In June 2018, United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced it would establish a new initiative to review previously approved naturalization applications in an effort to denaturalize people who illegally obtained their U.S. citizenship.
USCIS director L. Francis Cissna announced the agency would hire dozens of new attorneys for this initiative, popularly referred to as a “denaturalization task force.” This task force has caused concern among many U.S. citizens who feel that their legal status may not be secure. According to Cissna, however, the task force will likely bring only a “few thousand” cases.
Considering that 7.4 million people became naturalized U.S. citizens in just the past ten years, and there are currently more than 20 million naturalized citizens in the U.S., the chances of any one person being targeted by this initiative are low.
The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has the power to strip “naturalized” citizens (people who were not U.S. citizens at birth, but in most cases became so after obtaining a U.S. green card and then submitting a naturalization application) in federal court if it is found that they do not meet the requirements of citizenship, or if they misrepresented something “material” (relevant) during their naturalization process.
There are other circumstances that can lead to denaturalization as well, including being affiliated with a terrorist group or the Communist party within five years of naturalization, or being dishonorably discharged from the military before serving honorably for more than five years after naturalization.
The new task force will, according to USCIS, focus on people who became U.S. citizens under false identities so as to conceal previous deportation orders or criminal activity that would have made them ineligible for citizenship. Under the law, however, USCIS could investigate any citizen who it believes meets the criteria for denaturalization.
Unlike the removal (or deportation) process, which takes place in U.S. immigration court, denaturalization proceedings take place in in federal district court, through a civil suit or criminal prosecution by the government.
In these federal courts, defendants have far greater procedural rights than they do in immigration court. The DOJ may also decide to bring separate criminal charges against the person subject to denaturalization, depending on the situation.
Someone who loses U.S. citizenship is not automatically removed from the U.S., but instead his or her status reverts back to what it was before the person became a citizen, namely a lawful permanent resident (LPR).
At this point, the federal government can commence removal proceedings against the denaturalized person, usually on grounds of fraud or criminal activity. The denaturalized person would then go through a separate removal or deportation proceeding in U.S. immigration court.
Although the idea of a denaturalization task force is understandably frightening to many naturalized U.S. citizens, the chances of being targeted by the task force are very low. Immigrants who naturalized under a false identity or have serious criminal offenses that they concealed during the naturalization process should be the most concerned that they could be investigated.
Effective Date: August 5, 2018