Supreme Court case could have major impact on naturalized citizens

WASHINGTON, D.C. (April 25, 2017) — The U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on April 26, 2017 in a case that has significance to millions of naturalized U.S. citizens.

In Maslenjak v. United States, the Supreme Court will determine if an immaterial false statement or omission in an immigration document or status proceeding can lead to criminal prosecution and revocation of citizenship.

Asian Americans Advancing Justice | AAJC (Advancing Justice | AAJC) in partnership with The National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) led a group of over 70 organizations in filing an amicus brief about the case, explaining the substantial impact of the case on current naturalized U.S. citizens and the chilling effect it could have on the 8.5 million adults who are eligible for naturalization. Attorneys from Wiley Rein LLP provided pro bono assistance on this amicus brief.

The brief explained that many individuals may make minor errors in filling out immigration forms or providing information because of language barriers and lack of counsel and subjecting those individuals to criminal prosecution and loss of citizenship exacts a harsh and unfair penalty. Maslenjak v. United States involves Divna Maslenjak, an ethnic Serbian woman and a native of Bosnia, who came to the United States in 2000 as a refugee in order to flee the civil war in the former Yugoslavia and was found to have made a misstatement during immigration proceedings.

Advancing Justice | AAJC and many of the organizations joining on the amicus brief have been dedicated to promoting citizenship and removing barriers to naturalization through free information workshops, citizenship clinics, and other services.  The naturalization process can be long and complicated and requires applicants to make hundreds of factual representations, in response to often ambiguous questions, about events spanning their entire lives.

If any trivial factual misstatement could violate the statutes at issue in this case, untold numbers of naturalized citizens would be at risk of losing their citizenship and liberty years after they have become full American citizens. Based on this case, someone accused of knowingly providing the wrong street number in an address (203 instead of 205), for example, could be subject to criminal proceedings and having their citizenship revoked– a worrying threat given the current administration’s wide-reaching enforcement and deportation activities.

The risk of criminal prosecution and denaturalization also threatens to create two unequal classes of citizens. Natural-born Americans would enjoy complete security in their citizenship, while naturalized immigrants would fear the loss of their citizenship and freedom — even years after naturalizing — based on any knowing misstatement or omission during the naturalization process, no matter how trivial.

Naturalization greatly improves the lives of immigrants, and naturalized citizens contribute to the economic and civic life of the nation. Any rule that unreasonably chills naturalization is harmful to the values and success of the United States.


Asian Americans Advancing Justice