On June 2, 2017, the Board of Immigration Appeals issued a precedent decision concerning the government’s authority to administratively cancel a Certificate of Naturalization. The gist of Matter of Falodun, 27 I & N Dec. 52 (BIA 2017), is that the government need not institute judicial proceedings to cancel a certificate of citizenship, as it is required to do with respect to someone who is a US citizen through naturalization. Under section 342 of the Immigration and nationality Act (INA), the government may administratively cancel a certificate of citizenship that has been illegally or fraudulently procured. Simply put, someone holding a certificate of citizenship is not necessarily entitled to the same safeguards that someone holding a certificate of naturalization enjoys.
The Difference Between a Certificate of Citizenship and Certificate of Naturalization
How did the court arrive at this conclusion? The logic flows from the fundamental distinction between the two certificates. While both certificates are presumably proof of one’s US citizenship, the certificate of naturalization is essentially only “indicia” of citizenship. In contrast, when one has been naturalized, one has gone through the process of applying on an N-400; demonstrated the requisite physical and continuous residence; proven good moral character; and passed the English and history components of the examination. Naturalization is an actual “grant” of US citizenship. On the other hand, one who holds a certificate of citizenship has not been granted citizenship by the government. Rather, one has submitted an application to USCIS claiming that one is already a citizen, whether through derivation or acquisition. The individual could also theoretically applied for a US passport in lieu or in addition to the certificate as presumptive proof of citizenship. Therefore, if a person obtained a certificate of citizenship based on a set of propositions that have later turned out to be false or not true, the claim of citizenship was void from the very start. The government is merely canceling a document that the person was never entitled to in the first place because the claim was invalid.
On the other hand, once the government has conferred a certain status, ie., US Citizenship through naturalization, it would be substantively and procedurally unfair for it to just cancel the grant without due process. Consequently, in most cases, a federal court needs to hear the matter in a denaturalization proceeding involving the US Attorney’s Office, who is the federal prosecutor. For civil denaturalization proceedings, the government will need to demonstrate by clear and convincing evidence that the individual illegally procured naturalization or concealed a material fact or willfully misrepresenting something during the naturalization process. If the government sustains its burden and prevails in federal court, the person’s naturalization is revoked, after which the certificate of naturalization is then cancelled. Once naturalization is revoked, the person reverts back to the status he/she had prior to illegally obtaining naturalization. For example, if an applicant for naturalization was a lawful permanent resident prior to the naturalization, denaturalization will return the person back to permanent resident status. Of course, the government can take things a step further by possibly initiating removal proceedings to revoke the person’s green card status and oust him/her.
Interestingly and incidentally, the Supreme Court just decided Maslenjak v. United States last month, which is a very important case affecting millions of naturalized citizens. At issue was whether a false statement made in connection with a naturalization application needs to be material to constitute denaturalization grounds. During arguments, Chief Justice John Roberts, in particular, expressed concern over the prospect of someone losing citizenship over the omission of a twenty-year old traffic ticket. As another justice also pointed out, the N-400 questions are quite broad and can be construed to cover any and everything. Fortunately, the High Court came down on the right side of things, holding that there must be a nexus between the illegal act and the procurement of citizenship. Otherwise, any lie-no matter how trivial-could provide a basis for revoking citizenship, something which most reasonable minds will agree is just unfair. As the Court said, “The Government could thus take away on one day what it was required to give the day before.” It would open the door to, as the Court puts it very euphemistically, “a world of disquieting consequences.”
N-400 or N-600? Applying On The Right Form
Understanding the distinction between naturalization and proof of citizenship is critical from the start. Conflating the two can lead to serious errors that may result in the denial of an application, considerable loss of time and forfeiture of filing fees. Some USCIS officers will deny a naturalization application if they deem the applicant should be applying for a certificate of citizenship. Conversely, an N-600 will be denied if the person is not already a citizen and should actually be applying for naturalization. For more information on US Citizenship and the application process, please contact our office to schedule a consultation.