Much of today's immigration news coverage understandably focuses on mechanisms to gain access to U.S. immigration benefits such as visa status, humanitarian relief or permanent residency. However, recent developments highlight that U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will be channeling resources to strip some individuals of the ultimate U.S. immigration benefit – citizenship. While efforts to denaturalize individuals have been a rare occurrence in years past (averaging 46 cases per year from 2004 to 2016 according to The New York Times reports), there has been a notable shift as of late. Most government attempts to strip individuals of U.S. citizenship previously focused on suspected war criminals who lied on their applications, but the scope of focus has clearly expanded in recent years.
The U.S. government made notable efforts to review potentially fraudulent naturalization cases over a decade ago when U.S. Customs and Border Protection found that approximately 200 people had used different identities to secure green cards and citizenship after being issued deportation orders. In September 2016, the Department of Homeland Security's Office of the Inspector General (OIG) released a report noting that USCIS had granted citizenship to at least 858 individuals ordered deported or removed under another identity when, during the naturalization process, their digital fingerprint records were not available. OIG recommended that ICE finish uploading into the digital repository the fingerprints it identified and that the Department of Homeland Security resolve these cases of naturalized citizens who may have been ineligible. In each of the two years following that report, almost twice as many denaturalization cases were filed by U.S. attorneys.
Further, in 2018, USCIS Director L. Francis Cissna announced that the agency would be launching an office based in Los Angeles to focus on identifying immigrants suspected of cheating on their green card or citizenship applications. The new office aims to hire dozens of attorneys and immigration officers to review these cases and denaturalize ineligible individuals. In an interview with the Associated Press, Cissna noted that while these USCIS investigations will review cases involving name discrepancies, the focus is not on minor discrepancies, but to target those that deliberately changed their identities to deceive officials.
The support of the President in these efforts was evident in the FY2019 budget request, where the administration asked for $207.6 million to perform these type of investigations. How the denaturalization efforts will play out in the new year remains to be seen, but the shift is notable and prompts the question, what are the grounds for revocation of naturalization?
Note that according to the UCSIS' Policy Manual, a person is generally subject to revocation of naturalization on the following grounds:
A. Person Procures Naturalization Illegally
A person is subject to revocation of naturalization if he or she procured naturalization illegally. Procuring naturalization illegally simply means that the person was not eligible for naturalization in the first place. Accordingly, any eligibility requirement for naturalization that was not met can form the basis for an action to revoke the naturalization of a person. This includes the requirements of residence, physical presence, lawful admission for permanent residence, good moral character, and attachment to the U.S. Constitution.
Discovery that a person failed to comply with any of the requirements for naturalization at the time the person became a U.S. citizen renders his or her naturalization illegally procured. This applies even if the person is innocent of any willful deception or misrepresentation.
B. Concealment of Material Fact or Willful Misrepresentation
1. Concealment of Material Fact or Willful Misrepresentation
A person is subject to revocation of naturalization if there is deliberate deceit on the part of the person in misrepresenting or failing to disclose a material fact or facts on his or her naturalization application and subsequent examination.
In general, a person is subject to revocation of naturalization on this basis if:
- The naturalized U.S. citizen misrepresented or concealed some fact;
- The misrepresentation or concealment was willful;
- The misrepresented or concealed fact or facts were material; and
- The naturalized U.S. citizen procured citizenship as a result of the misrepresentation or concealment.
This ground of revocation includes omissions as well as affirmative misrepresentations. The misrepresentations can be oral testimony provided during the naturalization interview or can include information contained on the application submitted by the applicant. The courts determine whether the misrepresented or concealed fact or facts were material. The test for materiality is whether the misrepresentations or concealment had a tendency to affect the decision. It is not necessary that the information, if disclosed, would have precluded naturalization.
2. Membership or Affiliation with Certain Organizations
A person is subject to revocation of naturalization if the person becomes a member of, or affiliated with, the Communist party, other totalitarian party, or terrorist organization within five years of his or her naturalization. In general, a person who is involved with such organizations cannot establish the naturalization requirements of having an attachment to the Constitution and of being well-disposed to the good order and happiness of the United States.
The fact that a person becomes involved with such an
organization within five years after the date of naturalization is
prima facie evidence that he or she concealed or willfully
misrepresented material evidence that would have prevented the
C. Other than Honorable Discharge before Five Years of Honorable Service after Naturalization
A person is subject to revocation of naturalization if:
- The person became a U.S. citizen through naturalization on the basis of honorable service in the U.S. armed forces;
- The person subsequently separates from the U.S. armed forces under other than honorable conditions; and
- The other than honorable discharge occurs before the person has served honorably for a period or periods aggregating at least five years.
(See USCIS Policy Manual, Volume 12, Part L, Chapter 2, available at https://www.uscis.gov/policy-manual/volume-12-part-l-chapter-2).
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.