Minor Lies on Naturalization Application Can't Be Used to Strip Citizenship, Rules U.S. Supreme Court

Before the U.S. government can take away someone's naturalized citizenship based on a lie in the application, it must ascertain that the lie was significant.


Under federal law (18 U. S. C. §1015(a)), it is illegal to knowingly make a false statement under oath in a naturalization proceeding. This was the statute that Serbian refugee Divna Maslenjak was alleged by the U.S. government to have violated—a case that led to her removal from the U.S., and subsequently went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

In its unanimous, published decision (Maslenjak v. United States, 6/22/17) the Supreme Court found that, before stripping someone of citizenship for a lie, the U.S. government must demonstrate that the lie or illegal act was a causal factor in acquiring citizenship in the first place. If the government can't establish that the applicant lied about matters that an immigration official would have deemed significant, it cannot, according to the Court, revoke the person's citizenship.

The lie in question had to do with Maslenjak's original application for refugee status in the U.S., in which she stated that she and her family would face danger if they returned to the village in Bosnia where they'd lived prior to the civil war that tore Yugoslavia apart.

She claimed that her husband had not returned to a Serb-controlled portion of Bosnia along with the rest of the family, out of fear that he'd be forced to serve in the Bosnian Serb army. But the truth was that her husband had not only performed military service in the Bosnian Serb army, but had been a member of the brigade that took part in the 1995 massacre of Bosnian Muslims.

This case does not return citizenship to Maslenjak; it only sends the case back to a lower course for a closer look. If that court finds that Maslenjak's statements were, in fact, material to her application to gain entry to the U.S., it may let her removal stand.

Effective Date: June 22, 2017