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Denaturalization: What It Is and How It Works

Denaturalization: What It Is and How It Works

What is Denaturalization?

Denaturalization is the process of the U.S. government taking away United States citizenship from a naturalized immigrant. This does not apply to people who are citizens from birth; only people who became citizens after filing a Form N-400.

The effect of denaturalization is that the person returns to their immigration status before they became a U.S. citizen. This can often jeopardize an individual’s ability to stay in the country. In addition to affecting the individual, it can also affect any spouse or child that was hoping to get citizenship through the individual.

What are common reasons for denaturalization?

  1. Illegal Procurement of Naturalization

This applies if the individual got their citizenship despite not technically meeting the legal criteria for naturalization. It does not matter if the individual is innocent of any willful deception or misrepresentation.

The criteria that they will look to are:

  • Having legal permanent resident status
  • Good moral character
  • Continuous physical presence in the United States
  • Attached to the principles of the U.S. Constitution

If the government finds out that the individual did not meet even one of the above criteria before getting their citizenship, they can have their citizenship revoked.

  1. Naturalization after concealing a material fact or by willful misrepresentation

This reason for denaturalization applies if the individual deliberately deceives the government during either their naturalization application or the interview. The government’s analysis is that a person can have their citizenship revoked if:

  • The individual misrepresented or concealed some fact;
  • the misrepresentation/concealment was on purpose;
  • the fact(s) were material (they affected the decision to grant citizenship)
  • The individual received citizenship as a result of their misrepresentation or concealment

Another way an individual can be denaturalized for concealment or willful misrepresentation is if they join or become affiliated with the Communist party, other totalitarian party, or a terrorist organization within five years of becoming a citizen. This is considered concealment or willful misrepresentation because it shows that the individual lied about having an attachment to the Constitution and of being “well-disposed to the good order and happiness of the United States.”

  1. Military service denaturalization

This reason only applies if the individual got their citizenship as part of their military service. They can be denaturalized if they are discharged in other than honorable conditions before serving honorably for five years.

  1. Criminal revocation due to naturalization fraud

Under 18 U.S. Code § 1425, an individual can be criminally convicted for successful or attempted efforts to unlawfully get citizenship for themselves or another person. The burden of proof is “beyond a reasonable doubt,” the same as with a standard criminal conviction.

If a person is convicted criminally for naturalization fraud, denaturalization is an automatic thing and does not require additional process.

How does it affect spouses or children?

Once citizenship is revoked, the individual can no longer be the basis for their spouse or child to petition for legal status. If a spouse or child already received citizenship through the individual who had their citizenship revoked, they are also at risk of losing their citizenship. However, the spouse and/or child(ren) would only have their own citizenship revoked if the individual’s citizenship was revoked due to “concealment of a material fact” or by “willful misrepresentation.”

The spouse/child will also have their citizenship revoked if the spouse/child resides outside of the United States AND the basis for the individual’s revocation of citizenship is based on other than honorable discharge from the military before completing at least five years of honorable military service or the individual was a member of certain totalitarian or terrorist organizations within five years of naturalization.

What Does the Process Look Like?

Denaturalization cannot be done by USCIS but must be done through federal courts after civil or criminal proceedings are initiated against an individual. The process typically begins with a USCIS director making a recommendation to revoke citizenship. This recommendation is forwarded over to the Department of Justice, which then files a complaint in a U.S. district court that has jurisdiction over where the individual currently lives.

Because the stakes of losing citizenship are so high, the government has to meet a high burden to revoke citizenship. Regardless of the reason for the revocation, the government must prove their reason by clear, unequivocal, and convincing evidence. Additionally, where there is any level of ambiguity or lack of clarity in factual evidence, the court will interpret it favor of the individual whose citizenship is at risk.

The current administration recently created a Denaturalization Section within the Department of Justice to dedicate more effort to these cases. The government claims it is specifically targeting terrorists, war criminals, sex offenders, and other fraudsters. However, this move indicates that they intend to ramp up the number of denaturalization cases they initiate.

If you or someone you know is in danger of having their citizenship revoked, you can schedule an initial consultation with our attorneys today, don't hesitate to contact us at (949) 478-4963.

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