Berenyi v. Director, Immigration and Naturalization Service

PETITIONER: Kalman J. Berenyi
RESPONDENT: District Director, Immigration and Naturalization Service
LOCATION: U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts

DOCKET NO.: 66
DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1965-1967)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit

CITATION: 385 US 630 (1967)
ARGUED: Dec 05, 1966 / Dec 06, 1966
DECIDED: Jan 23, 1967

ADVOCATES:
Leon B. Savetsky - For the Petitioner
Robert S. Rifkind - For the Respondent

Facts of the case

Kalman Berenyi applied for naturalization as a U.S. citizen. After a hearing, the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts denied the application, finding that Berenyi gave false testimony to facilitate his naturalization, so he was not a person of “good moral character.” In Berenyi’s application, he denied membership in the Communist Party, but two witnesses testified that Berenyi often spoke of his Party membership and lead a study group on Marxist-Leninist ideology. Berenyi appealed, arguing that the government failed to show that he had a “meaningful association” with the Communist Party. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit affirmed.

Question

Did the court of appeals err in upholding the district court’s finding that Berenyi was a member of the Communist party without evidence that the membership was a “meaningful association”?

Media for Berenyi v. Director, Immigration and Naturalization Service

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - December 06, 1966 in Berenyi v. Director, Immigration and Naturalization Service

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - December 05, 1966 in Berenyi v. Director, Immigration and Naturalization Service

Earl Warren:

Number 66, Kalman J. Berenyi, petitioner, versus District Director Immigration and Naturalization Service.

Mr. Savetsky.

Leon B. Savetsky:

Mr. Chief Justice, may it please the Court.

This case involves the denial of a petition for naturalization based upon findings of fact by the District Court that the petitioner had been a member of the Communist Party in Hungary.

And that in denying such membership and testimony before the Immigration Service on his naturalization application, he does gave false testimony in order to obtain a benefit under the Act, the benefit of naturalization.

Now as thus by statutory definition precluded from being a person of good moral character under the provisions of Section 101 (f) (6) of the Act, the requirement of good moral character of course a pre-requisite to naturalization under Section 316 (a) (3) of the Act.

This petitioner has never admitted any communist body membership.

And as a matter of fact, has denied that steadfastly throughout.

And as a result, it is the finding of Communist Party membership by the District Court upon which the decision in this case hinges for as the Government appears to agree at page 17 of its brief, once the finding of past membership was made, the finding of false testimony inevitably file there from.

And conversely, without the finding of such membership, the finding of false testimony could not have been made.

Now the -- a brief background of this case is as follows.

The petitioner is a Hungarian national, a medical doctor, who together with his wife fled Hungary in November of 1956, a few days after, the uprising was crushed.

At that time together with thousands of other people, they escaped across the border into Austria.

And the petitioner and his wife were in the following month, December of 1956, admitted to the United States as permanent residents.

In January of 1962, after the lapse of the five-year statutory residence period, both the petitioner and his wife filed a petition for naturalization.

And after an extended preliminary investigation and examination, the designated naturalization examiner in October of 1964 denied -- or pardon me, recommended the denial of both petitions upon the following grounds.

With respect to the petitioner, a denial was recommended on the ground that he had been a member of the Communist Party within the ten years proceeding the filing of the petition and his membership does -- rendered him ineligible for citizenship under the provisions of Section 313 of the Act.

Those provisions which born naturalization to a person who is a member of a proscribed organization listed therein.

And the second ground upon which denial was recommended was that during the period to which petitioner was required to establish good moral conduct, the five years prior to the filing of the petition, he had therefore testified falsely as to such Communist Party membership in Hungary in order to facilitate his naturalization and was therefore by statutory definition rendered ineligible to be found to be a person of good moral character.

Incidentally, the wife's petition was recommended to be denied on the ground that she too had testified falsely before the Immigration Service, in denying her husband's Communist Party membership and that she was therefore precluded from being deemed a person of good moral character under 101 (f) (6) of the Act.

Both petitioner and his wife requested a hearing in open court as is their right under the statute.

And the final hearing was a joint hearing on both petitions in the District Court.

And on that final hearing, the Government produced two witnesses.

Both of whom were Hungarian nationals and who had attended medical school at the University of Budapest during portions of the time that the petitioner had been a medical student there.

The petitioner had attended medical school there from 1946 to 1952, it was a six-year course he graduated in 1952.

At that time by the way, the medical classes at the University of Budapest averaged approximately five to 600 students in each year.

Now the Government's principal witness of Dr. Kury, testified that he had entered medical school in 1948, the same year as the petitioner, but that for the first two years he had have no contact with the petitioner.

At the beginning of the third year in September of 1948, Kury testified that he was assigned to a small study group of about 20 or so students that was scheduled to meet regularly every afternoon.

The primary purpose of these study groups was to enable the students to discuss and review on a more intimate and closer level the medical subjects that they had been taught in the large lecture groups of several hundred students earlier in the day, and which by the very nature of the size of this classes precluded any sort of informal exchange of ideas.

The medical subjects discussed in these groups was under the leadership of an upper classmen, a medical student from a higher grade.