The Lucky 858: Citizenship by mistake of the U.S. Government

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The Lucky 858: Citizenship by mistake of the U.S. Government

News was recently released that the US government granted citizenship to 858 people, some of whom were under orders of deportation. Oops!!!! Well Uncle Sam, guess what, now it’s really hard to take it away from them!!! In the words of the USCIS itself, according to the USCIS Adjudicator’s Field Manual: “Because citizenship is such a precious right, it cannot be taken away unless the government is able to meet a high burden of proof… Accordingly, a case should only be referred for denaturalization where there is objective evidence to establish that the individual was not eligible for naturalization, or procured naturalization by willful concealment or material misrepresentation.” That burden of proof is by clear and convincing evidence. This is higher than a preponderance of evidence but not as high as beyond a reasonable doubt. There are several ways for someone’s citizenship to be taken away. First, Falsification or Concealment of Relevant Facts: You must be absolutely truthful when filling out paperwork and answering interview questions related to the naturalization application process. Even if the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) fails to recognize any lies or ommissions at first, the agency may file a denaturalization action against you after citizenship has been granted. Examples include failure to disclose criminal activities or lying about one’s real name or identity. Second, Refusal to Testify Before Congress: You may not refuse to testify before a U.S. congressional committee whose job it is to investigate your alleged involvement in subversive acts, such as those intended to harm U.S. officials or overthrow the U.S. government. This requirement to testify in order to maintain citizenship status expires after 10 years.
Third, Membership in Subversive Groups: Your citizenship may be revoked if the U.S. government can prove that you joined a subversive organization within five years of becoming a naturalized citizen. Membership in such organizations is considered a violation of the oath of U.S. allegiance. Examples include the Nazi Party and Al Qaeda. Fourth, Dishonorable Military Discharge: Since you may become a naturalized U.S. citizen by virtue of serving in the U.S. military, your citizenship may be revoked if you are dishonorably discharged before serving five years. Reasons for dishonorable discharge, which must follow a general court-martial, include desertion and sexual assault.
So now, the US is going to look into the background of the lucky 858. Will they find any nazis? Probably not. Anyone involved in modern day anti US activities? I hope not. It is possible. But they will involve cases that are inevitable to reach the US Supreme Court.
The process: U.S. citizenship is ordinarily revoked through a judicial action, that is, a suit filed in a federal district court. The choice of exactly which court will most depend on where the naturalized citizen lives or resides.
You must, by law, be given 30 days’ notice of the suit. You will be given or “served” a copy of the complaint that’s been filed with the court, which will tell you why the denaturalization action was filed. You will have 60 days in which to file an answer to the government’s complaint. You will likely want to get an attorney’s help at this point. Unfortunately, because this is technically a civil, not a criminal matter, no public defenders are available to help for free. You can challenge the government’s claims and raise any defenses against revocation. For example, you may claim that the revocation is based on wrong information, such as that the government is mistaken about a past criminal conviction that it claims you failed to report on your naturalization application (Form N-400). The government must prove its case against you by evidence that is clear, unequivocal, convincing, and doesn’t leave any doubt that your citizenship should be revoked. If the government is successful, you will have to surrender your naturalization certificate immediately.
The bad political fallout in the pro immigrant political world in this 21st century, would make the move to strip these lucky 858 of their citizenship (which would strip it of their family and kids too) would be so bad, I doubt the government would do it, unless the new citizen had a serious criminal record. But with the burden being clear and convincing evidence, this is litigation on citizenship with no end.
As an immigration attorney who enjoys helping those become citizens of the USA, and who has handled cases where the government has lost people’s files, by the mistake of the government, I say ….. Tough luck Uncle Sam. You make a mistake, live with it. With the exception of those that are dangerous and violent criminals, I say let them stay now. Don’t have the image of giving people false hope in the sacred land of the free. The sacred land of opportunity. The government is so quick to try to find mistakes of immigrants to refuse them rights, arguably inalienable rights under our constitution, yet, when they make a mistake, we will see what they do to the lucky 858. I say, let them stay (with limited circumstances for those that are already proven violent felons), and USCIS should hone up and move on.

– Greg Hoover
Greg is an attorney practicing immigration law, personal injury, and criminal defense. He has offices in Seattle WA and Portland, OR.
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