There are clouds appearing on the citizenship horizon. Consider:
- After the Trump administration’s efforts to add a citizenship question to the 2020 U.S. Census—which some denounced as potentially dampening efforts to count accurately all people in the United States—were blocked in court, President Trump issued an Executive Order to “eliminate long-standing obstacles to data sharing” and utilize federal databases to count the noncitizen population, including those maintained by the Department of Homeland Security and the Social Security Administration. The President said the information would be used to make decisions about “public policy, voting rights, and representation in Congress.” Attorney General Barr said the information will be used for “countless purposes,” including whether undocumented immigrants “can be included for apportionment purposes.”
- There has been a recent uptick in efforts to denaturalize U.S. citizens. Among other things, a new Los Angeles, California, office of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is being created to focus on reviewing cases for potential denaturalization. In the past, the focus was on war criminals (mainly former Nazis) and terrorism supporters, but there are recent reports of lesser offenses, including technical violations, triggering denaturalization investigations. Operation Second Look, seeks to identify cases in which people might have been naturalized despite old deportation orders or concerns about visa fraud or criminal charges.
- A USCIS working group is revising the naturalization test in English and civics. The group will also assess potential changes to the speaking portion of the test. Although USCIS said it “is soliciting the input of experts in the field of adult education to ensure that this process is fair and transparent,” details of the changes being considered have not yet been released. USCIS plans to pilot the test revision this fall. Implementation is expected in December 2020 or early 2021. Concerns USCIS is already making naturalization more difficult and slowed down processing have resulted in congressional hearings.
- While denaturalization cases are relatively rare, the involvement of the Federal District Court provides some level of review and the government is not always successful. The U.S. government recently lost an attempt to denaturalize a Pakistani man for alleged bigamy. The court held that the government did not prove that the man had not divorced in Pakistan before marrying a U.S. woman and obtaining permanent residence and eventual U.S. citizenship based on that marriage. The district court noted various flaws in the government’s case, including attempting to use an “expert” witness on Pakistani documents who was not knowledgeable about Pakistani law and was unfamiliar with the language they were in.
The Administration’s stepped-up efforts risk having a chilling effect on people hoping to naturalize and undermining the sense of permanence and stability that U.S. citizens believe they are entitled to after having naturalized years or even decades before. U.S. citizenship has always provided security and sanctuary to many immigrants and that sacrosanct path is now being challenged in new and never-before seen ways.
- White House remarks on citizenship question
- American Immigration Lawyers Association summary of recent denaturalization efforts
- USCIS announcement
- USCIS memorandum on the revisions
- Pakistani case
- News articles, https://theintercept.com/2019/04/04/denaturalization-case-citizenship-parvez-khan/; https://reason.com/2019/05/10/government-loses-denaturalization-case-in-u-s-v-malik/; https://www.forbes.com/sites/stuartanderson/2019/07/17/congress-asks-uscis-to-explain-immigration-delays-and-denials/#515b0bf02a2b