Recently, USCIS sent an e-mail alert from its Public Engagement Division to “remind” stakeholders that regional centers and related commercial enterprises should not contain the words “United States,” “U.S.,” “US” and “Federal” in their names. The e-mail alert claiming that the use of these words by themselves could imply a false relationship with the U.S. government, which could potentially violate federal laws regarding false advertisements and/or unfair business practices. Additionally, USCIS indicated it may arbitrarily refer a regional center or new commercial enterprise with a “questionable” name to the Federal Trade Commission or the Department of Justice.
The USCIS email appears to imply simply using those terms in websites and promotional and other marketing materials would constitute deceptive business practices and false advertisements. However, it is far from clear that the laws governing false advertisements and unfair business practices would apply simply because a regional center or new commercial enterprise used the words “United States,” “U.S.,” “US” and “Federal.” It is unclear what the intent of this e-mail blast to stakeholders, which was not published anywhere on USCIS website as of the date of posting this blog, so can only be seen by those who were on the distribution list. Generally speaking, provided the regional center or the new commercial enterprise simply uses those terms in its name but does not in any way imply it is a part of the U.S. government or a federal agency, it would not likely be liable for some of the statutes cited by USCIS in the email (of course, each case would be fact specific).
It is worth noting that, on its face, 18 U.S.C. § 709 prohibits the use of the words “national”, “Federal”, and “United States” as part of the business or firm name of a person, corporation, partnership, business trust, association or other business entity engaged in the banking or loan. How this would be applied to a regional center or new commercial enterprise is unclear. Furthermore, one need only review USCIS’ searchable database of regional centers to find plenty of regional centers with names that include the words “United States,” “U.S.,” “US” and “Federal.” This raises important questions for USCIS, such as: what is the standard for referring regional centers or new commercial enterprises to the FTC or DOJ? How will is enforce or police laws that it is not tasked with enforcing or policing? Will regional centers or new commercial enterprises receive notice of a referral to the FTC or DOJ? Will UCSCIS use this as a basis when adjudicating EB-5 petitions, both regional center and investor petitions? It seems this e-mail raises more questions than it answers.
Since the e-mail is not preserved on USCIS website as of yet, we have produced it below for anyone who did not receive it: