Several years ago, Luis Fernando Juarez wanted to buy a firearm. At the time of purchase he filled out what is called a “Firearms Transaction Report.” Among the questions asked was whether or not he is a U.S. Citizen. Federal law makes it a felony for anyone to lie about being a U.S. Citizen on official documents. Mr. Juarez believed he was not a U.S. Citizen when he completed the form, but, as Mr. Juarez found out later, he may actually be a citizen.
Derivative citizenship is a method of citizenship that has not yet made its way into popular culture. It’s citizenship that children receive after their parents are naturalized, provided certain conditions are met, or to foreign-born children adopted by parents who are already U.S. citizens. Mr. Juarez may be a derivative citizen of the United States. His mother became a U.S. citizen when he was 16 years old, which is important because only immigrants under the age of 18 can gain derivative citizenship. Mr. Juarez’s father was already dead, and he intended to live in the United States permanently at that time, so Mr. Juarez may have met the conditions for derivative citizenship. Obviously if Mr. Juarez is a U.S. Citizen, he can’t have lied on the Firearms Transaction Report about being a U.S. citizen.
Unfortunately for Mr. Juarez, he discovered this after he had already pleaded guilty. His lawyer candidly admits that he had never heard of derivative citizenship. He appealed his case to a federal court, which initially denied his appeal, but last Friday, the Fifth Circuit Court reversed and remanded the case to the district court.
Utah is not a part of the Fifth Circuit, so last weeks decision is not binding on the federal courts here. Nevertheless, the derivative citizenship law is applicable to the whole country, but the derivative citizenship defense is one that trips up even seasoned immigration counsel.