The U.S. Supreme Court ruled, last Wednesday, in a case titled Kawashima v. Holder, that filing a false tax return is a deportable offense.
The petitioners (the Kawashimas), husband and wife, in the case had been lawful U.S. permanent residents (i.e. green card holders) since 1984. In 1997, the husband was convicted of filing a false corporate tax return that understated the couples’ income thus depriving the U.S. of owed tax revenue. The wife was convicted of assisting the husband in filing the false corporate tax return.
According to current U.S. immigration law, anyone who is convicted of an aggravated felony is deportable. The original meaning of aggravated felony was limited to crimes like murder but over time, Congress has expanded the definition. The current definition of an aggravated felony is an offense that either 1) involves fraud or deceit in which the loss to the victim is more than $10,000; or 2) in situations of tax evasion where the revenue loss to the U.S. government is more than $10,000.
The Kawashimas had originally been convicted of filing a false return rather than for tax evasion. Thus, under the definition of aggravated felony, they were not subject to deportation proceedings. However, the U.S. had initiated deportation proceedings against them based on the argument that filing a false tax return was indeed “fraud or deceit” under the first part of the definition of an aggravated felony. According to the U.S., this made the Kawashimas deportable, regardless of having received permanent resident status.
The Board of Immigration Appeals in the Ninth Circuit agreed with the U.S. government that the Kawashimas had committed a deportable defense involving fraud or deceit. The Supreme Court affirmed the BIA’s opinion. According to the Supreme Court, filing a false tax return is fraud or deceit and thus a deportable offense when the offender knowingly made a material false statement on his return and had the specific intent to violate the law.
The opinion was written by Justice Thomas.
The complexities of filing a tax return is always a question for many foreigners living in the U.S. The Supreme Court's decision makes it clear that any foreigner who files a false tax return can lose their current U.S. status, including their green card, and be subject to deportation. With March 15th and April 15th deadlines right around the corner, if you have any tax questions, please be sure to consult with a CPA or attorney on the right action for your issue.