Articles Posted in Naturalization

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BosniaImmigrants to the United States can become citizens through the process of naturalization, and unlike natural-born citizens, it is possible for them to lose citizenship. The Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) states that a conviction for unlawfully obtaining citizenship can result in the loss of naturalization, but it does not define the scope of the government’s power under this provision. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled earlier this year that the government cannot revoke a person’s naturalization unless the fraudulent statement or action that led to the conviction was materially related to the approval of the naturalization petition. Maslenjak v. United States, 582 US ___ (2017).

Under federal criminal law, it is an offense to obtain naturalization for oneself or anyone else by any means that are “contrary to law.” 18 U.S.C. § 1425(a). The statute’s rather vague phrasing has been interpreted to include false statements in connection with a naturalization application. What remained unclear was whether the false statements have to be material to the eventual decision to grant naturalization.

The INA identified several specific grounds for revocation of naturalization, including a conviction under § 1425. In that case, the INA states that the court that enters the conviction should “revoke, set aside, and declare void” the person’s naturalization order. 8 U.S.C. § 1451(e). This section is also silent on the question of whether the underlying unlawful act must be directly material to the naturalization decision.

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Bald Eagle PortraitThe future of immigration law in the U.S. is, to put it as simply as possible, uncertain at the moment. The White House has expressed interest in reducing the total number of immigrants allowed into the country, and it has stepped up immigration enforcement to an even greater degree than the previous administration. In this environment, immigrants living in the U.S. seem to be stepping up their own efforts to claim whichever benefits may be available to them under current immigration laws. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has reportedly seen an increase in the number of naturalization applications that it has received in recent months. Immigrants in the New Jersey and New York areas, including lawful permanent residents, nonimmigrant visa holders, and others, should be aware of their status and their rights under federal immigration law.

The Naturalization Process

“Naturalization” allows an immigrant to become a citizen of the United States, with almost all of the rights and obligations associated with that status. An individual begins the process of becoming naturalized by filing Form N-400 with USCIS. The general eligibility criteria for naturalization can be broadly divided into three groups:  age and immigration status, residence, and education and character. An applicant must be at least 18 years old as of the date they file their N-400, and they must have held lawful permanent resident status (i.e., a “green card”) for at least five years.

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Wedding cakeFederal immigration law provides multiple ways that a person can become a naturalized citizen of the United States. Children may be able to obtain naturalization if one or both parents successfully complete the naturalization application process, but this does not apply to all children of newly naturalized citizens. The Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) draws a distinction between children who were either born in wedlock or have been “legitimated” under the laws of their home country, as opposed to children who were born out of wedlock. While the United States has done away with most legal distinctions between children born in and out of wedlock, they persist in some countries, and they may still be a factor under the INA. A recent decision by the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) addresses some confusion over this process. Matter of Cross, Int. Dec. 3826, 26 I&N Dec. 485 (BIA 2015).

The INA states that a child born outside the U.S. automatically becomes a U.S. citizen if at least one parent is a citizen, the child is less than 18 years old, and the child lawfully resides in the U.S. in the citizen parent’s custody. 8 U.S.C. § 1431(a). This applies whether the parent obtained citizenship “by birth or naturalization.” This may seem straightforward, but the way the INA defines a “child” for the purposes of this provision makes it more complicated.

For the purposes of the naturalization provisions of the INA, a “child” is defined as an unmarried person who is under the age of 21 and who, before the age of 16, was “legitimated under the law of the child’s [or the father’s] residence or domicile.” 8 U.S.C. § 1101(c)(1). The concept of “legitimation” or “legitimacy” relates to whether a child’s parents were married at the time of their birth and whether the child’s father has gained legal recognition as the father. Amendments to the INA enacted in 1995 changed most instances of the terms “legitimate child” and “illegitimate child” to “child born in wedlock” and “child born out of wedlock,” respectively.

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Serbia mapBecoming a naturalized citizen allows immigrants to make a permanent home in the United States. The Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) only allows the government to revoke a person’s naturalization under a very limited set of circumstances. The U.S. Supreme Court is currently considering a case, Maslenjak v. United States, in which the federal government is claiming authority to strip individuals of naturalization based on a very broad interpretation of the narrow circumstances allowed by the INA. The result of the case could affect naturalized citizens throughout the country, as well as immigrants who hope to become naturalized in the future.

The Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution states that anyone “born or naturalized in the United States” is a citizen, with an exception for children born to foreign diplomats and others protected by diplomatic immunity. This is known as “birthright citizenship.” See United States v. Wong Kim Ark, 169 U.S. 649 (1898). People born outside the U.S. to one or more U.S. citizen parents may also be able to claim birthright citizenship under the provisions of the INA. See 8 U.S.C. § 1401. People born outside the U.S. to parents who are not citizens must seek U.S. citizenship through the naturalization process.

The INA defines “naturalization” as “the conferring of nationality of a state upon a person after birth,” with “nationality” defined to include citizenship. Id. at §§ 1101(a)(21) – (23). To be eligible for naturalization, an individual must meet multiple criteria, typically including residence in the U.S. as a lawful permanent resident for at least five years. Id. at § 1421 et seq. Once a person has become a naturalized citizen, the INA only allows revocation in limited circumstances, most of which are related to acts or omissions during the process of applying for naturalization. “[C]oncealment of a material fact or…willful misrepresentation” is a ground for revocation. Id. at §§ 1451(a). Conviction for the federal crime of “knowingly procuring naturalization in violation of law” can result in the loss of naturalization at the conclusion of the criminal proceeding. Id. at § 1451(e), 18 U.S.C. § 1425(a).

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By LaNicoya- (http://www.flickr.com/photos/lanicoya_/1721626888/) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia CommonsU.S. immigration law does not provide a specific definition of “citizen.” The Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution identifies as a citizen anyone born in the U.S., except for children of foreign diplomats, and anyone naturalized after their birth. Since this is still not a distinct definition, U.S. citizenship is perhaps better described as a set of rights and duties, including the duty of loyalty to this country. Some people who become naturalized U.S. citizens retain citizenship in their country of origin. The U.S. Department of State (DOS) does not encourage dual citizenship, but the Supreme Court has held that it is permissible despite language in federal immigration statutes suggesting otherwise. Immigrants who wish to become naturalized U.S. citizens should consider the effect it might have on their relationship to their country of origin, and their future relationship to this country.

The Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) defines a “national” as “a person owing permanent allegiance to a state.” 8 U.S.C. § 1101(a)(21). It defines a “national of the United States” as someone who meets the previous definition with regard to the U.S., or who is a U.S. citizen. Id. at § 1101(a)(22). Congress has modified the laws regarding citizenship in, or allegiance to, more than one country on numerous occasions. Currently, the INA states that a person seeking to become a naturalized U.S. citizen must take an “oath of renunciation and allegiance,” which includes a statement that they “renounce and abjure absolutely and entirely all allegiance and fidelity” to any other country. Id. at § 1448(a)(3).

While a renunciation of allegiance to any other country is a requirement for naturalization, the INA does not provide a clear means of enforcing this oath. It states that both native-born and naturalized citizens can lose their U.S. nationality by “voluntarily…obtaining naturalization in a foreign state upon his own application,” serving in the military of a country “engaged in hostilities against the United States,” and other voluntary acts. Id. at §§ 1481(a)(1), (3). This does not, however, address most situations in which a naturalized citizen continues to avail themselves of citizenship in another country.

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USGC [Public domain], via Wikimedia CommonsThe current election season has seen a great deal of rhetoric regarding immigration, citizenship, and what it means to be an American. Most of the recent discussion has centered on questions like how many immigrants to admit to the country, and how to deal with undocumented entry. As the arguments grow heated, it is worth taking a step back and looking at how this country’s laws define terms like “citizen,” and how “we the people” fit together as a nation.

Federal law does not have one, distinct definition of a “citizen” of the United States. Rather, it is a collection of rights and obligations obtained by birth or by naturalization. U.S. Const. Amdt. XIV, § 1. “Birthright citizenship” refers to the principle that anyone born within the United States is automatically a citizen. A U.S. citizen is generally considered a citizen of both the United States as a whole and the state in which they reside. The rights of citizenship include travel to and from the U.S., consular services while abroad, and voting in local, state, and national elections. Obligations include payment of taxes and service on juries.

For the purposes of U.S. immigration law, a “state” includes the fifty U.S. states (i.e. Alabama through Wyoming), the District of Columbia, and the U.S. territories of Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. 8 U.S.C. § 1101(a)(36). Anyone born within these geographic areas, as well as other areas during a time when they were territorial holdings of the U.S., is deemed to have birthright citizenship. 8 U.S.C. §§ 1401-07. Children born to U.S. citizens outside of the territorial jurisdiction of the U.S. are generally also considered birthright citizens, or may obtain that status. 8 U.S.C. §§ 1431, 1433.
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By Yuvalr (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia CommonsApplying for immigration benefits requires opening up nearly all of your life history to scrutiny by the U.S. government. Failure to disclose requested information can have serious consequences. A federal judge recently sentenced a woman to eighteen months in prison after a jury convicted her of a single count of immigration fraud. Federal prosecutors claimed that the woman failed to disclose a prior conviction in Israel when she applied for naturalization in 2004. United States v. Odeh, No. 2:13-cr-20772, indictment (E.D. Mich., Oct. 22, 2013). Her story made headlines because of connections to terrorism, but the judge noted that immigration fraud was the key issue. After her conviction, the judge entered an order revoking her United States citizenship, meaning she could be deported when she finishes her term of incarceration.

The defendant was reportedly involved with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) in the 1960’s. This organization, according to the government’s indictment, was one of the first Palestinian groups to use terrorism, including hijackings and bombings. The PFLP was involved in two bombings in Jerusalem in February 1969. One bombing killed two people and injured many more at a supermarket, while the other damaged the British Consulate.

The defendant was arrested and charged with five counts in connection with the bombing. In January 1970, a military court convicted her of membership in an illegal organization, participating in the supermarket bombing, and planting bombs at the British Consulate. She served more than ten years in an Israeli prison before being released in a prisoner exchange with the PFLP in 1979.
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German,_British,_American_warships_in_Apia_harbour,_Samoa_1899.jpgAn ongoing court battle illustrates the complex definition of “citizenship” in the United States. The general understanding of U.S. citizenship is that anyone born on U.S. soil is a citizen by birth, and that others can petition the government to become naturalized U.S. citizens. The question is more complicated, however, for people born in certain areas that are, technically, “U.S. soil.” People born in U.S. territories are not necessarily guaranteed citizenship by birth.

American Samoa is an “insular area” of the United States, meaning that it is not part of a state or federal district. The U.S. acquired it through a treaty with Germany in 1899. The Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) defines it as an “outlying possession of the United States.” 8 U.S.C. § 1101(a)(29). People born in American Samoa are classified as “nationals” of the United States, not citizens. 8 U.S.C. § 1408(1). The same is not the case for people born in certain other U.S. territories, such as Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Five people born in American Samoa filed suit for declaratory and injunctive relief, arguing in part that the INA’s denial of citizenship rights to the people of American Samoa violates the Citizenship Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The district court dismissed the plaintiffs’ complaint, finding that they had failed to state a claim on which it could grant relief. Tuatua v. United States, 951 F.Supp. 88 (D.D.C. 2013). The case is currently on appeal to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.
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Samoa_Cram_Map_1896.jpgThe Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution defines a “citizen” as anyone “born or naturalized in the United States.” The U.S. did not have a single, uniform system for naturalization until the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) of 1952, which forms the backbone of today’s federal immigration laws. The “born in the United States” part of the Citizenship Clause, however, is more complicated than it might appear with regard to certain U.S. territories.

While the U.S. never had a colonial empire like Spain or the United Kingdom, it continues to hold several territories acquired in the 19th and 20th centuries. About four million people live in five “unincorporated territories” of the United States. The U.S. took control of Puerto Rico and Guam from Spain after the Spanish-American War in 1898, acquired American Samoa through an 1899 treaty with Germany, purchased the U.S. Virgin Islands from Denmark in 1917, and took over the Northern Mariana Islands from Japan after World War II in 1945. Each territory elects a non-voting delegate to the U.S. House of Representatives but has no representation in the Senate and no electoral votes in presidential elections.

These territories are classified as “unincorporated organized territories” (UOTs), except for American Samoa, which is an “unincorporated unorganized territory” (UUT). They are also known as “insular areas,” which are not part of a U.S. state or federal district. The term “unincorporated” means that the U.S. Supreme Court has held that the Constitution does not fully apply in those territories. The term “organized” means that Congress has enacted a body of laws to govern the territory—albeit with no electoral input from the territory’s residents. See, e.g. 48 U.S.C. Sec. 731 et seq. (Puerto Rico). American Samoa has no organic act. See 48 U.S.C. Sec. 1661 et seq.
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Usnaturalization.jpgThe New York Times reported the story of a man who came to the United States from Pakistan as a child, faced possible deportation several times, and finally became a U.S. citizen after years of waiting. Mohammad Sarfaraz Hussain came to the U.S. with his mother, and remained here after she died. He became fully “Americanized,” according to the Times, but the nation’s response to the events of September 11, 2001 put him and others in a difficult position. He was required to register with the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS), a now-defunct program created as part of the “War on Terror.” He avoided deportation and obtained asylum. By enduring some of the worst the immigration system has to offer and becoming a citizen, Hussain offers quite the success story.

According to the Times story, Hussain’s uncle, a physician in Queens, New York, petitioned for an immigrant visa for his sister, Hussain’s mother. As her minor son, Hussain would share her immigrant status. While the petition was pending, she was diagnosed with cancer and traveled to the U.S. on a tourist visa for treatment, bringing eight year-old Hussain with her. Hussain’s mother died in New York, and he overstayed his visa to remain with his uncle. His father died of a heart attack in Pakistan when he was fifteen. Another relative petitioned for an immigrant visa for Hussain, but the September 11 attacks occurred while it was pending.

The Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), the predecessor to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), created NSEERS in 2002. The program required certain nationals or citizens of various countries in the Middle East, North Africa, and South Asia to register with INS. This included male nationals of Pakistan who were over the age of fifteen at the time. 67 Fed. Reg. 77136 (Dec. 16, 2002). NSEERS was heavily criticized as a form of racial profiling that was both offensive and ineffective. The Department of Homeland Security began scaling the program back as early as 2003, and effectively ended it in 2011. Hussain registered with NSEERS in early 2003, and managed to avoid deportation when massive public support led ICE, which had by then replaced INS, to exercise “prosecutorial discretion” and dismiss the case.
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