18 U.S.C. § 1427 - Sale of Naturalization or Citizenship Papers
Most people realize that the path to U.S. citizenship is not easy. With as many as 15.5 million undocumented immigrants currently living in the U.S., it may be tempting for many to find "shortcuts," including selling ill-gotten naturalization or citizenship papers for profit.
However, tampering with official paperwork breaks the system, which is why it is a federal crime to sell naturalization or citizenship papers unlawfully, as outlined in Title 18 U.S. Code 1427.
This law exists to protect the integrity of our immigration system. Violators of 18 U.S.C. § 1427 can face steep penalties—namely, as much as 25 years in prison per offense.
The United States has numerous laws to protect its borders, and there are certain rights that only citizens have. Anyone who violates the laws on nationality and citizenship can be charged with a federal crime and is exposed to criminal prosecution and serious penalties.
This means it's essential to understand how the laws work and when federal offenses related to nationality and citizenship will be charged. You also need to know the different types of evidence prosecutors could use against you and how you can prepare to challenge these serious allegations.
Our seasoned federal criminal defense lawyers can review all the case details and develop a strategy to obtain the best possible outcome. In many cases, negotiating with the prosecutor is an option.
We will closely evaluate the evidence to determine how to proceed and whether we need to attempt to negotiate a favorable plea agreement. Let's review this statute further below.
Overview of 18 U.S. Code § 1427
This federal law makes it a crime to unlawfully "sell or dispose of" any of the following official documentation related to U.S. citizenship:
- Declaration of intention to become a U.S. citizen,
- Certificate of naturalization,
- Certificate of citizenship,
- Copies of other documentary evidence of naturalization or citizenship.
18 U.S.C. § 1427 says, “Whoever unlawfully sells or disposes of a declaration of intention to become a citizen, certificate of naturalization or citizenship, or copies of other documentary evidence of naturalization or citizenship, will be fined under this title or imprisoned for up to 25 years if committed to facilitating an act of international terrorism, as defined in section 2331, 20 years if committed to facilitating a drug trafficking crime, as defined in section 929(a), ten years for the first or second such offense, or 15 years in the case of any other offense.”
Why Citizenship Paperwork Is So Carefully Guarded
Why does the federal government consider the unlawful sale of citizenship papers a serious crime? There are two primary reasons.
First, when people sell citizenship papers, they usually sell them to people who are not eligible for citizenship. This is problematic because it means that undocumented immigrants or individuals without a right to be in the United States may gain access to official documentation that allows them to blend in and avoid detection.
In other words, selling citizenship papers creates a national security risk, especially in drug trafficking or international terrorism.
Second, selling citizenship papers undermines the integrity of the U.S. immigration system.
While many contend the system itself is badly in need of reform, there are still many people who follow the rules and wait their turn.
When people sell citizenship papers, they create an unfair advantage for those willing to break the law. This also puts an undue strain on resources.
What Are the Penalties for This Federal Offense?
The penalties for violating 18 U.S.C. 1427 can be quite severe, depending on the facts and circumstances of the case. Those who are convicted of this crime may face maximum penalties as follows:
- For a basic first or second offense: Up to 10 years in federal prison;
- For the third or subsequent offenses: Up to 15 years in federal prison;
- If the offense was to facilitate a drug trafficking crime: Up to 20 years in federal prison;
- If the offense was to facilitate an act of international terrorism: Up to 25 years in federal prison.
What Are the Related Federal Crimes?
The crime of unlawful sale of citizenship papers rarely happens in a vacuum. If you face criminal charges under 18 U.S. Code Chapter 69, you may be charged with several other possible offenses related to U.S. immigration law. These may include, but are not limited to:
- Reproduction of naturalization or citizenship papers (18 U.S.C. 1426): Unlawfully reproducing or providing counterfeit versions of citizenship papers. Penalties are similar to those of 18 U.S.C. 1427;
- Unlawful procurement of naturalization (18 U.S.C. 1425): Knowingly obtaining naturalization or citizenship through illegal means;
- Failing to surrender a canceled naturalization certificate (18 U.S.C. 1428): If the government cancels your naturalization paperwork, you have sixty days to relinquish it. If you do not, you could face fines and up to 5 years in prison;
- Personation and misuse of papers in naturalization proceedings (18 U.S.C. 1424): If you attempt to impersonate someone else or appear falsely under someone else's name in any naturalization or citizenship proceeding, you could face up to 5 years in prison;
- Accounts of court officers (18 U.S.C. 1421): Clerks of the court who are charged by law to make true accounts of money received in citizenship or nationality proceedings must pay over required funds;
- Fees in naturalization proceedings (18 U.S.C. 1422): This statute covers the crime of knowingly soliciting, charging, demanding, collecting, or receiving additional fees or money in naturalization or citizenship proceedings;
- Misuse of evidence of citizenship or naturalization (18 U.S.C. 1423): This statute covers knowingly misusing copies or duplicates of paperwork showing naturalization or citizenship;
- 8 U.S.C. 1324 defines the federal crime of bringing in and harboring aliens.
Further, 18 U.S.C. 1429 covers the penalties for neglect or refusal to answer a subpoena. This statute covers anybody subpoenaed to appear at a final hearing of the application for naturalization under the Immigration and Nationality Act who does not appear to testify.
There are also laws covering alien smuggling. 18 U.S. Code § 1589 defines the crime of forced labor. 18 U.S. Code § 911 defines false claim of United States citizenship.
If you were accused of any crimes related to nationality and citizenship, we could defend you. We are familiar with the laws on illegal procurement of citizenship or nationalization, reproduction or sale of citizenship papers, and related crimes.
Maybe the government lacked the legal authority to search for or seize the evidence.
If they did not have a valid warrant or another legal claim for seizing the evidence, a federal judge might exclude it from being used against you.
Eisner Gorin LLP is located in Los Angeles County, California. We provide legal representation for federal issues throughout the United States. Contact us for a case review by phone, or you can fill out the contact form.