Part 4: (In)Voluntary Statements of Visa Applicants at the US Consular Posts in India – Are US Consular Officers Engaging in Unethical and Unlawful Conduct?

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So to summarize the first three articles in this series, under threat of immigration and criminal consequences, consular staff in India have compelled visa applicants to write and sign Voluntary Statements.  This staff have refused to turn over copies of the Voluntary Statements to the applicants;[1] used false pretenses to entice applicants to sign the Statements; and dictated the text of the Statements, which may contain material misstatements leading to decisions to bar the applicants.

So if the Statements are “voluntary”, as consular staff insist, and the false statements therein subject the applicants to immigration and criminal consequences, what consequences should befall the initiators and overseers – consular staff and their managers – of the false statements?

U.S. law has a number of criminal statutes dealing with false statements. 18 U.S.C. § 1621 is the perjury statute, providing for imprisonment up to five years and a fine.[2]  The perjury can be made orally or in writing. There is also a false statement statute: with limited exception, “in any matter within the jurisdiction of the executive, legislative, or judicial branch of the Government of the United States,” for those who “knowingly and willfully –

(1) falsifies, conceals, or covers up by any trick, scheme, or device a material fact;

(2) makes any materially false, fictitious, or fraudulent statement or representation; or

(3) makes or uses any false writing or document knowing the same to contain any materially false, fictitious, or fraudulent statement or entry;”

they shall be fined and/or imprisoned for up to 5 years.  18 U.S.C. § 1001.

In addition, there is criminal liability not only for the person making the false statement, but to others intricately involved with the false statement. For example, there is a subornation of perjury statute: “Whoever procures another to commit any perjury is guilty of subornation of perjury, and shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than five years, or both.” 18 U.S.C. § 1622.  There is a statute which holds “principals” criminally liable: “(a) Whoever commits an offense against the United States or aids, abets, counsels, commands, induces or procures its commission, is punishable as a principal. (b) Whoever willfully causes an act to be done which if directly performed by him or another would be an offense against the United States, is punishable as a principal.” 18 U.S.C. § 2.

Let’s return to the pre-printed text of the Voluntary Statement.  The Voluntary Statement makes it clear that the signatory can be fined or imprisoned for knowingly and willfully making a material false statement. 18 U.S.C. § 1001.  Consular staff in India use the “carrot” approach to get applicants to cooperate and write and sign statements, sometimes with materially inaccurate information: “Please co-operate and write as I say, otherwise it will make you permanently ineligible for the visa.”  They “threatened me that they will [b]an me from going back to USA if I don’t agree with their version of the story.”  In using this “carrot” approach, consular staff use the possibility of receiving a visa to entice the applicants to “knowingly and willfully mak[e] a material false statement,” subjecting the applicants to a violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1001.  In doing so, consular staff would appear to be “command[ing], induc[ing], or procur[ing]” the applicant to write a false statement – in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2.

“But consular staff are honest and conscientious people,” you say: “they wouldn’t knowingly force someone to make a false statement.”  And you will get no argument from the author – that consular staff are overwhelmingly honest and conscientious people, so let’s assume that is true for a moment.  But what happens if a mistake was made at the time of the compilation of the Voluntary Statement, that at that time consular staff believed the information to be true, but later, they become aware of incontrovertible and irrefutable information that the statements were not true: they become aware that the misrepresentation or alien smuggling findings were based on materially inaccurate information, information that had served as the basis for the finding.

One would think that a conscientious consular officer would take action to rectify the situation: invite the applicant back and overturn the error. But that is not the case in Mumbai, where consular staff under Michael Evans on at least two occasions known to the author refused to do so. Rather, consular staff in Mumbai “circled the wagons” around their own – stonewalling and ignoring irrefutable evidence.  By refusing to correct the errors, they have turned the lives of at least 5 applicants upside down, including prohibiting three of them to immigrate (one of whom was unable to say goodbye to her mother in the United States before her passing).

The Department of State rules governing visa adjudications are clear: all visa applicants are to be given “every reasonable opportunity to establish eligibility to receive a visa.” 9 FAM 306.2-1. Per 22 CFR § 42.81(e), denied immigrant applicants have a right to request reconsideration of an immigrant visa refusal.  In India, apparently this means that the applicants have a right to request reconsideration, but consular staff do not have to actually reconsider erroneous decisions.  That would be “unreasonable”.

Consular staff in India have at the least engaged in unethical behavior by not taking corrective action.  By forcing applicants to sign false statements, statements which by their text implicate US criminal statutes, and not taking steps to correct these statements upon learning of their falsity, it would appear that this staff arguably have also engaged in unlawful conduct.  This raises a multitude of questions: why haven’t the past and current Consul Generals in Mumbai – Thomas Vajda and Ed Kagan – both of whom are aware of this consular misconduct, taken any steps to discipline or terminate the wrongdoers? Why haven’t they taken steps to ensure that these abominable decisions were overturned – decisions which have wrecked lives? Why haven’t they abolished a “voluntary” process that is not voluntary at all? Why do the US consular posts in India continue to subject Indian visa applicants to an abusive process that, apparently, visa applicants around the world are not subject to? Mr. Kagan? Mr. Vajda? Ambassador Juster? What do you say?

You can be sure that neither Mr. Kagan nor Mr. Vajda, who is now the Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs, will do anything. Numerous attempts to reason before were met by deafening silence. They will not apologize to the affected applicants. They will not terminate this abusive process. They will not instruct staff to turn over sworn statements to applicants. They will not direct staff to stop the bullying and coercion.  Apparently, they believe that it is permissible to abuse and disrespect Indian visa applicants.

That is why I am calling on the Office of Inspector General at the Department of State to open an immediate investigation into consular misconduct in Mumbai. That is why I am calling on OIG to take prompt action to terminate this abusive “Voluntary Statement” process throughout India. That is why I am calling on OIG to refer for disciplinary action overzealous, coercive staff who continue to abuse the visa process and applicants.  It is time for this maltreatment to stop.

I will be sure to keep ILW readers and readers of this blog posted on any progress.

[1] On one occasion, the post in Mumbai required a “justification” before it would turn over statements.

[2] “Whoever— (1) having taken an oath before a competent tribunal, officer, or person, in any case in which a law of the United States authorizes an oath to be administered, that he will testify, declare, depose, or certify truly, or that any written testimony, declaration, deposition, or certificate by him subscribed, is true, willfully and contrary to such oath states or subscribes any material matter which he does not believe to be true; or

(2) in any declaration, certificate, verification, or statement under penalty of perjury as permitted under section 1746 of title 28, United States Code, willfully subscribes as true any material matter which he does not believe to be true;

is guilty of perjury….”