Immigration Law

Justice Department creates unit to denaturalize citizens who didn't disclose crimes

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The U.S. Department of Justice announced Wednesday that it has created a stand-alone denaturalization section to strip citizenship from foreigners who failed to disclose their criminal past or otherwise lied in the naturalization process.

“This move underscores the department’s commitment to bring justice to terrorists, war criminals, sex offenders and other fraudsters who illegally obtained naturalization,” the department said in a press release.

BuzzFeed News, the Hill and Fox News have coverage.

The DOJ said it created the section in anticipation of a growing number of referrals from law enforcement agencies.

In a blog post last week, Lawfare foreshadowed the announcement in a report on terrorism prosecutions and the denaturalization of a man convicted for providing material support to al-Qaida.

“Observers should watch to see whether the government moves to denaturalize others incarcerated on terror charges, as the government confronts the reality that individuals who were convicted of terrorism-related offenses at the beginning of the millennium have begun to leave prison,” Lawfare said.

BuzzFeed News and Fox News also point to other efforts that are producing more cases.

A program that began during the Obama administration, Operation Janus, scrutinizes cases in which citizenship fingerprint data was missing from the system, possibly masking an effort to hide information or use a fake identity in the naturalization process.

In addition, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services said in 2018 it is increasing its focus on denaturalization cases.

The DOJ said it has already denaturalized several people, including an individual in Egypt who admitted to recruiting for al-Qaida in the United States, an individual who attended a jihadist training camp in Afghanistan, and two people who were convicted in Bosnia for executing unarmed civilians and prisoners of war during the Balkans conflict.

Other denaturalized individuals included two people convicted of child sexual abuse and a person convicted of conspiring to defraud the U.S. Export-Import Bank.

A December 2018 story by the New York Times Magazine highlighted another category of citizens being targeted for denaturalization: immigrants who didn’t disclosed previous deportation orders.

Ur Jaddou, the chief lawyer for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services during the Obama administration, told the New York Times Magazine that he thought the Trump administration was portraying naturalized citizens as possible fraudsters because it was “trying to manufacture crises to institute draconian policies.”

“They did it with families at the border,” Jaddou said. “The worry is they’ll do that with this story of naturalization fraud.”

Sarah Pierce, a policy analyst at the Migration Policy Institute, told BuzzFeed News that the new effort may have symbolic value.

“While this effort may result in relatively few denaturalizations, it shows that the administration’s desire to keep immigrants ‘looking over their shoulder’ extends past legalization and even naturalization. If you weren’t born here, this administration is trying to keep you uncomfortable,” Pierce told BuzzFeed.

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