Over the last few weeks, we have witnessed a sustained effort by the government to implement President Trump’s agenda on immigration. Besides organizing a relentless push to ferret out and detain illegal immigrants, the enforcement branch of DHS appears to be slowly co-opting the benefits division. This is reflected in the two recent USCIS policy memoranda quietly released in July. In addition to this, the thehill.com reported recently that there is now a concerted effort to organize a task force of attorneys to review the cases of naturalized US Citizens who may have lied on their applications and start denaturalization proceedings against them. It is unclear just how many applications will be reviewed but it is possible that nearly 17 million cases approved from 1990 to 2016 may be reverified.
To be clear, the process of denaturalizing an individual and stripping him/her of his American citizenship is no formality. Generally speaking, it is intricate civil process initiated in federal district court where the government must sustain a high burden of proof (clear, convincing and unequivocal) that an individual either illegally procured naturalization or concealed a material fact or made a willful misrepresentation during the process. According to the USCIS Policy Manual, a person is subject to revocation of his/his naturalization if
· The naturalized US Citizen misrepresented or concealed some fact;
· The misrepresentation or concealment was willful;
· The mispresented or concealed fact or facts were material; and
· The naturalized US Citizen procured citizenship as a result of the misrepresentation or concealment.
Just last year, the Supreme Court fleshed out the contours of this in Maslenjak v. US and clarified that minor lies, falsehoods, or misrepresentations that do not rise to the level of materiality do not constitute a basis for denaturalization. In other words, the false statements must have some import in determining whether to grant an individual citizenship. For example, innocently forgetting to mention a parking ticket on the naturalization application arguably does not have a material bearing on the grant of naturalization. On the other hand, deliberately failing to mention a previous A number under which one was ordered deported both during the green card process and now in the context of a naturalization petition is certainly something more significant and more likely to invite revocation.
Once a US citizen is formally denaturalized, he or she reverts back to the immigration status he/she had prior to naturalization, in most cases, a permanent resident. Once a person loses the protection of citizenship, he or she then becomes amenable to removal proceedings. What is less known that US Citizen spouses and children of a denaturalized citizen are also potentially vulnerable and may lose their citizenship upon the parent or spouse’s revocation. If they too lose their US Citizenship, they also revert back to their former immigration status.
Given the intense scrutiny that is being applied to all types of applications, including naturalization, it is now more important than ever that petitions are completed accurately. Under the new environment, the government may not only summarily deny incomplete applications but even in cases that one would presume are finished (such as a green card or naturalization matter), possibly seek to reopen and revoke any status previously accorded. The above is general information only and not to be relied upon as legal advice. It does not create an attorney client relationship, nor should it be relied upon as advice in lieu of consultation with an attorney.