Friday, August 19th, 2005

A False Statement Made on One Document, even if Not Material to that Document, Can Be Material When Considered against the Overall Process

United States v. Shitian Wu, Docket No. 03-1503 (2d Cir. August 18, 2005) (McLaughlin, Pooler, Wesley) (Op. by Wesley): Because this case was litigated by attorneys from this Office, we will refrain from commentary and stick to description.

Essentially, the majority held, with a dissent from Judge Pooler, that a false statement made in one immigration document, though immaterial to the purposes of that particular document, is nonetheless material under 18 U.S.C. § 1546(a) — prohibiting the making of “any false statement with respect to a material fact in any application, affidavit, or other document required by the immigration laws or regulations prescribed thereunder” — because that document “is part of a larger application process . . . and the statute is best understood as encompassing misrepresentations of material facts in that process no matter how many documents that may include.” Op. at 4. While Wu’s false statements were immaterial to the particular document in which they appeared (an affidavit of financial support), they were unquestionably material to the “overall process” within which this particular document was submitted — i.e., Wu’s attempt to convince the INS to grant immigration visas to his relatives. This was good enough to sustain his conviction, Judge Wesley concluded, because “the materiality of a falsehood should be assessed not against a preliminary or partial determination within a process, but instead against the ‘process as a whole.'” Op. at 7.

Judge Pooler disagreed, reading the statute more narrowly and measuring materiality not against the larger, overall process, but simply against the document itself (in which the false statement appears). As she wrote, “Because Congress has directed us to determine the materiality of the false statement in the context of the ‘document required by the immigration laws or regulations,” and because those laws and regulations and the instant document itself all relate solely to the self-contained determination of whether the sponsored immigrant is inadmissible as a public charge, I conclude that Wu’s false statements here were not material.” Op. at 15. Judge Pooler also points out that even if there is some ambiguity concerning the scope of § 1546(a), the rule of lenity would require her narrower reading rather than the majority’s. Op. at 15-16.

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