Law & the Courts

DOJ Creates New Unit to Strip Citizenship from Terrorists, Criminals

A citizenship candidate holds a flag during the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) naturalization ceremony, U.S., September 17, 2019. (Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)

The Justice Department on Wednesday announced a new unit to handle the denaturalization of individuals who obtained citizenship illegally and other criminals.

The new section dedicated to “investigating and litigating revocation of naturalization” of individuals who illegally secured naturalization or committed other serious crimes will be under the Civil Division’s Office of Immigration Litigation.

“This move underscores the Department’s commitment to bring justice to terrorists, war criminals, sex offenders, and other fraudsters who illegally obtained naturalization,” DOJ said in a statement announcing the new unit.

“When a terrorist or sex offender becomes a U.S. citizen under false pretenses, it is an affront to our system—and it is especially offensive to those who fall victim to these criminals,” Assistant Attorney General Jody Hunt said.

U.S. citizens can be stripped of citizenship for a variety of reasons, including becoming affiliated with a terrorist organization or a totalitarian party like the Communist Party, or if it is discovered that the person was not eligible for naturalization in the first place. The U.S. may also revoke citizenship for lying about their identity or “deliberate deceit on the part of the person” regarding other relevant information such as their employment.

In 2018, former Citizenship and Immigration Services Director L. Francis Cissna said his agency was hiring several dozen lawyers and immigration officers to probe cases of individuals who were slated for deportation but later used fake identities to obtain citizenship through naturalization. Those cases would be referred to the DOJ, Cissna said at the time.

“We finally have a process in place to get to the bottom of all these bad cases and start denaturalizing people who should not have been naturalized in the first place,” Cissna said. “What we’re looking at, when you boil it all down, is potentially a few thousand cases.”

The U.S. started examining potentially fraudulent naturalization cases about a decade ago when a border official discovered 200 people who had been previously ordered deported but managed to obtain citizenship with false identities.

The DOJ’s move comes as the Trump administration continues to crack down on illegal immigration, a priority for President Trump since the earliest days of his campaign.

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