Foreign nationals who become U.S. citizens do so through a process called “naturalization.” But there is also something called “denaturalization:’ the stripping of U.S. citizenship from a naturalized citizen by the U.S. government. How does denaturalization happen, and how can you protect your citizenship?
There are two grounds on which the U.S. government will pursue denaturalization: illegal procurement of naturalization, and procurement of naturalization by concealing a material fact or willful misrepresentation. Let’s examine these one at a time.
Illegal procurement of naturalization means that the person in question was not really eligible to become a citizen, because he or she did not meet the legal requirements for naturalization. These include:
For instance, if someone became a naturalized citizen, and it was later discovered that before being naturalized, they had committed a crime like human trafficking, the government might seek to revoke their citizenship through denaturalization. Human trafficking and other serious crimes, especially if ongoing, reflect negatively on one’s moral character. If these crimes had been known prior to naturalization, the person likely would never have been granted citizenship.
There are other reasons people may fall under the umbrella of “illegal procurement of naturalization.” For instance, if someone is a member, or becomes affiliated with certain groups opposed to the principles of the U.S. Constitution, they may be denaturalized. Groups in this category include terrorist organizations, the Communist party, or a totalitarian party. Affiliation with the group must have been within the ten years immediately preceding, or the five years immediately after the person was naturalized.
Most people who are denaturalized are aware that they have done something wrong in obtaining citizenship, but even if an individual did not deliberately lie about or conceal information about their background, they can still be denaturalized for illegal procurement of naturalization.
Procurement of naturalization by concealing a material fact, or making a material misrepresentation, means that an individual has provided false information, or deliberately failed to provide information, that was relevant to the issue of whether they should be granted citizenship. A person denaturalized for this reason would have deliberately lied about or hidden a fact that would have influenced the decision to allow them to become a citizen.
The concealment of information, or providing false information, could be either in writing in the application for citizenship, or oral, during the citizenship interview. The misrepresented information also has to be important enough to influence the decision. If, for instance, you were asked how long you worked at a certain job and said nine months, when in fact you had only worked there a little over eight months, that probably would not be material. If you said you were working as a waiter in a restaurant when, in fact, you were selling drugs, that would be a material misrepresentation. Not only would you have been lying about what you did for a living, the truth, if known, would have resulted in your citizenship being denied.
Fortunately, the government cannot just denaturalize someone on a whim, though the number of denaturalization cases has been increasing in recent years. Denaturalization may be through either a civil or criminal proceeding. In a civil case, the government must prove their case by “clear, convincing, and unequivocal evidence which does not leave the issue in doubt.”In a criminal case, the burden on the government is even higher; the government must present “proof beyond a reasonable doubt” that the person in question violated the statute (18 U.S.C. §1425), knowingly obtaining or trying to obtain naturalization for him/herself or another person by fraud.
Even military members and veterans are subject to denaturalization, if they have served for less than five years and left the U.S. military under other than honorable conditions. Under certain circumstances, the family members of a person who has been denaturalized could lose their citizenship as well.
People are becoming increasingly worried about denaturalization because the Trump administration has expressed an intention to create a new office within USCIS for the purpose of reviewing case files and initiating thousands of denaturalization proceedings. It is likely that some of those proceedings could be against individuals who did not know they were breaking the law and did not intend to break it.
If you receive a notice that you may be in danger of denaturalization, or you are concerned about your citizenship or immigration status, you should contact an experienced immigration attorney without delay. We invite you to contact our law office to discuss how we may be able to help you.