This week in Sazar-Dent v. Holder (09-71987) (full opinion available here), the Ninth Circuit has officially held the Department of Homeland Security to the standard that we had all hoped they lived by without having to be told. This case is both disheartening and refreshing.
Mr. Sazar-Dent has a long and distinguished immigration/criminal history. In removal proceedings, and without representation, he argued that he was a U.S. citizen and not subject to deportation. The basis of his claim was that he had been adopted by a U.S. citizen as a young child. The Immigration Judge granted continuances while the issue of citizenship was explored. Mr. Sazar-Dent was able to produce his adoption decree and school records reflecting his attendance at a young age. ICE pointed out that he had still not provided any proof that his mother had been a U.S. citizen. Unfortunately, the records office of the town in which she was born had burned down, so the birth certificate was unavailable. Mr. Sazar-Dent that advised the Judge that her passport, social security number, date/place of birth, etc. were all submitted over two decades earlier “in order for her to bring [him] to the States.” Ultimately, the Court found that he had not sufficiently established his citizenship and ordered him removed to Honduras.
A note on A-files. DHS (and formerly, the INS) maintains files for every alien. They never go away, and every single transaction that occurs relating to the alien is kept in those files. The files are transferred around the country as necessary depending on where the alien lives and for what he is applying. Aliens are “tracked” by their alien registration number, which is a nine-digit number. While aliens are only ever supposed to have one “A number,” a lack of technology in years past sometimes resulted in an alien being assigned multiple A numbers as the result of him having engaged in multiple immigration processes. Now, when an alien is placed in removal proceedings, DHS must make sure to consolidate any multiple A files generated for the same person based on him having been issued more than one A number. It is not wholly uncommon.
Such was the case here, and DHS knew it. DHS advised the Court that he had multiple A files, but did not provide any additional information. As it turns out, that old A file contained evidence of his U.S. citizenship by way of old naturalization applications that had been filed 27 and 23 years prior. While having been properly filed, those applications had never been adjudicated. So, while Mr. Sazar-Dent scurries around the country trying to find evidence that no longer existed, DHS was sitting at the table next to him knowing that the evidence he sought was sitting in their file having been submitted nearly 30 years earlier. Rather than disclosing it, they allowed a potential U.S. citizen to be ordered removed.
There are other problems, as well. During criminal proceedings relating to a different mess, Mr. Sazar-Dent had been provided with copies of those old applications. Those copies had no action stamps on them, which proved they had never been adjudicated. But when DHS offered those same applications later, they had recently, suddenly, and mysteriously been adjudicated and denied. DHS offered no sufficient explanation for why the applications were denied, or why the evidence of citizenship was not turned over in the first place.
The Ninth did the right thing: it held that Due Process requires an alien be allowed access to the contents of his A file(s). The matter was remanded to District Court for a full hearing on whether Mr. Sazar-Dent’s is a U.S. citizen. The facts here really speak for themselves.