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Denaturalization And Revocation: Loss Of U.S. Citizenship


“What do I do,” the young man on the phone frantically asked, “What do I do?”

Sobbing, the young man explained, “My father was picked up by immigration and the officers told him that they are going to strip him of his citizenship.”

He was calling to locate for his father, a long term resident of Banning, immigration attorney services to defend against being deported.

When I finally calmed him down, he explained that his father had become a naturalized U.S. citizen many years ago. After his father became a U.S. citizen, the caller and his two sisters were also able to become citizens.

As a naturalization attorney, I have learned most immigrants, like the young caller, believe once they become citizens, they can never lose their citizenship.

It does not happen often, but citizens can lose their citizenship.

The government, in certain situations, can cancel or revoke your citizenship. This is known as denaturalization.

I explained that there is a difference between deportation defense and denaturalization defense.

We made an appointment to meet at my Hemet immigration law office, located just a few miles from Banning. At our meeting, I laid out the differences between deportation defense and denaturalization defense.

Only an immigrant, like a green card holder or permanent resident, can be deported. A citizen cannot be deported.

But if a person loses their citizenship through denaturalization, the immigrant is deemed to have never been a citizen. As a result, the immigrant is again subject to being deported or removed from the United States.

U.S. Government Creates Denaturalization Task Force

On February 26, 2020, the Department of Justice announced a renewed effort to strip citizenship from naturalized individuals who committed immigration fraud.

Widespread fear, of course, was the instant reaction of immigrant communities.

As the American Immigration Council points out, such jitters are exaggerated.

Here’s why.

First, the new Denaturalization Section will focus on “terrorists, war criminals, sex offenders, and other fraudsters.”

It should impact relatively few naturalized immigrants.

Between 1990 to 2017, 300 denaturalization cases were reportedly pursued by the government.

During the three years of the Trump administration, there has a slight uptick, up to about 94 denaturalization cases filed by the Department of Justice.

This total, however, needs to be put in perspective. In just 2019, over 830,000 people obtained citizenship through naturalization.

Second, the notion that any false statement on a citizenship application – even a simple misstatement that had no impact on a decision — can be a basis for revoking citizenship was rejected by the Supreme Court in Maslenjak v. United States.

In other words, the falsehood must affect the award of citizenship, which would not have been otherwise granted.

What Are Reasons For Denaturalization?

Most revocation of citizenship cases in the United States are based on three grounds:

Falsification Or Concealment Of Important Facts

If an immigrant hides important information or lied about important matters at his or her naturalization interview, citizenship may be revoked.

For example, criminals and racketeers have lost their citizenship status because they lied about their criminal activities.  If they had disclosed their criminal histories, as required, they would not have qualified for citizenship in the first place. In this situation, citizenship can be revoked through the denaturalization process.

If a person lies about their real name or identity, or hides a name or identity they have used in the past, this could lead to denaturalization.  In addition, if an immigrant does not not tell the truth about how long he or she has lived in the United States, this could cause the government to revoke their citizenship.

It is not wise to hide importation information from the government.  If you hide information, and that information would lead to more information which disqualifies you from becoming a citizen, then you are subject to losing your naturalized citizenship status once the government finds out.

The denaturalization of war criminals has been in the spotlight more frequently in recent years.

For instance, in June 2010, Jadranko Gostic, a formed member of the Bosnia Serb Army, was stripped of his naturalized U.S. citizenship and forced to return to Bosnia.

Prior to arriving in the U.S., Gostic had served in the Zvornik Infantry Brigade of the Bosnia Serb Army from April 1992 to December 1995.  International courts had found, during those years, some units of the Brigade had engaged in war crimes and crimes against humanity, including a ruthless attack against the Srebrenica Enclave which executed 8,000 Muslim men and boys.

Gostric had entered the U.S. in 1999, became a lawful permanent resident in 2003, and was naturalized in 2004.  He never revealed his involvement with the Zvornik Brigade, even when he was specifically asked about his military service.

As a result of his failure to tell the truth, the U.S. government brought denaturalization charges against Gostric.  He lost his citizenship status and was forced to return to Bosnia.

Membership In Subversive Organizations

As the above example shows, the U.S. government has invoked denaturalization against immigrants due to their affiliations with Nazi, communist, terrorist, or other similar groups.

Membership in such organizations is deemed a violation of the oath of allegiance to the United States.  In particular, if a naturalized citizen joins a subversive organization within five years after becoming a U.S. citizen, the government can cancel his or her citizenship.

Dishonorable Military Discharge

Some immigrants obtain naturalized citizenship through service in the U.S. armed forces.

However, if an immigrant serving in the military received a dishonorable discharge after serving less than five years, the government is entitled to pursue denaturalization and seek to revoke the immigrant’s citizenship status.

How The Revocation Of Citizenship Process Works

The process to strip an immigrant of his citizenship status occurs at federal court.  It follows the rules of federal court civil cases.

Even though the denaturalization affects immigration status, it is technically not an immigration case.  In federal court cases, the government has to file a formal complaint against the immigrant.  The government must explain the reasons it seeks the denaturalization action.

Immigrants are allowed to respond to the complaint and defend themselves at trial.

If you’re facing denaturalization, you’re confronted with more than the loss of your citizenship.  You’re confronted with the loss of being able to live in the U.S.

And if you have children who were granted citizenship based on your naturalization, their citizenship status can also be revoked.

Your Defense In Denaturalization And Revocation Of Citizenship Cases

Defending yourself, with so much at stake, is not recommended.  Given the likely complexity of your defense, hiring an experienced immigration family unity lawyer with federal court defense experience is warranted.

It is important to note, however, denaturalization, as the opposite of naturalization, only takes place against immigrants who became citizens via naturalization.

After talking with the young man’s father, I learned he had obtained his citizenship through a different program called “acquisition of citizenship.”

I realized the government agent had jumped to false conclusions. He overlooked there are different roads to citizenship.

He assumed the children had earned their status many years after filing immigration petitions for family visas. His assumption was wrong.

At the end, everything worked out for the young man and his family. They were able to continue living as a family in Banning and they kept their U.S. citizenship.

Need help with a citizenship or naturalization issue? Let’s get started with a personalized strategy and planning consultation . . .