What is Denaturalization?


Denaturalization. It’s a word that’s suddenly on everyone’s lips now that President Trump has created a task force to “pursue those who unlawfully obtained citizenship.”

Yet how does it work, and how worried should you be?

Denaturalization has always been possible under the law.

It’s just that we don’t pursue it very much. In the past there have been 107 successful denaturalizations…few enough to fit on a Wikipedia page.

A person may be denaturalized in one of the following scenarios:

  1. They obtained their citizenship fraudulently, including lying about criminal charges on your application.
  2. You became affiliated with the Communist party or other terrorist or totalitarian organizations within ten years of making your application or for five years after naturalization. 

When you are denaturalized the Department of Justice may either initiate a civil proceeding against you (called a revocation of naturalization case) or a criminal proceeding. If the DoJ is successful your status is downgraded to “legal permanent resident,” or Green Card holder.  At that point you may be eligible for deportation, especially if you violated the terms of the green card holder’s status by committing certain crimes.

There are plenty of ways to defend a denaturalization case.

For example, small fibs, mistakes, or slip-ups on your citizenship application may not be valid grounds for removing your citizenship. According to the Supreme Court Case Maslenjak v. United States the lie must be “material.” It has to be relevant to the naturalization decision.

Thus, an immigration attorney can make the argument that if an application lie exists it is not at all material. 

The misrepresentation of fact must also be a “willful” one. Your attorney may be able to show that your misrepresentation was not, in fact, willful. For example, many of the questions are very broad and vague. Your best effort attempt to answer may seem to be factually wrong when in fact it was correct to the best of your ability to understand the question.  

How worried should you be?

It’s natural to be concerned that the DoJ will be overzealous in pursuing these cases. The best thing you can do is to choose an immigration attorney now, so that you know who you want to call if you find yourself embroiled in a lawsuit. You might also check for certain vulnerabilities. For example, if you’ve been making charitable donations it’s a good idea to check that these organizations aren’t affiliated with terrorist organizations in any way, and to consult with an attorney right away if you discover a problem. 

Keep in mind the burden of proof is still high. In the civil case the DoJ must present “clear, convincing, and unequivocal evidence which does not leave the issue in doubt.” In a criminal case they must still meet the usual standard: “evidence beyond a reasonable doubt.”

You must still be prepared to fight hard. Your family members can be impacted if you are denaturalized (see this fact sheet) and of course you could find yourself a person without a nation if the DoJ targets you and is successful in bringing a suit against you. 

While this new task force is undoubtedly part of the Trump Administration’s continued efforts to crack down on immigrants, it may not be time to panic yet. 

Got questions? Reach out to Hykel Law to get answers.

See also:

Tax Time for Immigrants: What You Should Know

New Laws for Green Card Holders in 2020

What Are The Grounds for Cancellation of Removal?

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