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Former U.S. Rep. Hunter sued by family charging fraud over immigration status of adopted kids

Then-U.S. Rep. Duncan Hunter in 2007. A family is suing him over an adoption case he worked on in 1980, before he entered Congress.
Then-U.S. Rep. Duncan Hunter in 2007. A family is suing him over an adoption case he worked on in 1980, before he entered Congress.
(Associated Press)

Long before Duncan L. Hunter served 14 terms in Congress, he ran a law practice serving underprivileged families in the Barrio Logan neighborhood of San Diego.

Now a case he worked on decades ago has prompted a lawsuit in San Diego Superior Court against the the former House Armed Services Committee chairman.

Pedro Aguila and his two adopted children, Maria and Julio, sued Hunter this year, alleging he failed to follow through on an agreement to secure American citizenship for the two when they were formally adopted.

According to the complaint — which accuses the former congressman of negligence, fraud and misrepresentation — Hunter assured Aguila and his late wife, Geneva, that their two children were naturalized citizens under the adoptions he finalized in 1980, when they were 6.

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But in 2013, a few months after Maria Aguila married a Moroccan man and applied for a U.S. passport, she and her family found out the adoption was processed without applications for the children to become citizens, according to the lawsuit.

“Defendant Duncan Hunter Sr. reiterated his assurances that in making [the Aguilas] the children’s legal parents through adoption, he had also, through the process, had U.S. citizenship conferred upon the adopted children,” the suit states.

Reached last week, Hunter said he does not remember the specific case but would not have advised any client that U.S. citizenship automatically followed a legal adoption.

“I practiced extremely carefully, and I would never tell someone they were an instant citizen,” he said. “Half the cases in the barrio are immigration, but I didn’t do them. It’s a niche specialty. They would have had to go to an immigration lawyer and apply under the particular category.”

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The Aguila family, which is representing itself in the case, declined to comment on the case. In court papers, they said finding out they were not American citizens has had an immediate and dramatic impact.

Among other things, Maria Aguila cannot travel to Morocco with her husband. The siblings also suffered severe emotional distress, embarrassment, humiliation, anger and anxiety as a result of their undocumented status, the suit alleges.

The defendant “should have known that an entirely separate application was needed with the then [1980] Immigration and Naturalization Service in order for [the Aguila children] to become citizens of the United States, in addition to the adoption process,” it states.

Hunter, 68, retired from Congress after his unsuccessful 2008 presidential campaign. His lawyer, Elliot Adler, said in court filings that too much time had elapsed for the plaintiffs to claim damages.

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The complaint seeks general, special and exemplary damages, as well as court costs and other relief deemed proper by the court. It is not clear from court records what the plaintiffs plan to do regarding their immigration status.

jeff.mcdonald@sduniontribune.com

McDonald writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune

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