Wednesday, May 04, 2016

Collins & Teng v. USCIS (9th Cir. - May 4, 2016)

Yu-Ling Teng is a naturalized U.S. citizen.  When she first came to the United States in 1965, on a student visa, she had a Taiwanese passport that listed her date of birth as 1939.  She says that's right.  So, way back then, she got a social security card, consistent with her passport, and all things moved along smoothly.

Fast forward to 1974.  She now applies for a green card, and -- for whatever reason -- submits a declaration from her aunt that says that she was born in 1944.  So that's the date the (then-) INS used for her green card, and thereafter, in 2001, when Ms. Teng becomes a citizen, on her naturalization certificate.

The problem is that the date of birth on Ms. Teng's social security card does not match her date of birth on her naturalization certificate.  Why's that a big deal?  Because in 2004, California refuses to issue her a driver's license, saying that the dates on her two documents don't match.

Ms. Teng tries to fix things with the DMV, but no dice.  She tries valiantly to fix things with the INS, but they say they're powerless.  She tries to change her date with social security, but they too say they can't help her.  She goes to her local assemblywoman, who tells her to file suit in federal court, but the district court says that it also can do nothing.  And, today, the Ninth Circuit affirms.

Regardless of the facts, and regardless of the reality that Ms. Teng -- a U.S. citizen -- should be able to have consistent documents (and drive), no one is willing (or able) to help her.

That's a failure.

By contrast, on the same day, in a different case, the Ninth Circuit grants relief to Olufemi Collins.

Mr. Collins was born in Nigeria.  When he came to the U.S. on a student visa, in 1973, he had a Nigerian passport, and it listed his date of birth as 1952.  So that's the date he used with the INS, and the one in its records.

Mr. Collins says that, in 1991, he discovered his true date of birth in a family bible.  But he didn't do anything for a couple of decades.

But then, in 2011, Mr. Collins asks the INS to change his birth date of 1952 to his "true" birth date of 1948.  Why?  Because Mr. Collins wants social security benefits.

The (now-) USCIS says it's powerless to help him.  Just as it said to Ms. Teng.  So Mr. Collins files suit.  Just as Ms. Teng did.  The district court denied relief, just as the same district court judge did with Ms. Teng.

I understand the distinction that the panel (Judges Kleinfeld, McKeown, and Ikuta) draws between the two cases.  Judge McKeown says that one certificate was issued by a court prior to 1991, whereas the other was issued by the Attorney General after the Immigration Act of 1990.  That, the Ninth Circuit holds, makes a jurisdictional difference.

Jurisdictional, perhaps.  Equitable, no.

There's absolutely no reason that Mr. Collins should get relief but not Ms. Teng.  It ain't right.

Something should change.  The law.  Its application.  Something.