Etevaldo Ferreira De Souza, 47, of West Palm Beach, was found guilty by a jury on November 9 of one count of making false statements in a naturalization proceeding, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1015(a).
According to the evidence presented at trial, De Souza was charged with aggravated homicide and armed conspiracy in Brazil in 1993. According to the Brazilian charges, De Souza, although not himself a police officer, conspired with corrupt police officers to commit a murder. In or before 1998, De Souza entered the United States illegally. In 2012, De Souza applied to become a lawful permanent resident pursuant to the Legal Immigration Family Equity (“LIFE”) Act of 2000, which allowed certain people who entered the United States illegally to obtain legal status. In his application for residency, De Souza attested that had never been charged for breaking or violating any law or ordinance, excluding traffic violations. De Souza’s application was granted in January 2013 and he became a lawful resident. In April of that year, the Brazilian charges were dismissed. On July 28, 2017, De Souza applied to become a United States citizen. On his application, De Souza attested that he had never been charged with committing, attempting to commit, or assisting in committing a crime or offense.
The citizenship application contains the question, “Have you EVER committed, assisted in committing, or attempted to commit, a crime or offense for which you were NOT arrested?” (emphasis in original). Lying on that question makes any applicant vulnerable to having his or her citizenship later revoked and is the basis of the vast majority of denaturalization cases. Last summer, the United States Supreme Court heard a case about how broadly the government could use answers to that question to revoke citizenship. The U.S. Attorney argued that it could for any crime, even something as small as driving five miles over the speed limit. The Court rejected that argument and ruled unanimously that only material offenses need to be disclosed.
18 U.S.C. § 1015 provides: “Whoever knowingly makes any false statement under oath, in any case, proceeding, or matter relating to, or under, or by virtue of any law of the United States relating to naturalization, citizenship, or registry of aliens.” While murder would definitely be considered a “material offense” requiring disclosure, De Souza may be able to appeal the conviction by arguing that because the criminal charges in Brazil were dismissed in 2013 he thought he didn’t have to report it on his citizenship application in 2017, thus negating the element of intent required by the statute.
Earlier this year it was reported that the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service had formed a task force to identify Americans who lied on their citizenship applications and pursue denaturalization cases against them.
In a separate effort known as Operation Janus, the Department of Homeland Security plans to devote more than $207.6 million to look for cases of possible immigration fraud, in addition to Green Card fraud by holders of permanent residency. The main focus of this effort is to track down people who gamed the deportation system: those who were ordered deported but later gained citizenship or legal residency under a different identity. Gaming the immigration system is nothing new, including in South Florida, where marriage fraud schemes have flourished over the years. Immigration officials have long made catching those frauds a priority and regularly denaturalized people convicted in such instances.
De Souza’s sentencing is scheduled for January 18, 2019 before U.S. District Judge Kenneth A. Marra. De Souza faces a maximum possible statutory sentence of five years in prison and deportation back to Brazil.