In 2019, the Trump administration embarked on a campaign to deport naturalized US citizens. More than 700,000 individuals were at risk of getting their citizenship stripped from them over what the government termed as “flaws in the naturalization process.”
It begs the question – Can a naturalized citizen be deported, and on what grounds? Here’s everything you need to know.
What Is Naturalization?
The United States can grant citizenship to a foreign national once they fulfill the requirements set out in the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952. The law provides four principal ways through which an individual can become a naturalized US citizen.
In addition to meeting all the other eligibility requirements:
- You need to have been a permanent resident in the country for a minimum duration of 5 years;
- You need to have been a permanent resident in the country for at least three years to file as a spouse of a US citizen;
- You have served in the US armed forces;
- If you are a US citizen and your child was born and is currently residing outside the US, they may qualify for naturalization.
Keep in mind that if your adoptive/biological parents became US citizens before you turned 18, it automatically makes you a US citizen as well. This means you don’t need to apply for naturalization.
By its very definition, naturalization means that the United States now becomes the home country of the individual in question, meaning they cannot be deported from the US.
Can US citizenship be revoked? The short answer is – yes, it is possible. There are certain situations – although rare – where the government may revoke the citizenship of a naturalized immigrant.
What Is Denaturalization
Denaturalization is the process through which the US government strips citizenship from a naturalized immigrant. These proceedings are only applicable to individuals who filed Form N-400 to become US nationals and not people who became citizens by birth.
A denaturalized individual effectively reverts to the immigration status they had before becoming naturalized. It affects not only the person in question and their ability to continue working and residing in the country but also their spouse or child who was applying for citizenship through them.
What Are the Grounds for Denaturalization
As mentioned before, denaturalization is very rare. That is not to say it is impossible. Below are some common grounds for denaturalization.
An Illegal or Flawed Naturalization Process
If an individual received US citizenship without meeting the legal eligibility requirements for naturalization, they could get their status revoked. It applies whether or not the individual in question is a victim of willful or innocent misrepresentation or deception.
Here’s a list of criteria that government immigration authorities consider when determining if the naturalization process was illegal or flawed:
- Is the person a legal, permanent resident of the United States?
- Do they have good moral standing?
- Are they continuously physically present in the United States?
- Do they believe in the principles spelled out by the US Constitution?
Suppose the government establishes that the person in question was granted citizenship by naturalization without meeting any of the criteria outlined above. In that case, it can strip them of their citizenship and initiate deportation proceedings against them.
Willful Misrepresentation or Concealment of a Material Fact
If an individual is found to have deliberately deceived the government during their naturalization application or interview process, those are valid grounds for denaturalization.
The United States can revoke citizenship if:
- An individual misrepresents or conceals some fact;
- The misrepresentation or concealment in question was done willfully;
- The information or fact(s) that was misrepresented or concealed was critical to the decision on whether or not to grant citizenship;
- The individual was granted citizenship based on this misrepresentation or concealment.
A person can also be denaturalized for willful misrepresentation or concealment if they join or are affiliated with a terrorist organization or any totalitarian party such as the Communist party within five years of being granted citizenship.
In such instances, these would be grounds for denaturalization on the basis that the individual in question lied about believing in the principles spelled out by the US Constitution. It shows that they are neither concerned about nor willing to contribute to the happiness and good order of the United States.
Refusing to Testify Before a Congressional Committee
If you stand accused of being involved in subversive acts, particularly those intended to overthrow the government or harm United States officials, you are obligated to testify before Congress. Refusal is not an option since the Congressional committee’s job is to investigate your alleged involvement in those acts of subversion.
Keep in mind that this requirement only applies to naturalized citizens who’ve had their citizenship status for less than 10 years.
Dishonorable Discharge From the US Military
An individual, who became a citizen-based on their service in the US armed forces, can get their citizenship revoked if they get discharged for reasons other than “honorable.” This only applies to individuals who are dishonorably discharged before reaching the 5-year service threshold.
According to 18 US Code § 1425, the government can initiate criminal proceedings against an individual for attempted or successful efforts to illegally obtain US citizenship for themselves or someone else.
Like any standard criminal conviction, federal prosecutors would have to prove “beyond a reasonable doubt” that the individual committed naturalization fraud, in which case, the person would then have their citizenship revoked before getting deported.
Other Grounds for Denaturalization
Aside from the reasons outlined so far, other possible grounds for losing US citizenship include:
- Voluntarily renouncing US citizenship;
- Gaining dual citizenship in countries that require you to renounce US citizenship;
- Gaining dual citizenship in countries with which the US requires you to renounce your citizenship;
- Serving as an army officer – non-commissioned or otherwise – in another country’s military;
- Serving as an officer – non-commissioned or otherwise – in another country’s military while it is engaging in hostile activity against the United States;
- Election to public service in a foreign country.
The Denaturalization Process
The US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), the federal agency responsible for overseeing all matters related to lawful immigration to the country, cannot denaturalize a citizen. Denaturalization can only be done once criminal or civil proceedings have been initiated against the individual in a federal court.
The USCIS director would first make a recommendation to revoke an individual’s citizenship and forward their report to the US Department of Justice. The DOJ would then file a complaint in a US district court with jurisdiction over the individual’s area of residence.
Given how high the stakes of losing citizenship are, the authorities must meet an exceptionally high burden of proof before the courts can issue a ruling to revoke citizenship. Regardless of what the grounds of denaturalization are, the government must prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that its reason for revocation is clear, convincing, and unequivocal. If the evidence provided isn’t factual, lacks clarity, or is ambiguous, the courts will always rule in favor of the defendant.
If you’re a naturalized citizen and you get notified of proceedings to denaturalize you, get in touch with an experienced immigration lawyer as soon as possible. You have the right to due process as guaranteed by the US Constitution. This means that the government cannot revoke your citizenship without allowing you to defend yourself in a court of law.
An immigration attorney would be best placed to assess all the facts in your case and provide legal advice and representation on the best strategy to employ to help you retain your citizenship status.
What Is Deportation
Deportation refers to the formal removal of a foreign national from the United States if they’re found to have violated immigration law.
The law makes it extremely difficult to take away an individual’s US citizenship. In the last decade or so, most individuals who were denaturalized and deported were World War II persecutors such as Nazis, who lied and concealed information about their past to gain US citizenship when they first came to America.
Can a US Citizen Be Deported
While immigration law may be cut-and-dry in some instances, the straightforward answer to this question is – no. US citizens by birth or naturalization cannot be deported. If they commit a criminal offense, all due process takes place within the country’s legal framework. If they’re convicted, judgment is passed as per the law.
Even if they commit a crime overseas and are wanted for criminal prosecution in a foreign land, the US government would prefer the individual in question to seek justice in the US rather than deporting them to stand trial abroad.
When a person becomes a US citizen by birth or by naturalization, the whole premise of citizenship is that the United States becomes their home country. It, therefore, would not make sense to “deport” them to a different country.
Nonetheless, there are certain exceptions to the rule for naturalized citizens. If an individual commits naturalization fraud, is convicted of treason, or renounces their US citizenship, the government will initiate deportation proceedings against them.
Can a Permanent Resident Be Deported
Yes, they can. An individual can be deported during the naturalization process before they formally receive official US citizenship status. Remember, one of the requirements for naturalization is that the individual in question needs to have been a permanent resident in the country for at least five years.
Until they are formally granted US citizenship, they can still get deported in certain situations. The prospect of deportation for a permanent resident will always be on the table, even if they’ve initiated the naturalization process.
Can You Be Deported Because of an Expired Green Card
The short answer is – no. The USCIS cannot deport you simply because your green card expired. The expiry of your card will, nonetheless, cause you to have many sleepless nights, especially if you need to renew your driver’s license, apply for a new job, or travel.
The expiration date on your green card will vary depending on the category through which you got it. For instance, the validity period of a permanent residency card obtained through an employer will be different from that obtained through marriage to a US citizen. That being said, the validity period of standard green cards is usually 10 years.
Your green card does not determine your permanent residency status, so you cannot be deported if it expires.
How Long Is the Deportation Process
Deportation is a long, complex, drawn-out process that typically takes several years to conclude. It involves several entities, including the Department of Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency, immigration court, and the Board of Immigration Appeals. It may even involve the Circuit Court of Appeals.
Unless an individual meets the requirements for expedited removal from the country, most cases that involve appeals will usually last anywhere between two and three years.
Can You Be Deported if Your Child Is a Citizen
This answer to this question isn’t a straightforward one. A child born in the US automatically becomes a US citizen. Once they turn 21, they can petition the government to grant their parents green cards. Additionally, the petitioning child will need to be earning enough money to serve as their parents’ financial sponsor.
If the child in question is still a minor and the parents are illegal immigrants, deportation is a real possibility. If the parents do get deported, the children they leave behind would be sent into the foster care system.
If you are undocumented and face the risk of deportation but don’t want your child to go into foster care if you do get deported, the best thing to do would be to arrange for a custody transfer of your child. That way, they are assigned to a family member or any other trusted adult who then becomes your child’s legal guardian.
Talk to an Attorney
If you or a loved one is at risk of denaturalization and deportation, get in touch with a competent immigration lawyer as soon as possible.
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