Denaturalization

One cannot read a newspaper these days without seeing a front page article about a new immigration policy the Trump administration is implementing, or a drastic change in existing immigration policies. Most recently, the media reported on the inhumane separation of minor children from their parents, which caused quite a stir. Fortunately, that practice has stopped. However, needless to say, there are a lot of changes happening in the U.S.’ immigration system. Once of those changes is the implementation of a new task force to review cases for potential denaturalization of U.S. citizens is one of them.

Denaturalization is the process by which the U.S. government will strip a person’s U.S. citizenship which was obtained through the naturalization process. It has not historically been a common practice, with the Department of Justice only prosecuting about 300 cases in the last 30 years. However, USCIS recently announced that it would start a new task force to review cases of individuals who may have obtained their U.S. citizenship through fraud. USCIS believes that there may be a few thousand cases where a naturalized citizen obtained their status through fraudulent means.

The implications of this recent development are two-fold: 1) applying for naturalization may be a longer and harder process, and 2) naturalized citizens are at risk of losing their citizenship if any fraud was involved. Some examples might be if a person was petitioned as a single child but actually was married, if they were petitioned by an employer but they never really worked for that employer, or those who came in with an assumed name or was previously deported but subsequently take on their real identity and obtain their residence. These people are at serious risk of losing their citizenship and subsequently placed into removal (deportation) proceedings.

USCIS is implementing this policy through the use of old fingerprint records that were not entered into its system. As one can imagine, people with immigration history or a criminal history will particularly be at risk. The reality is, immigration policies have become more stringent and the procedures have become more burdensome for most people. In the past, if you naturalized, you were “safe.” That is no longer the case. If you obtained your green card though questionable means, you should speak to a knowledgeable attorney before applying for citizenship.