)(vi). 17 The undisputed evidence demonstrates that Mejia provided false oral answers 18 under oath to questions asked by USCIS Officer Johnson in his naturalization interview, 19 which occurred during the time when he was required to show good moral character. 20 Specifically, he denied ever committing a crime for which he had not been arrested, 21 despite having committed a controlled substance violation on October 25, 2011 for which 22 he had not yet been arrested. (Form N-400 at Part 10; DEA Report; Felony Compl.; 23 Docket.) Mejia made this false statement while in pursuit of an immigration benefit. 24 Therefore, Mejia provided false testimony within the meaning of section 1101(f)(6) and 25 was statutorily precluded from establishing good moral character. Thus, Mejia illegally 26 procured his naturalization on this ground as well. The Court GRANTS Plaintiff’s 27 motion on Count III, illegal procurement of citizenship based on false testimony. 28 /// 6 3:16-cv-00509-BEN-WVG 1 C. Catch-all Provision 2 Section 1101(f) contains a “catch-all” provision, which provides, “The fact that 3 any person is not within any of the foregoing classes shall not preclude a finding that for 4 other reasons such person is or was not of good moral character.” 8 U.S.C. § 1101(f). 5 Federal regulations provide additional criteria for when a naturalization applicant shall be 6 found to lack good moral character. See 8 C.F.R. § 316.10. Relevant here, the 7 regulations state: 8 9 Unless the applicant establishes extenuating circumstances, the applicant shall be found to lack good moral character if, during the statutory period, the applicant: 10 11 12 13 14 (iii) Committed unlawful acts that adversely reflect upon the applicant’s moral character, or was convicted or imprisoned for such acts, although the acts do not fall within the purview of § 316.10(b)(1) or (2). 8 C.F.R. § 316.10(b)(3). Mejia’s possession of cocaine for sale during the statutory period, an offense for 15 which he was later convicted and imprisoned, constitutes an unlawful act that adversely 16 reflects on his moral character and bars him from establishing good moral character. It 17 does not matter that the arrest and conviction occurred after naturalization. See United 18 States v. Teng Jiao Zhou, 815 F.3d 639, 644 (9th Cir. 2016) (citing cases holding that 19 naturalized citizens who committed unlawful acts under the “catch-all” provision during 20 the statutory period prior to taking the oath of allegiance, but who are arrested and 21 convicted after naturalization, can have their citizenship revoked for lack of good moral 22 character). 23 No extenuating circumstances exist to rebut a finding that Mejia lacked good moral 24 character during the statutory period. The extenuating circumstances exception is narrow 25 and “focuses on circumstances during statutory period that may ‘palliate or lessen’ an 26 offender’s guilt for an offense.” Zhou, 815 F.3d at 644. The only argument that Mejia 27 offers comes via the letter that he submitted to the Court. In that letter, he writes: 28 I had to plea guilty to charges from 2011 or I would have served 35 years for 7 3:16-cv-00509-BEN-WVG something I didn’t commit. I also have two daughters who are U.S. citizens and a wife that need me. I know I made a mistake but would like to get a second chance and prove tha[t] I am not a bad person. I have always worked and made a good living. I am currently employed and trying to redo my life and show everyone and this country that I am a trust worthy [sic] person. 1 2 3 4 5 (Ltr. at 2.) 6 To the extent that Mejia now denies his role in the offense, the Court rejects that 7 argument. Mejia voluntarily pleaded guilty, and the Superior Court accepted the guilty 8 plea and sentenced him accordingly. (Docket at 4.) Cf. Zhou, 815 F.3d at 644 (rejecting 9 defendant’s attempt to minimize his culpability, finding that “a jury unanimously thought 10 otherwise, and that verdict binds this court”). Additionally, Mejia’s contentions that he is 11 trying to “redo” his life and that his family needs him are to no avail because the 12 extenuating circumstances exception does not allow for a “post-naturalization 13 retrospective on the person, his achievements, or the unfortunate effect that 14 denaturalization will surely have.” Id. There is nothing in the record concerning any 15 mitigating matter during the statutory period. Therefore, there are no extenuating 16 circumstances applicable here, and Mejia lacked good moral character upon 17 naturalization. Accordingly, the Court GRANTS Plaintiff’s motion on Count II, illegal 18 procurement of citizenship by committing an unlawful act that adversely reflected upon 19 the applicant’s good moral character. 20 II. Naturalization “Procured by Concealment of a Material Fact or by Willful 21 Misrepresentation” 22 To revoke naturalization for willful concealment or misrepresentation of a material 23 fact under 8 U.S.C. § 1451(a), the government must establish that the naturalized citizen 24 misrepresented or concealed some fact, the misrepresentation or concealment was willful, 25 the fact was material, and the naturalized citizen procured citizenship as a result of the 26 misrepresentation or concealment. Arango, 670 F.3d at 994-95 (citing Kungys, 485 U.S. 27 at 767). A misrepresentation or concealment is “willful” if it was “deliberate and 28 voluntary.” Id. at 995 (quoting Espinoza-Espinoza v. INS, 554 F.2d 921, 925 (9th Cir. 8 3:16-cv-00509-BEN-WVG 1 1977)). To be material, a misrepresentation must have “a natural tendency to produce the 2 conclusion that the applicant was qualified.” Kungys, 485 U.S. at 771-72; United States 3 v. Alferahin, 433 F.3d 1148, 1155 (9th Cir. 2006). A misrepresentation or concealment 4 has this “tendency” if an honest representation “would predictably have disclosed other 5 facts relevant to [the applicant’s] qualifications.” Kungys, 485 U.S. at 774. The 6 Government must produce “evidence sufficient to give rise to a fair inference that the 7 applicant was statutorily ineligible for naturalization.” Alferahin, 433 F.3d at 1155-56 8 (9th Cir. 2006) (quoting United States v. Puerta, 982 F.3d 1297 (9th Cir. 1992)). When 9 the government shows that citizenship was “obtained as a result of the application 10 process in which the misrepresentations or concealments were made,” naturalization was 11 “procured by” the misrepresentation. Kungys, 485 U.S. at 777. 12 Here, all four elements are present. First, it is undisputed that Mejia 13 misrepresented a fact about his criminal history during his naturalization interview. In 14 responding to Officer Johnson’s questions, Mejia falsely stated that he had never 15 committed a crime for which he had not been arrested. In fact, Mejia had committed the 16 crime of possession of cocaine for sale on October 25, 2011. 17 Second, the misrepresentation was willful. The objective evidence shows that 18 Mejia knew he was providing a false answer. He had committed the crime only five 19 weeks before his interview, and information from the DEA Report indicates that Mejia 20 had a history of serving as a narcotics supply source for the Casarez narcotics trafficking 21 organization. (Form N-400; DEA Report.) Mejia later admitted his guilt to the crime. 22 Third, the misrepresentation was material. By misrepresenting his criminal past, 23 his lies had the natural tendency to influence USCIS’s decision that he was qualified. 24 Had Mejia disclosed his actual criminal history, he would have been statutorily ineligible 25 for naturalization. The United States has presented evidence raising a fair inference that a 26 statutory disqualifying fact exists because controlled substance violations preclude 27 finding that an applicant has good moral character. 28 /// 9 3:16-cv-00509-BEN-WVG 1 Fourth, and finally, Mejia procured his citizenship as a result of his material 2 misrepresentation. If Mejia had been honest, he would not have been granted citizenship. 3 There are no genuine disputes that Mejia obtained his citizenship by concealment 4 of a material fact or by willful misrepresentation. The United States has met its heavy 5 burden and the Court therefore GRANTS Plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment on 6 Count IV, concealment or willful misrepresentation by failing to disclose his criminal 7 history. 8 9 CONCLUSION Viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to Mejia, there are no genuine 10 issues of material fact as to whether clear, unequivocal, and convincing evidence supports 11 denaturalization. Accordingly, the Court GRANTS the United States’ motion for 12 summary judgment on all counts. The Court REVOKES AND SETS ASIDE the grant 13 of United States citizenship to Defendant Jesus Daniel Mejia, also known as Jesus Daniel 14 Mejia Velasco, and CANCELS his certificate of naturalization. The Court ORDERS 15 Defendant to surrender and deliver his certificate of naturalization and other indicia of 16 United States citizenship to the Attorney General, including his United States passport. 17 18 IT IS SO ORDERED. Dated: January 10, 2017 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 10 3:16-cv-00509-BEN-WVG

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