As American as Apple Pie
Young Immigrants
Unintentionally Claiming Citizenship


special to the Clarion Content

by: Yesenia Polanco

yesenia polanco

Attorney Yesenia Polanco

 As American as Apple Pie:

Young Immigrants Unintentionally Claiming Citizenship

A common problem among young immigrants is the tendency to unintentionally claim false citizenship. When Pulitzer Prize winner Jose Antonio Vargas1 publicly announced his undocumented status, he expressed the plight of many young immigrants with his simple declaration:

“I am an American. I just don’t have the right papers.”

Jose Antonio Vargas from wiki

Jose Antonio Vargas from Wikipedia’s image files

Like Vargas, many young people have been transported to America without appropriate papers. These individuals are often unaware of their lack of citizenship until they have already established their residence by means of “false” paperwork. As a result, many undocumented young people make the mistake of claiming citizenship in employment applications, scholarship applications, and other government forms.

These young people are unaware of their status because they are as American as apple pie:

· They live like citizens (many have not been out of the U.S. since they were babies)

· Their parents may have told them they are citizens

· They have a Social Security card

Claiming citizenship in this way is referred to as the “death penalty” for hopeful immigrants, on account of the unpleasant results that may follow. In addition to preventing a person from becoming a lawful permanent resident, numerous false claims may cause them to lose residency, become ineligible for naturalization, and even face deportation. Undocumented Americans are often unaware of the severe consequences for using falsified information.

This problem is aggravated during every election season, when untrained volunteers encourage people to vote in spite of their lack of citizenship. These volunteers make the mistake of assuming that green card holders, DACA holders, TPS holders, or Asylees are U.S. Citizens with the ability to vote. Likewise, the voter may be unaware of their inability to vote and the penalties they may face for participating in an election.

Exceptions to the Rule

There are a few ways people may be able to avoid legal penalties for claiming citizenship. This is especially true when children are involved. If a child’s parents were citizens, or the child reasonably believed that he or she was a U.S. citizen, their false application may be excused.

Because exceptions are few and far between, it is extremely important that a person know their legal status before they claim citizenship. Stay informed to protect yourself and your loved ones from future disaster.

For more information, or for legal aid in your situation, find us at

Editor’s Notes
1Read more about Define American, a movement that Vargas spearheads and an organization that he founded that is creating a new conversation about immigration.

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