Denaturalization and Permanent Residence: Is the Trump Administration on a Fishing Expedition?

Denaturalization and Permanent Residence: Is the Trump Administration on a Fishing Expedition?

November 24, 2020

In recent months, the Trump administration has taken a series of actions not only to make obtaining U.S. citizenship harder, but to find ways to revoke U.S. citizenship, even for reasons like technical errors in permanent residence applications.

Among other things, the Trump administration has set about making the civics portion of the naturalization test harder, keeping immigrants out of the United States through executive orders, keeping people from becoming permanent residents, using COVID-19 restrictions as a blunt instrument to keep out immigrants altogether, and prosecuting denaturalization cases at a higher rate.

Now, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has updated its policy guidance on November 18, 2020, to clarify that applicants are ineligible for naturalization if they obtained lawful permanent residence (LPR) status “in error, by fraud, or otherwise not in compliance with the law.” USCIS said that when it adjudicates a naturalization application, it reviews whether an applicant has abandoned LPR status. If an applicant does not establish to the agency’s satisfaction that he or she has maintained LPR status, USCIS generally denies the application and places the applicant in removal proceedings.

The Trump administration has doubled down on efforts to find denaturalization cases to prosecute. Toward this end, the Trump administration created the Denaturalization Task Force in 2018 and the Denaturalization Section in 2020. Their focus is on denaturalizing those who can be found ineligible when they were naturalized. For example, in one case reported anecdotally, the derivative beneficiary entered before the principal, and now the government seeks to revoke citizenship due to a technical error of no legal significance.

Fortunately, it remains difficult to actually denaturalize someone, thanks in part to Maslenjak v. United States, a Supreme Court case decided in 2017, which made it clear that the government cannot denaturalize someone simply for a false statement but needs to prove that the statement “sufficiently altered those processes as to have influenced the award of citizenship.”

As noted elsewhere, denaturalization historically has been a rare step taken in only exceptional cases; for example, against Nazi war criminals in hiding in the United States who lied about their past on their applications. U.S. citizenship is supposed to be permanent and reliable as a general rule.

There may be hope on the horizon. President-elect Biden plans to “streamline and improve the naturalization process to make it more accessible to qualified green card holders.” The Biden-Harris plan states that the Trump administration “has made it far too difficult for qualifying green card holders to obtain citizenship.” Biden pledges to “restore faith in the citizenship process by removing roadblocks to naturalization and obtaining the right to vote, addressing the application backlog by prioritizing the adjudication workstream and ensuring applications are processed quickly, and rejecting the imposition of unreasonable fees.”

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2020-11-24T16:22:20-08:00 November 24th, 2020|

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