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Justice Department Creates Section Dedicated To Denaturalization Cases

The Justice Department says it’s dedicating a section of its workforce to review denaturalization cases. This move could likely not be beneficial to immigrant advocates who have expressed concerns over the administration stripping citizenship from Americans.

The latest move by the Justice Department supports the administration efforts to investigate cases where some individuals are believed to have illegally obtained US citizenship.

“When a sex offender or terrorist becomes a U.S. citizen under false pretences, it is an insult to our system –and it is especially offensive to those who fall victim to these criminal elements,” stated Assistant Attorney General Jody Hunt said in a press release. “The Denaturalization Section will enhance the Department’s efforts to pursue those who illegally obtained citizenship status and ensure that they are held responsible for their fraudulent conduct.”

While past administrations have set in motion initiatives to investigate the circumstances under which a person has obtained US citizenship, immigrant supporters have called into question the standards used by the Trump government to investigate those cases.

Still, denaturalizations are rare and can only take place in federal court. The Department of Justice has submitted 228 civil denaturalization cases since 2008, according to DOJ officials. Of the 228 cases, Ninety-four (94) were filed over roughly the last three (3) years, showing a recent jump in filings, the official said.

Historically, the United States revoked citizenship for a range of reasons, including lying about the arrival dates, age or marital status to political reason, according to Patrick Weil, a professor at Yale Law School who majors on immigration and citizenship.

During World War II, for instance, the US reviewed naturalization cases of German Americans who were pro-Nazi. “They were aiming after people working for the Nazis, so they went after many German Americans,” Weil said.
But, Weil pointed, it’s become increasingly hard for the US to strip someone of their citizenship, because of Supreme Court decisions that have cut down the government’s power.

In previous years, the Department of Homeland Security Inspector General report found that at least 858 individuals obtained US citizenship despite being ordered to be deported under a different identity, because of incomplete fingerprint records.

Furthermore, the DHS had also found instances where individuals received immigration benefits after changing their identities and hiding their deportation orders. The coordinated effort to point out those cases came to be known as Operation Janus.

In 2018, US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) — an immigration agency within the Department of Homeland Security — stated it was creating an office to evaluates cases and then send them to the Justice Department, which is able to pursue denaturalization proceedings against criminal citizens.