United States District Court, D. New Jersey
WILLIAM J. MARTINI, District Judge.
Pursuant to the Immigration & Nationality Act of 1952, Sonal Shah ("Sonal") requests that this Court overturn a decision by the United States Citizenship and Immigrant Services ("UCIS") denying her application for naturalization. This matter comes before the Court on Defendants' motion for summary judgment and Sonal's cross-motion for summary judgment. The motions both concern whether Sonal was lawfully admitted for permanent residence before she applied for naturalization. If she was not lawfully admitted as a permanent resident, the Court must uphold the decision denying her application for naturalization. Pursuant to FED. R. CIV. P. 78 no oral argument was heard. For the reasons set forth below, Defendants' motion for summary judgment is GRANTED, and Sonal's cross-motion for summary judgment is DENIED. Judgment will be entered in favor of Defendants.
Except where otherwise noted, the following facts are undisputed. Sonal is a native and citizen of India, who current resides in Edison, New Jersey. (Complt. at ¶ 3). On June 30, 1995, Sonal and her husband Sejal entered the United States on B-2 non-immigrant visas, which authorized them to remain in the country until December 29, 1995. (Def's Statement of Material Facts (SOMF) at ¶ 2). Despite being authorized to stay in the United States until only December 29, 1995, Sonal and Sejal remained in the country until they subsequently departed for Canada on November 26, 2000. (Def's SOMF at ¶4). "Sometime in late 2000 or early 2001, " Sonal and Sejal decided to return the United States. (Def's SOMF at ¶5). Sonal states that during this period, there was a policy known as the "Commonwealth Rule" in place for citizens of British Commonwealth countries, including India. (Plf's SOMF at ¶4). Sonal further contends that under the Commonwealth Rule, she and her husband were entitled to reenter the United States from Canada without a valid United States visa. ( Id. ) However, when the couple first attempted reentry to the United States, they were denied by an officer who was "not familiar with the Commonwealth Rule.'" ( Id. at ¶5). The parties dispute the nature of this encounter at the border, but both agree that Sonal and Sejal were in Canada during this time period. Despite being denied initially, Sonal and Sejal were eventually able to return to the United States. ( Id. at ¶6).
On or about July 1, 2001, Sonal filed an application to adjust her status to that of a permanent resident, which was supported by an approved visa petition filed by her then-employer. (Def's SOMF at ¶6). In connection with her application for adjustment, Sonal paid $1, 000 for a waiver of inadmissibility under section 1255(i) (also known as a 245(i) waiver). Shortly after Sonal applied, Sejal also filed for an adjustment as the derivative beneficiary of Sonal's application. (Def's SOMF at ¶7). Sonal's application for an adjustment included documents in her file "with respect to [her] departure from the United States [to Canada] while not in valid immigration status and her return to the United States." (Plf's SOMF at ¶7). Notwithstanding that fact, in May 2002 INS approved Sonal and Sejal's applications for permanent residency.
In May 2010, Sonal applied to naturalize as a United States citizen. (Def's SOMF at ¶8). On October 29, 2010, USCIS denied Sonal's application for naturalization for two reasons: (1) Sonal was never lawfully admitted for permanent residence; and (2) Sonal demonstrated poor moral character when she answered "No" after initially being asked whether she had left the United States Between June 30, 1995 and May 24, 2002. (Def's SOMF, Ex. 2). In February 2011, USCIS denied Sonal's administrative appeal of the decision rejecting her naturalization application. (Def's SOMF, Ex. 3).
Sonal filed the instant action in May of 2011. See ECF No. 1. In February 2012, Sonal moved for summary judgment on the issue of whether USCIS was correct in finding that Sonal lacked good moral character. Concluding that there was a genuine issue of material fact regarding whether Sonal lied during her naturalization interview, the Court denied the motion for summary judgment. ECF No. 14.
Now both parties have moved for summary judgment on USCIS' other basis for denying Sonal's application for naturalization-namely, whether Sonal was lawfully admitted for permanent residence before submitting her application. If Sonal was not lawfully admitted for permanent residence, the Court must uphold the USCIS decision denying her application for naturalization. If she was lawfully admitted for permanent residence, the case must proceed on the issue of whether USCIS correctly determined that Sonal lacked good moral character.
II. MOTIONS FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT
A. Legal Standard
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 provides for summary judgment "if the pleadings, the discovery [including, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file] and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56; see also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986); Turner v. Schering-Plough Corp., 901 F.2d 335, 340 (3d Cir. 1990). A factual dispute is genuine if a reasonable jury could find for the non-moving party, and is material if it will affect the outcome of the trial under governing substantive law. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). The Court considers all evidence and inferences drawn therefrom in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Andreoli v. Gates, 482 F.3d 641, 647 (3d Cir. 2007).
Initially, the moving party has the burden of demonstrating the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 323. Once the moving party has met this burden, the nonmoving party must identify, by affidavits or otherwise, specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. Id. The opposing party must do more than just rest upon mere allegations, general denials, or vague statements. Saldana v. Kmart Corp., 260 F.3d 228, 232 (3d Cir. 2001). Rather, to withstand a proper motion for summary judgment, the nonmoving party must identify specific facts and affirmative evidence that contradict those offered by the moving party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 256-57.
An applicant seeking review of a naturalization denial bears the burden of establishing that he or she is entitled to naturalization. See Berenyi v. District Director, INS, 385 U.S. 630, 636-37 (1967). The applicant must demonstrate that he or she meets each statutory requirement for becoming a naturalized citizen. Id. at 637. Additionally, "there must be strict compliance with all the congressionally imposed ...