The Rebirth of Denaturalization

By: Michael Bhotiwihok

Under current immigration law, the United States government may not revoke the citizenship of a person born in the United States. However, for individuals who naturalized, there is no guarantee that United States citizenship will last forever.

While denaturalization in the United States has been rare in the past few decades, the process has recently experienced a rebirth. Denaturalization is the process in which a United States citizen is stripped of his or her U.S. citizenship. As a result, the former United States citizen’s immigration status reverts to that of a lawful permanent resident and is subject to removal from the United States.

The potential loss of United States citizenship can greatly affect one’s ability to live and work in the United States. It can be equally as problematic for the individual’s family members who received legal immigration status through him or her, because the family members will lose their status too.

A person may be subject to revocation of United States citizenship if naturalization is procured illegally or through concealment of a material fact or a willful misrepresentation. Other grounds for denaturalization include membership or affiliation of certain organizations (Communist party, totalitarian party, or terrorist organization) within five years of naturalization along with honorable discharge before five years of honorable service after naturalization.

There are two primary ways that an individual may be stripped of his or her United States citizenship. The first, criminal denaturalization, occurs through a criminal conviction under 18 U.S.C. Section 1425. A conviction under this section of the law automatically triggers denaturalization. Normally in criminal denaturalization cases, an individual conceals that her or she was convicted of a previous crime thereby withholding evidence of a material facts that would have resulted in the denial of naturalization. Other similar cases have involved the naturalization applicant withholding membership in a designated foreign terrorist organization or transnational criminal organization like a gang.

With civil denaturalization under INA Section 340, the naturalized United States citizens may be subject to denaturalization proceedings by the United States Attorney’s Office in federal court if one obtains United States citizenship illegally, through the concealment of a material fact or by willful misrepresentation. It is important to note that the Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”) cannot revoke citizenship administratively, but can recommend denaturalization proceedings to other parties in the Department of Justice for action. Additionally, the Attorney General’s act of cancelling a certificate of naturalization is not denaturalization.

In June 20017, in Maslenjak v. United States, the Supreme Court of the United States limited the United States government’s power on denaturalization. At issue was whether the government could revoke naturalization based on immaterial false statements made during the naturalization process. In Maslenjak, Divna Maslenjuk gave false information to United States consular officials to gain entry to the United States. The Supreme Court held that false statements made during the naturalization process had to be relevant to gaining citizenship in order to justify revoking it later. The Supreme Court remanded the case back to the United State Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit for the jury to be instructed to decide whether the false statement altered the naturalization process such that it influenced the grant of United State citizenship.

In 2017, DHS began Operation Janus after it identified over 800 individuals who obtained United States citizenship under aliases after they had been deported or removed from the country.

On January 5, 2018, a federal judge in New Jersey granted the United States government’s request to denaturalize Balijinder Singh, thus marking the first successful denaturalization case since Operation Janus’ start. The federal judge relied on the United States Supreme Court’s enumerated four requirements for denaturalization. The United State government must show that the naturalized citizen misrepresented or concealed some facts, whether the misrepresentation or concealment was willful, whether the fact was material, and whether the naturalized citizen procured citizenship as a result of the misrepresentation or concealment. In this case, Mr. Singh deliberately willfully mispresented information on his naturalization application. Mr. Singh’s immigration status was revoked and reverted to a lawful permanent resident. He is now subject to removal proceedings at the discretion of DHS.

Any naturalized United States citizen facing denaturalization proceedings must contact an experienced immigration attorney for a consultation for an extensive analysis of the facts of his or her case. While denaturalization is extremely serious to the naturalized United States citizen, it can be equally as devastating to any family members who obtained United States citizenship through them.

*Names have been changed to protect identity