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United States v. Valenzuela

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division

July 29, 2018

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff,
v.
ELEAZAR CORRAL VALENZUELA, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          MATTHEW F KENNELLY, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         The United States seeks to denaturalize Eleazar Corral Valenzuela (Corral), a naturalized U.S. citizen, under 8 U.S.C. § 1451(a) on the ground that he obtained U.S. citizenship illegally or by willful misrepresentation or concealment of a material fact. Corral has filed a "Motion to Dismiss / Strike Complaint" in which he requests discovery and a hearing on certain issues that he claims may warrant dismissal of the action, and the United States has moved under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c) for judgment on the pleadings on three of the five claims in its complaint. For the reasons stated below, the Court denies Corral's motion and grants the government's motion for judgment on the pleadings in part.

         Background

         Corral, who was born in Mexico, was admitted to the United States as a lawful permanent resident on February 10, 1994. In January 1999, Corral applied for naturalization using a Form N-400 Application for Naturalization. The form is stamped January 14, 1999. See Compl., Ex. E at 3. Part 7, Question 15(a) of the Form N-400 asks "Have you ever . . . knowingly committed any crime for which you have not been arrested?" Id. at 3. On Corral's Form N-400, that question is answered in the negative. Id. The certification in Part 11 of the form states "I certify . . . under penalty of perjury under the laws of the United States of America that this application, and the evidence submitted with it, is all true and correct." Id. at 4. Corral signed this certification on December 30, 1998. Id. In May 2000, an Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS)[1] officer interviewed Corral under oath regarding his naturalization application. On May 10, 2000, the INS approved his naturalization application. Corral took the oath of allegiance and was naturalized as a United States citizen on June 15, 2000.

         Two months later, in August 2000, a grand jury in Kane County, Illinois indicted Corral on seven counts of aggravated criminal sexual abuse in violation of chapter 720, section 5/12-16(b)[2] of the Illinois Compiled Statutes. See Compl., Ex. B (Aug. 9, 2000 Indictment); 720 ILCS 5/12-16(b) (1998). On November 2, 2000, Corral pled guilty to count 1 of the indictment, which charged the following:

On or about June 9, 1998 through February 26, 2000, Eleazar Corral committed the offense of Aggravated Criminal Sexual Abuse, Class 2 Felony[, ] in violation of Chapter 720, Section 5/12-16(b) of the Illinois Compiled Statutes, as amended, in that said defendant, [redacted] committed an act of sexual conduct with [redacted] in that the defendant knowingly touched the vagina of [redacted] for the purpose of the sexual gratification of the defendant.

         Aug. 9, 2000 Indictment at 1; see also Compl., Ex. C (Nov. 2, 2000 Plea Hearing Tr.). The state court entered a judgment finding Corral guilty of aggravated criminal sexual abuse in violation of 720 ILCS 5/12-16(b), sentenced him to 48 months of sex offender probation, and ordered him to register as a sex offender. See Compl., Ex. D (Nov. 2, 2000 Judgment).

         In November 2017, the United States filed the present denaturalization action against Corral. The government's complaint to revoke naturalization contains five counts:

1. Illegal procurement of naturalization: lack of good moral character (crime involving moral turpitude)
2. Illegal procurement of naturalization: lack of good moral character (unlawful act adversely reflecting on moral character)
3. Illegal procurement of naturalization: lack of good moral character (false testimony)
4. Illegal procurement of naturalization: lack of good moral character (unlawful act of providing false testimony)
5. Procurement of naturalization by concealment of a material fact or by willful misrepresentation

         Compl. at 7-12. In January 2018, Corral filed a motion entitled "Defendant's Motion To Dismiss / Strike Complaint," in which he asks the Court to authorize discovery and hold a hearing on whether the complaint should be dismissed as barred by laches or as a violation of Corral's due process or equal protection rights. In February 2018, the United States moved for judgment on the pleadings on counts 1, 2, and 5 of the complaint, arguing that because Corral is estopped from denying the essential elements of the offense to which he pled guilty, there is no genuine dispute of material fact and it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law on those counts.

         Discussion

         Under 8 U.S.C. § 1427(a), an individual may not be naturalized as a citizen of the United States unless he or she (1) meets certain residence and physical presence requirements during the five-year period immediately preceding the date of filing the naturalization application, (2) "has resided continuously within the United States from the date of the application up to the time of admission to citizenship," and (3) "during all the periods referred to in this subsection has been and still is a person of good moral character." 8 U.S.C. § 1427(a). The applicant for naturalization "bears the burden of demonstrating that, during the statutorily prescribed period, he or she has been and continues to be a person of good moral character. This includes the period between the examination and the administration of the oath of allegiance." 8 C.F.R. § 316.10(a)(1).

         Under 8 U.S.C. § 1451(a), the United States may institute denaturalization proceedings "for the purpose of revoking and setting aside the order admitting [a] person to citizenship and canceling the certificate of naturalization on the ground that such order and certificate of naturalization were illegally procured or were procured by concealment of a material fact or by willful misrepresentation." 8 U.S.C. § 1451(a). A certificate of naturalization is "illegally procured" if "the congressionally imposed prerequisites to the acquisition of citizenship," including the good moral character requirement, are not met when naturalization is granted. Fedorenko v. United States, 449 U.S. 490, 506 (1981); see also United States v. Kairys, 782 F.2d 1374, 1376 n.1 (7th Cir. 1986) ("Naturalization is illegally procured if any statutory requirement is not met at the time naturalization is granted.").

         The right of citizenship is a precious one. Costello v. United States, 365 U.S. 265, 269 (1961); see also Schneiderman v. United States, 320 U.S. 118, 122 (1943) (explaining that "[i]t would be difficult to exaggerate" the value and importance of the right of citizenship). The Supreme Court has repeatedly recognized that "severe consequences may attend" the loss of citizenship and that those consequences are especially dire for those who have lived and worked in the United States as citizens for many years. See Costello, 365 U.S. at 269; Fedorenko, 449 U.S. at 505; Chaunt v. United States, 364 U.S. 350, 353 (1960); Schneiderman, 320 U.S. at 122; see also Knauer v. United States, 328 U.S. 654, 659 (1946) ("[D]enaturalization, like deportation, may result in the loss of all that makes life worth living.") (internal quotation marks and citation omitted).

         Given the importance of the right of citizenship-and the potentially devastating toll that loss of that citizenship is likely to take on a naturalized citizen and his or her family-it is little wonder that the Supreme Court has held that "such a right once conferred should not be taken away without the clearest sort of justification and proof." Schneiderman, 320 U.S. at 122. Accordingly, the government carries a heavy burden of proof when attempting to divest a naturalized citizen of citizenship after it has been granted: denaturalization is warranted only if the evidence is "clear, unequivocal, and convincing," such that it does not "leave the issue in doubt." Costello, 365 U.S. at ...


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