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Can Your U.S. Citizenship Be Revoked?

It is possible for naturalized U.S. citizens to have their citizenship stripped. But it is rare. It happens through a process called "denaturalization."

Under the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, the government cannot revoke the citizenship of a natural-born U.S. citizen (U.S.C). However, renouncing citizenship is an option for those born in the United States. Denaturalized U.S. citizens are subject to removal (deportation) from the United States.

This article covers the grounds for revocation of United States citizenship. It will also cover the basics of the denaturalization process. In it, you'll also learn more about defenses to denaturalization.

Grounds for Denaturalization

The U.S. government may revoke a naturalized U.S. citizen's citizenship for a variety of reasons. The following are some of those reasons.

Lying During the Naturalization Process

During all stages of your naturalization process, but especially the naturalization interview, you must not lie. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) might not detect dishonesty at first. But the agency may file a denaturalization action against you at any time. This includes the period after you gain citizenship.

Examples of offenses include failure to disclose criminal activities or lying about your identity. Failure to disclose any material fact can have severe negative consequences for people seeking U.S. citizenship. It is particularly bad when such a failure involves willful misrepresentation. This also extends to your time as a lawful permanent resident.

If it is found that you lied to a government official at any point in your immigration journey, it could lead to having your citizenship revoked.

Refusal to Testify Before Congress

You may not refuse to testify before a U.S. congressional committee investigating your alleged involvement in subversive acts. Subversive acts are those intended to harm U.S. officials or overthrow the U.S. government. Such requirements to testify before Congress expire after ten years. If you refuse to testify, the government may revoke your citizenship under Section 340(a) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA).

Membership in a Renegade Group

Your citizenship may be revoked if the U.S. government can prove that you joined a subversive organization within five years of becoming a naturalized citizen. Subversive organizations are groups deemed to be threats to U.S. national security. Examples include the Nazi Party and Al Qaeda.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is enhancing its methods for identifying threats. This system can involve tracking peoples' involvement in subversive organizations. U.S. authorities may collect and store information on individuals in foreign countries. They may do so without violating relevant protections against warrantless surveillance.

During the naturalization process, remain aware of how sensitive your data can be. Under the Patriot Act, United States authorities have far greater freedoms in terms of collecting and storing people's data. Because of the Act, U.S. authorities can do so without first obtaining warrants.

Dishonorable Military Discharge

Some people become naturalized U.S. citizens by serving in the U.S. armed forces. If you procured naturalization in this way, the government can revoke your citizenship if you are dishonorably discharged before serving five years of military service. Reasons for dishonorable discharge include desertion and sexual assault. But discharges like this must follow a general court-martial.

Other Grounds & Processes

The Department of Justice (DOJ) may file lawsuits against naturalized U.S. Citizens to strip them of their citizenship on two grounds:

  • They obtained citizenship illegally, or
  • They lied on their citizenship application, affidavit, or to a consular official

Many denaturalization cases have followed from a person's illegally obtaining citizenship. At the same time, the DOJ can also criminally charge a person for fraud in cases where such lying has occurred. The DOJ is also within its powers to do so as a result of lying that takes place during the process of obtaining a green card.

The Denaturalization Process

During denaturalization proceedings, a naturalized citizen is stripped of their citizenship. This process takes place in federal court. Typically, it will occur in the district court where the defendant last resided. It follows the standard rules of federal civil court cases. It is not treated as an immigration case, although it affects immigration status.

Naturalized citizens found to be in violation of the terms of citizenship must leave the country. Children granted citizenship based on their parent's status may also lose their citizenship as well.

The denaturalization process begins with a formal complaint against the defendant. The defendant may respond to the complaint. They may also defend themselves at trial or hire an immigration attorney. The defendant has 60 days to file an answer to the complaint. In their answer, they could argue:

  • The government had the wrong information
  • An expired statute of limitations

The U.S. government has a high bar for proving a defendant meets the criteria for denaturalization. It is a heavier burden of proof than that in most civil cases. But they do not have to prove anything beyond a reasonable doubt, like in criminal cases. If you lose U.S. citizenship, you may face deportation soon after.

Appeals and Defenses

Someone who loses their citizenship status may appeal the decision if there is reason to believe the lower court made legal errors. One reason for appealing relates to the concealment of facts on naturalization applications. If there was a lack of evidence pointing to intentional concealment, for example, a person might succeed in an appeal.

Intentionality is often considered a deciding factor when it comes to revocation of citizenship for lying. Consider the following as an example of an appeal:

USCIS interviews a naturalized citizen, formerly or currently belonging to Hezbollah. They ask if he belonged to any "anti-American" organizations. Specifically, whether he belonged to any organizations that advocated for the overthrow of the U.S. government. He answered, "no."

Without sufficient evidence that this person knew Hezbollah engaged in such activities, he didn't conceal any relevant facts. But failure to mention an association with the Communist Party or Al Qaeda (or any other terrorist organization) is considered concealment of relevant information.

Questions About Your U.S. Citizenship Being Revoked? Talk to an Attorney

Maybe you're fed up with the political climate in the U.S. and want to renounce your citizenship or want to acquire citizenship in another country. Or maybe you're a naturalized citizen being threatened with deportation because the government claims that you're a member of a subversive group.

If you are interested in expatriation or find yourself in deportation proceedings, it's best to contact a skilled immigration attorney. They can help you understand U.S. immigration laws, the application process, and how they apply to your particular situation. An immigration lawyer is also a must when you are facing the possibility of your U.S. citizenship being revoked.

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