A Thursday decision by the Supreme Court limits the federal government’s right to revoke the citizenship of naturalized immigrants. According to the ruling, a naturalized immigrant cannot be stripped of their citizenship for making false statements during the naturalization process that are not relevant to the decision of an immigration official to grant or deny citizenship.
In a unanimous decision in the case of Maslenjak v. U.S., the court ruled that the government must establish that an immigrant’s illegal act during the naturalization process contributed to their acquisition of citizenship. When a false statement is the underlying illegal act, a jury must decide if the false statement altered the naturalization process and influenced the decision of the immigration official.
Justice Elena Kagan delivered the court’s opinion, noting that immigrants seeking citizenship are confronted with a variety of questions, including “Have you ever been in any way associated with any organization, association, fund, foundation, party, club, society or similar group?” and “Have you ever committed a crime or offense for which you were not arrested?”
“Suppose, for reasons of embarrassment or what have you, a person concealed her membership in an online support group or failed to disclose a prior speeding violation,” Kagan said.
“Under the government’s view, a prosecutor could scour her paperwork and bring a charge on that meager basis, even many years after she became a citizen. That would give prosecutors nearly limitless leverage — and afford newly naturalized Americans precious little security.”
Maslenjak v. U.S. centered on Divina Maslenjak, on a Bosnian refugee who became a naturalized citizen in 2007 but was indicted in 2013 after she was found to have falsely answered no when asked on the naturalization application form if she had “ever knowingly given false or misleading information to a U.S. government official when applying or an immigration benefit.”
In an effort to prevent her husband from being deported over his own misrepresentations, Maslenjak gave testimony in 2009 that revealed she had lied about him serving in a Bosnia militia unit that had been implicated in war crimes when he was applying for refugee status in 1998.
According to The Hill, “The government argued that the laws governing naturalization prohibit an immigrant from making false statements under oath and prohibit the naturalization of an immigrant who lacks good moral character, which includes anyone who has given false testimony for the purpose of obtaining an immigration benefit.”
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