Agosto v. INS – Case Brief Summary (U.S. Supreme Court)

Agosto v. INS - Case Brief Summary (U.S. Supreme Court)

In Agosto v. INS, 436 U.S. 748, 98 S.Ct. 2081, 56 L.Ed.2d 677 (1978), the Court evaluated a derivative citizenship claim under former INA § 106(a)(5).

Before the IJ, Agosto provided testimonial evidence from himself and several other witnesses, including his adoptive parents, Crocifessa and Pietro Pianetti, and his half-brother. They testified in support of his claim that he had been born to an unmarried Italian mother in Ohio, and sent to Italy at a young age to reside with an Italian couple. Id. at 758, 98 S.Ct. 2081.

The government presented documentary evidence that undermined Agosto's evidence and tended to establish that he had instead been born in Italy to unknown parents in 1927, placed in a foundling home there, and ultimately adopted by an Italian couple. Id. at 757, 98 S.Ct. 2081.

The IJ rejected Agosto's claim and the BIA affirmed.

In deciding the subsequent petition for review, the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit refused to transfer the case to the District Court for a de novo hearing on petitioner's citizenship claim and upheld the deportation order. Id. at 752, 98 S.Ct. 2081.

The court held that, because "the evidence presented to the IJ does not disclose a colorable claim to United States nationality," Agosto had not presented "substantial evidence" in support of his citizenship claim. Id.

The Supreme Court reversed, holding:

The Service's proof that petitioner is not a United States citizen would certainly be sufficient, if uncontradicted, to establish his birth in Agrigento, Italy, in July 1927. However, the evidence adduced by petitioner to support his claim of American citizenship creates genuine issues of material fact that can only be resolved in a de novo hearing in the District Court. Id. at 757, 98 S.Ct. 2081.

The Court acknowledged that Agosto had told conflicting stories about his upbringing during the course of his immigration proceedings; however, the Court found that, given the obvious confusion and uncertainty surrounding the circumstances of Agosto's birth under either Agosto's or the government's theory, "it is hardly surprising that petitioner cannot say with any degree of certainty who his true parents might have been." Id. at 759-60, 98 S.Ct. 2081.

The Court found that the events, as recounted by Agosto and the witnesses who testified on his behalf, "while out of the ordinary, are not so extraordinary as to compel disbelief in their occurrence," therefore the record established a genuine issue of material fact regarding Agosto's citizenship, which the District Court had to resolve. Id. at 760-61, 98 S.Ct. 2081.

The Court explained:

Although as the trier of fact the District Court might reject the testimony of these witnesses because of their interest in the outcome, that determination has been committed by Congress to the district courts by § 106(a)(5)(B) of the Act and not to the courts of appeals. Id. at 761, 98 S.Ct. 2081.