Immigrants 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.