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Bonifon v. Rodriguez

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

September 15, 2017

YAPI BONIFON, Plaintiff,
LEON RODRIGUEZ, in his official capacity as District Director for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, et al., Defendants.



         Plaintiff Yapi Bonifon brings this action seeking de novo review of his application for naturalization pursuant to § 310(c) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, 8 U.S.C. § 1421(c) and the Administrative Procedure Act, 5 U.S.C. § 702 et seq. Now before the Court is a motion for summary judgment filed by government defendants Jeh Johnson, Denis Riordan, and Leon Rodriguez [ECF No. 26]. For the reasons set forth below, the motion for summary judgment is granted.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Factual Background

         Yapi Bonifon is a native of Côte D'Ivoire (“Ivory Coast”). In 1998, when he was 23 years old, Bonifon obtained passage from Ivory Coast to the United States aboard a large container ship that was transporting cargo. The voyage lasted approximately 30 days, and Bonifon arrived in the United States on or around September 20, 1998.

         Bonifon initially traveled from his hometown of Akoupe, Ivory Coast, to the port city of Abidjan, Ivory Coast. He knew that large ships departed from Abidjan and he intended to leave the country. He packed a backpack with sugar, water, biscuits, and bread, which he believed were foods that would prevent him from needing to use the restroom frequently. Before boarding the ship in Abidjan, Bonifon observed the ship's activity to determine how to gain access.

         Bonifon has provided differing accounts as to how he boarded the ship. In a 2005 affidavit provided to immigration officials, Bonifon stated that he pretended to be an employee. In his deposition for this case, he elaborated, explaining that he took a broom from an area where several brooms were located and swept the floor of the ship alongside the ship's crew members. In his naturalization interview, Bonifon did not mention pretending to be a worker, but rather stated that he sneaked aboard the ship at night.[1] Bonifon boarded the ship in the evening. He never obtained permission from the owner, captain, a crew member, or anyone else to be on the ship, nor did he pay anyone, sign any documentation, or possess a valid ticket to be on the ship. He did not have a valid passport from any country, nor did he have a visa to travel to the United States.

         Soon after boarding the ship, Bonifon took a jumpsuit from a dressing room and wore it so that he would look like the other workers. He stated that he situated himself “among the crew” and suggested he was not detected because he was shorter than other crew members. In addition, Bonifon testified that he had at least one short conversation with another crew member in which he pretended to be a worker. Bonifon did not sweep the floors after the first night on the ship.

         Bonifon found a space on the second floor of the ship where he slept and spent most of his time. His sleeping location was not near any other people, and he was careful to avoid the crew members out of concern that they would throw him overboard if they discovered he was not an employee. He never went above deck. He testified that he did not interact much with the crew, and that nobody asked him who he was or what he was doing on the ship. He was able to use the public restrooms.

         During his journey, Bonifon discovered how to access the ship's kitchen without drawing attention to himself. He explained that he would wait until after a meal was over, when most people had left the kitchen, and then he would enter the kitchen quietly, take some fruit that could “disappear” in his mouth, put a small amount of food in his pocket, and then leave quickly. He described this process as “grab[bing] the food” and then “disappear[ing].” Bonifon stated that sometimes he would say “hey” to people in the kitchen to be polite, but otherwise he did not speak to anyone. After taking food, he would walk back to his sleeping area “carefully” so that nobody would follow him. No one ever gave him food.

         On or about September 20, 1998, the ship arrived in Miami, Florida, and Bonifon disembarked during the night. He stated that he might have done something to pretend he was part of the crew as he was departing, such as rolling barrels, but he did not recall with certainty. He was not inspected by any authority, and he did not speak to any immigration officer.

         B. Procedural Background

         Bonifon married Linda (Crosby) Bonifon in April 2001, and his wife subsequently filed a Form I-130 petition to establish her spousal relationship with Bonifon so he could seek lawful permanent resident status. The I-130 petition was approved in November 2001. In December 2001, Bonifon filed a Form I-485 application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status. In response to his application, United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (“USCIS”) requested additional evidence from Bonifon. He submitted an affidavit dated June 20, 2005 in which he described his journey to the United States. On September 8, 2006, USCIS approved Bonifon's I-485 Application and granted him lawful permanent resident (“LPR”) status under 8 U.S.C. § 1255(i).

         Bonifon applied to become naturalized as a United States citizen by submitting a Form N-400 application on August 30, 2013. He was interviewed in connection with his application twice, by USCIS Immigration Services Officer (“ISO”) Joel Dorfman on May 7, 2014, and by ISO Eric Labato on July 15, 2014. Bonifon's attorney was present for both interviews. Bonifon and his attorney walked out of the May 7 interview before it was complete, and returned to finish the interview on July 15. At the beginning of the July 15 interview, Bonifon was placed under oath. After the interview was ...

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