Should People Be Concerned About Denaturalization?

Again, denaturalization is rare. Nevertheless, there are more than 20 million naturalized Americans in the United States. As a result, there is concern that the federal government’s denaturalization efforts could lead to the revocation of U.S. citizenship of many individuals who made minor or unintentional mistakes or omissions in their naturalization application. Some of the questions during the naturalization process are broad and vague, such as “Have you ever committed, assisted in committing, or attempted to commit, a crime or offense for which you were not arrested?” In addition, courts have not clarified what constitutes an offense that was material to the individual obtaining citizenship and could be the basis for a denaturalization proceeding. A broad interpretation of the grounds for denaturalization could adversely affect many naturalized Americans, especially because there is no statute of limitations for civil denaturalization. Just the creation of this new office in and of itself is “undoing” their naturalization by taking away these Americans’ assumption of permanence.

 

In 2017, the Supreme Court held in a unanimous decision in Maslenjak v. United States that only an illegal act that played a role in an individual’s acquisition of U.S. citizenship could lead to criminal denaturalization, narrowing the scope under which an individual may be denaturalized. The Supreme Court ruled that if an applicant made a false statement during the citizenship process, the statement must have played some role in the individual obtaining citizenship in order to warrant the revocation of citizenship. The Court stated that “small omissions and minor lies” that did not influence the award of citizenship do not necessitate denaturalization. Yet, it remains to be seen how courts will determine whether a false statement played a role in an individual obtaining citizenship.

Stay tuned.