Published on:

U.S. Supreme Court Reviews Government’s Authority to Revoke Naturalization

Serbia mapBecoming a naturalized citizen allows immigrants to make a permanent home in the United States. The Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) only allows the government to revoke a person’s naturalization under a very limited set of circumstances. The U.S. Supreme Court is currently considering a case, Maslenjak v. United States, in which the federal government is claiming authority to strip individuals of naturalization based on a very broad interpretation of the narrow circumstances allowed by the INA. The result of the case could affect naturalized citizens throughout the country, as well as immigrants who hope to become naturalized in the future.

The Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution states that anyone “born or naturalized in the United States” is a citizen, with an exception for children born to foreign diplomats and others protected by diplomatic immunity. This is known as “birthright citizenship.” See United States v. Wong Kim Ark, 169 U.S. 649 (1898). People born outside the U.S. to one or more U.S. citizen parents may also be able to claim birthright citizenship under the provisions of the INA. See 8 U.S.C. § 1401. People born outside the U.S. to parents who are not citizens must seek U.S. citizenship through the naturalization process.

The INA defines “naturalization” as “the conferring of nationality of a state upon a person after birth,” with “nationality” defined to include citizenship. Id. at §§ 1101(a)(21) – (23). To be eligible for naturalization, an individual must meet multiple criteria, typically including residence in the U.S. as a lawful permanent resident for at least five years. Id. at § 1421 et seq. Once a person has become a naturalized citizen, the INA only allows revocation in limited circumstances, most of which are related to acts or omissions during the process of applying for naturalization. “[C]oncealment of a material fact or…willful misrepresentation” is a ground for revocation. Id. at §§ 1451(a). Conviction for the federal crime of “knowingly procuring naturalization in violation of law” can result in the loss of naturalization at the conclusion of the criminal proceeding. Id. at § 1451(e), 18 U.S.C. § 1425(a).

The defendant/appellant in Maslenjak is a Bosnian Serb who came to the U.S. as a refugee in 2000. She was convicted under 18 U.S.C. § 1425(a) for falsely claiming that her husband had been conscripted into the Serbian army and that she feared persecution as a result. On appeal, she claimed that the trial court erred by “instruct[ing] the jury that her false statements need not be material in order to convict [her] of procuring her naturalization contrary to law.” 821 F.3d 675, 679-80 (6th Cir. 2016). The Sixth Circuit affirmed the conviction, which included the revocation of naturalization.

The question before the Supreme Court is whether the government can revoke naturalization for a criminal conviction under § 1451(e), when the false statement in question was not “material.” The government took a very firm stance during oral arguments, claiming that any false statement during the naturalization process is enough, regardless of whether it was material or not. A ruling is expected early this summer.

Green card lawyer Samuel C. Berger advocates on behalf of prospective immigrants who want to come to the Northern New Jersey and New York City areas, immigrants who have made a home here, and family members and employers petitioning for immigrant visas. Contact us online, at (201) 587-1500, or at (212) 380-8117 today to schedule a confidential consultation.

More Blog Posts:

Dual Citizenship Under U.S. Immigration and Nationality Law, New York & New Jersey Immigration Lawyer Blog, April 14, 2016

Citizens, Nationals, and Immigrants in the United States, New York & New Jersey Immigration Lawyer Blog, March 24, 2016

False Statements in Immigration Paperwork Results in Criminal Charges, Revocation of Naturalization Ten Years Later, New York & New Jersey Immigration Lawyer Blog, June 24, 2015

Photo credit: Central Intelligence Agency World Factbook [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.