This past week, the Department of Justice has created its own distinct section dedicated to investigate and litigate the denaturalization of terrorists, war criminals, sex offenders, and other fraudsters. This initiative emphasizes the Department’s commitment to bring justice to those who illegally obtained naturalization.
The Department reports that the growing number of referrals anticipated from law enforcement agencies motivated the creation of the section dedicated to the revocation of naturalization. “When a terrorist or sex offender becomes a U.S. citizen under false pretenses, it is an affront to our system–and it is especially offensive to those who fall victim to these criminals,” said Assistant Attorney General Jody Hunt, Head of Justice Department’s civil division. “The Denaturalization Section with further the Department’s efforts to pursue those who unlawfully obtained citizenship status and ensure that they are held accountable for their fraudulent conduct.”
By law, the government may initiate denaturalization proceedings upon a person whose certificate of naturalization was illegally procured or was procured by concealment of a material fact or by willful misrepresentation. Examples include: failing to disclose participation in terrorist activity, war crimes, identity fraud, tax fraud, and other serious crimes that bar an immigrant from obtaining citizenship. In addition, any person who claims U.S. citizenship through a naturalized parent or spouse, in whose case there is a revocation and cancellation of the certificate of naturalization, shall be deemed to have lost and to lose his or her citizenship and any right or privilege of citizenship which would have otherwise been enjoyed. Lastly, there is no statute of limitations on the matter. This means that nothing may limit, deny, or restrict the power of the Attorney General to correct, reopen, alter, modify, or vacate an order naturalizing the person. 8 USC §1451.
The Department states that the Office of Immigration Litigation has a 95% success rate in denaturalization cases, and according statistics published by The New York Times, over the past three years under the Trump administration, denaturalization case referrals to the Department have increased by 600%.
The Department’s standalone section for denaturalization and concept of broad discretion to strip one’s citizenship sits uneasy with many immigration lawyers. This initiative authorizes the government broad power to pursue denaturalization lawsuits against many people, some of which are wrongfully pursued. For instance, the DOJ seeks to target litigation of denaturalization of fraudsters. Because fraud may be broadly defined, those who have knowingly lied on their citizenship application versus those who have made a misstatement may be grouped into the same pool of targeted individuals. While the Department urges that it seeks to prioritize people who have committed serious violations, this broad discretion leaves naturalized individuals–who have gone through the long, extensive citizenship process fairly–in fear that the government may one day pursue the revocation of their citizenship. Gaining citizenship is a monumental event in an immigrant’s life, where one becomes equal and legally indistinguishable from natural-born U.S. citizens; however, it remains clear that distinctions will continue to remain present for the time being.