On April 7, 2016, a three judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit issued a published decision in U.S. v. Maslenjank, 821 F.3d 675 (6th Cir. 2015). The decision, authored by Judge S. Thomas Anderson, allowed a naturalized citizen to be denaturalized under section 340(e) of the INA based on her conviction under 18 U.S.C. 1425(a) for making a false statement that was immaterial to her naturalization. Subsequent to the decision, the Sixth Circuit denied rehearing en banc on May 27, 2016. The Supreme Court of the United States granted a petition for certiorari on January 13, 2017, and heard oral arguments on April 26, 2017. In this article, we will examine the facts of the case and the Sixth Circuit decision in brief. We will also examine the earlier decision of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in U.S. v. Puerta, 982 F.2d 1297 (9th Cir. 1992), which reached a contrary result to the Sixth Circuit decision in Maslenjank. Please see our article on the oral arguments in Maslenjak v. U.S. before the Supreme Court.
A naturalized citizen may be subject to denaturalization proceedings in court or as a result of a conviction for knowingly obtaining naturalization through fraud under 18 U.S.C. 1425. A U.S. citizen from birth may not be denaturalized under the following provisions. Denaturalization can occur under section 340(a) of the INA if it is found that a naturalized citizen obtained naturalization illegally, through the concealment of a material fact, or by willful misrepresentation. Although the DHS may not revoke citizenship administratively, it may recommend denaturalization proceedings under section 340(a). Under 340(d), family members of a person denaturalized under 340(a) who had claimed citizenship through that person may be denaturalized.
The Attorney General has the authority to cancel a certificate of citizenship or certificate of naturalization if he or she believes that the certificate was obtained illegally or fraudulently. However, this does not constitute denaturalization.
Section 349(a) lists circumstances in which a U.S. citizen by birth or by naturalization may lose nationality (the terms “national” and “citizen” are interchangeable except for U.S. nationals from American Samoa who do not have U.S. citizenship) by voluntarily engaging in certain actions with the intent to renounce citizenship. These cases are:
- Becoming naturalized in a foreign state or declaring allegiance (by oath, affidavit, or other statement) to a foreign state after turning 18 years of age;
- Entering the armed forces of a foreign state that is engaged in hostilities against the United States or serving in a foreign army;
- Accepting a post or employment in a foreign government;
- Formally renouncing U.S. citizenship before a U.S. diplomatic or consular officer in a foreign state or doing so in the United States when the United States is in a state of war;
- Committing treason against, attempting by force to overthrow, or bearing arms against the United States.
If a person loses nationality under 349(a), he or she will be provided with a certificate of loss of nationality. A person may argue that the person did not undertake the action with the intent to renounce citizenship.
If a naturalized citizen faces denaturalization proceedings, it is essential to contact an experienced immigration attorney immediately. Denaturalization is not only gravely serious for the person facing denaturalization, but also for any family members who claimed naturalization through him or her. If a U.S. citizen intends to voluntarily renounce citizenship, or if the government argues that he or she voluntarily renounced citizenship when the person believes that he or she did not have the intent to renounce citizenship, it is also essential to consult with an experienced immigration attorney.
At The Law Offices of Grinberg & Segal, PLLC, our experienced immigration attorneys stand ready to help clients facing denaturalization or any other issue involving the renunciation of U.S. citizenship.
On April 26, 2017, the Supreme Court of the United States heard oral arguments in Maslenjak v. United States, No. 16-309. The Supreme Court took the case on appeal from the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit decision in United States v. Malenjak, 821 F.3d 675 (6th Cir. 2016). The question before the Supreme Court is whether the Sixth Circuit erred in holding that a naturalized citizen of the United States can be stripped of citizenship in a criminal proceeding based on the alien having made an immaterial false statement. In this article, we will examine the oral arguments in Maslenjak before the Supreme Court.
The opinion of the Court was authored by Justice Elena Kagan. The Court’s majority held that, in order to convict an individual for being in violation of 18 U.S.C. 1425(a), the Government must establish that the defendant’s illegal act played a role in his or her acquisition of U.S. citizenship. Accordingly, the Court held that, in determining whether a naturalized citizen violated 18 U.S.C. 1425(a) for having made a false statement to government officials, a jury must be instructed to decide whether the false statement altered the naturalization process such that it influenced the award of citizenship. In accordance with the decision, the Court remanded the case of the petitioner, Divna Maslenjak, because it found that the trial judge had erred in instructing the jury that in considering whether she had violated 8 U.S.C. 1425(a) the jury did not need to determine whether the false statements she made to immigration officials were material to her procurement of naturalization.