Circuit Offers Document Help to Penniless Nigerian

     (CN) — A blind and penniless Nigerian immigrant who could not collect Social Security benefits because his birth date was wrong can seek to modify his naturalization certificate, the Ninth Circuit ruled Wednesday.
     Olufemi Collins was born in Nigeria before the country had an official birth registry. Collins relied on his mother’s memory to establish his birth date, which he believed for many years to be July 17, 1952.
     When Collins emigrated to the United States on a student visa in 1973, his Nigerian passport listed his birth year as 1952. He supplied this same date in 1987 when he was naturalized.
     Collins learned for the first time that he had been mistaken about his true birthday when he returned to Nigeria in 1991 for his father’s funeral. He discovered a handwritten record of family birth dates in his father’s Bible that revealed he was actually born on July 17, 1948, making him four years older than he thought.
     Collins did not attempt to change the birth date on his certificate of naturalization until September 2010, when he sought to collect Social Security benefits. Collins had lost his job and savings, his home was in foreclosure, and severe glaucoma rendered him legally blind.
     Because he was only 58 years old according to his naturalization certificate, Collins was unable to collect benefits. Seeking to change the date on his certificate, Collins filed an application for a replacement certificate with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, but was denied.
     Collins appealed the decision, but the Administrative Appeals Office dismissed his application on the grounds that the incorrect 1952 birth date had been approved by Collins himself and only a federal court with jurisdiction over Collins’s original naturalization proceedings would have the authority to amend his certificate.
     Collins then filed a pro se petition in federal district court in 2011, but Judge John Walter ruled that the court did not have jurisdiction over the case and that Collins could not show that extraordinary circumstances justified his 20-year delay in seeking an amendment to his certificate.
     The only question before the Ninth Circuit panel in this case was whether the federal courts have jurisdiction to correct or modify naturalization certificates that were issued by a federal court before the passage of the Immigration Act of 1990.
     Through the Act — which was an effort to streamline and simplify the path to U.S. citizenship — Congress transferred the sole authority to naturalize persons as citizens to the attorney general. The power to correct, reopen, alter or modify an order naturalizing the person has rested with the attorney general since the statute went into effect on Oct. 1, 1991.
     A broad savings clause in the statute states that “the provisions of law repealed by this title are, unless otherwise specifically provided, hereby continued in force and effect.”
     The language in the savings clause reflects that Congress intended to preserve federal subject matter jurisdiction over naturalization certificates issued prior to 1991, the panel ruled.
     “Accordingly, Collins’s previously existing right to petition for modification is governed by the provisions of the pre-1990 Immigration Act, and, by virtue of the savings clause, the federal courts may appropriate exercise jurisdiction over his petition to modify his court-issued certificate of naturalization,” Judge M. Margaret McKeown wrote on behalf of the three-member panel.
     Now that jurisdiction has been resolved, the district court can consider the merits of Collins’s petition.
     The Social Security Administration in 2013 amended its records to reflect Collins’s 1948 birthday and granted his request for benefits.

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