(CN) - The en banc Ninth Circuit shot down the appeal by an 84-year-old man who for decades passed himself off as a U.S. citizen with a similar name and birth date.
Matt Adams, an attorney with Northwest Immigrant Rights Project of Seattle, called the decision "devastating," insisting that his client is a U.S. citizen.
"Today's decision from the Ninth Circuit is devastating for our client and his family, and undermines key safeguards developed over the last hundred years to protect other U.S. citizens," Adams said in an interview. "The deeply divided en banc court overturned past precedent and glossed over controlling case law from the Supreme Court to ultimately affirm an order stripping our client of his U.S. citizenship and ordering him deported to Mexico."
In 29 pages, the federal appeals court describes the curious case of Salvador Mondaca-Vega, born June 3, 1931, in Sinaloa, Mexico.
It is uncontested that Mondaca-Vega grew up in El Fuerte, Sinaloa, Mexico, and came to the United States in 1951 when he was 20 or so.
Mondaca-Vega began accumulating a rap sheet in California that same year. Fingerprints tied to this man's deportation process in 1953 and 1954 are a match for Mondaca-Vega.
There is a U.S. citizen with a similar name, however, whom authorities found Mondaca-Vega has misrepresented himself as, going back to his first years in the United States.
The birth certificate recorded in Imperial, Calif., identifies its bearer as Renoldo Mondaca Carlon, born July 17, 1931. When Mondaca-Vega tried to pass himself off as this U.S. citizen, he claimed that the U.S. birth certificate misspelled his first name.
Handwriting analysis shows that the "Reynaldo C. Mondaca" issued a Social Security card in 1953 was actually Mondaca-Vega.
Mondaca-Vega was separately charged with "numerous" offenses between 1969 and 1994, under the name Reynaldo Mondaca Carlon and other variations.
On at least one occasion, court documents note, he was charged as a U.S. citizen.
At issue for the Ninth Circuit was a charge Mondaca-Vega faced in 1994 after a conviction in Washington state court for second-degree assault. Alleging entry without inspection and making a false claim of U.S. citizenship, the government placed Mondaca-Vega in removal proceedings.
An immigration judge found by "clear, convincing and unequivocal" evidence that Mondaca-Vega was a noncitizen who entered without inspection and by misrepresentation.
After an immigration appeals board affirmed, Mondaca-Vega tried to prove he was a U.S. citizen at a bench trial, claiming that he repeatedly used the name of a noncitizen with authorities because friends told him U.S. citizens faced longer detentions.
At trial, Mondaca-Vega said that he never knew the "real" Salvador Mondaca-Vega and could not recall how he came up with the name, one of many he admittedly used.
A federal judge ultimately ruled that Mondaca-Vega was born in Mexico, not the United States, and added that government presented "clear, unequivocal, and convincing" evidence.
After the Ninth Circuit panel rejected Mondaca-Vega's petition for review in a 2-1 ruling, it agreed in 2013 to rehear the case en banc.
The court's ruling for the government Tuesday is almost as complicated as the case itself, inspiring two partial dissents and shifts of judges joining in various sections of the lead opinion.
All 11 judges joined in the first three sections; the fourth section represents the opinion of seven judges; and the remaining two sections represent the opinion of five judges.
Each of the partial dissents shows similarly muddied authorship. Judge N.R. Smith's says he "reluctantly" concurred with the judgment.
"Even though I do not agree with the majority's holding on the burden of proof, I reluctantly concur in the judgment to deny the petition," Smith wrote. "Applying the clearly erroneous standard of review to the district court's findings of fact under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 52(a) and using the majority's 'clear and convincing' burden of proof, I cannot grant the petition for review."
Smith said remanding this case to District Court would solve nothing, the outcome "would not change."
Mondaca-Vega's attorney Adams said the majority decision "changed the law" in the circuit, "abandoning its role of providing independent review of this type of citizenship cases, and just as damaging, announcing that the government must not meet a demanding burden of proof in trying to deport someone that even the government previously conceded was a U.S. citizen."
According to the 2014 Mexican National Survey of Demographic Dynamic, 1 million Mexicans and their families, including U.S.-born children, left the United States for Mexico between 2009 and 2014.
An estimated 870,000 Mexican nationals left Mexico to come to the U.S. during the same period, U.S. census data shows.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement reported 315,943 immigration removals in 2014. Leading countries of origin for deportations included Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.
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