For foreigners who gain U.S. citizenship, the event is a celebrated affair and a life-changing event. Imagine, then, if that citizenship was stripped for a minor infraction. That would amount to a second life-changing event – one that is not cause for celebration.
U.S. Supreme Court Justices John Roberts, Stephen Breyer and Anthony Kennedy all expressed concerns recently about a case in which a Serbian woman who had gained U.S. citizenship 20 years ago was deported and stripped of her citizenship because she falsely stated her husband had not served in the Bosnian Serb army in the 1990s after Yugoslavia's collapse.
A dangerous precedent
Roberts and his colleagues stated the Trump administration is overstepping its boundaries by revoking citizenship through criminal prosecution for what amounts to an insignificant lie or omission. Roberts said setting such a precedent would make it too easy to strip people of citizenship for minor infractions going forward.
Roberts confessed that he has exceeded the speed limit in the past and pointed out that if an immigrant did so and failed to disclose any instances of breaking the law on a citizenship application, they could lose their citizenship later if it was discovered they broke the speed limit. The administration’s interpretation smacks of “prosecutorial abuse,” he said.
"That to me is troublesome to give that extraordinary power, which, essentially, is unlimited power, at least in most cases, to the government," Roberts said.
Military service concealed
In the case in question, Divna Maslenjak entered the U.S. with her husband and two children in 2000. The family was granted refugee status over a fear of ethnic persecution in Bosnia, and settled in Ohio. Maslenjak became a U.S. citizen in 2007.
Maslenjak’s husband was ordered deported in 2009 after he was convicted of making a false statement by concealing his military service in a Bosnian Serb Army brigade that participated in a massacre of 8,000 Muslims. Maslenjak also concealed her husband’s military service. Her citizenship was revoked and the couple was deported in October 2016.
The justices question whether Maslenjak’s false statements were sufficient reason to revoke her refugee status and citizenship. The Trump administration claims that what matters is she made a false statement.
Revoking naturalized citizenship
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) guidelines stipulate that “naturalized citizens who acquired their citizenship illegally (they were not really eligible for naturalization) or by deliberate deceit (they lied or hid important information about themselves) can have their naturalization revoked.” Membership or affiliation with terrorist organizations also is cause for revocation of U.S. citizenship.
A ruling on Maslenjak’s request to have her citizenship reinstated is expected by June.
The case is an example of the complexities of immigration law and why it is important to work with a knowledgeable lawyer who can help sort through the facts and advocate on your behalf.