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Supreme Court Limits Government’s Ability to Revoke Citizenship

The Supreme Court ruled Thursday to limit the government’s ability to strip U.S. citizenship from legal immigrants for lying on their naturalization applications.

The Court said that naturalized immigrants cannot lose their citizenship for making false statements that are irrelevant to an immigration official’s decision to grant it. Instead, a jury must decide if such false statements would have influenced the decision.

“When the illegal act is a false statement, that means demonstrating that the defendant lied about the facts that would have mattered to an immigration official, because they would have justified denying naturalization or would predictably have led to other facts warranting that result,” Justice Elena Kagan wrote in the ruling opinion.

Kagan said that without this limitation, prosecutors would have “nearly limitless leverage” to dig up information to threaten the citizenship of newly naturalized American citizens.

“A lie told in the naturalization process — even out of embarrassment, fear, or a desire for privacy — would always provide a basis for rescinding citizenship,” Kagan said of the danger of not having this limitation. “The Government could thus take away on one day what it was required to give the day before.”

She explained that immigrants seeking citizenship are barraged with all sorts of questions, including “Have you EVER been … in any way associated with any organization, association, fund, foundation, party, club, society or similar group?” and “Have you EVER committed a crime or offense for which you were NOT arrested?”

“Suppose, for reasons of embarrassment or what-have-you, a person concealed her membership in an online support group or failed to disclose a prior speeding violation,” Kagan continued.

“Under the Government’s view, a prosecutor could scour her paperwork and bring (a) charge on that meager basis, even many years after she became a citizen. That would give prosecutors nearly limitless leverage — and afford newly naturalized Americans precious little security.”