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Matthew Kolken on Deportation And Removal

SCOTUS Rules on When a Naturalized Citizen May Lose their Citizenship

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The Supreme Court has issued a decision relating to when a naturalized citizen may be automatically stripped of their citizenship in the context of a criminal proceeding for fraud based on an immaterially false statement.

Maslenjak v. United States
:

1. The text of §1425(a) makes clear that, to secure a conviction, the Government must establish that the defendant’s illegal act played a role in her acquisition of citizenship. To “procure . . . naturalization” means to obtain it. And the adverbial phrase “contrary to law” specifies how a person must procure naturalization so as to run afoul of the statute: illegally. Thus, someone “procure[s], contrary to law,naturalization” when she obtains citizenship illegally. As ordinary usage demonstrates, the most natural understanding of that phrase is that the illegal act must have somehow contributed to the obtaining of citizenship. To get citizenship unlawfully is to get it through an unlawful means—and that is just to say that an illegality played some role in its acquisition.

The Government’s contrary view—that §1425(a) requires only a violation in the course of procuring naturalization—falters on the way language naturally works. Suppose that an applicant for citizenship fills out the paperwork in a government office with a knife tucked away in her handbag. She has violated the law against possessing a weapon in a federal building, and she has done so in the course of procuring citizenship, but nobody would say she has “procure[d]” her citizenship “contrary to law.” That is because the violation of law and the acquisition of citizenship in that example are merely coincidental:The one has no causal relation to the other. Although the Government attempts to define such examples out of the statute, that effort falls short for multiple reasons. Most important, the Government’s attempted carve-out does nothing to alter the linguistic understanding that gives force to the examples the Government would exclude.Under ordinary rules of language usage, §1425(a) demands a causal or means-end connection between a legal violation and naturalization.

The broader statutory context reinforces the point, because the Government’s reading would create a profound mismatch between the requirements for naturalization and those for denaturalization: Some legal violations that do not justify denying citizenship would nonetheless justify revoking it later. For example, lies told out of“embarrassment, fear, or a desire for privacy” (rather than “for the purpose of obtaining [immigration] benefits”) are not generally disqualifying under the statutory requirement of “good moral character.”Kungys v. United States, 485 U. S. 759, 780; 8 U. S. C.§1101(f)(6). But under the Government’s reading of §1425(a), any lie told in the naturalization process would provide a basis for rescinding citizenship. The Government could thus take away on one day what it was required to give the day before. And by so unmooring the revocation of citizenship from its award, the Government opens the door to a world of disquieting consequences—which this Court would need far stronger textual support to believe Congress intended. The statute Congress passed, most naturally read, strips a person of citizenship not when she committed any illegal act during the naturalization process, but only when that act played some role in her naturalization. Pp. 4–9.

2. When the underlying illegality alleged in a §1425(a) prosecution is a false statement to government officials, a jury must decide whether the false statement so altered the naturalization process as to have influenced an award of citizenship. Because the entire naturalization process is set up to provide little room for subjective preferencesor personal whims, that inquiry is properly framed in objective terms: To decide whether a defendant acquired citizenship by means of a lie, a jury must evaluate how knowledge of the real facts would have affected a reasonable government official properly applying naturalization law.

If the facts the defendant misrepresented are themselves legally disqualifying for citizenship, the jury can make quick work of that inquiry. In such a case, the defendant’s lie must have played a role in her naturalization. But that is not the only time a jury can find that a defendant’s lies had the requisite bearing on a naturalization decision, because lies can also throw investigators off a trail leading to disqualifying facts. When relying on such an investigation-based theory, the Government must make a two-part showing. Initially,the Government must prove that the misrepresented fact was sufficiently relevant to a naturalization criterion that it would have prompted reasonable officials, “seeking only evidence concerning citizenship qualifications,” to undertake further investigation. Kungys,485 U. S., at 774, n. 9. If that much is true, the inquiry turns to the prospect that such an investigation would have borne disqualifying fruit. The Government need not show definitively that its investigation would have unearthed a disqualifying fact. It need only establish that the investigation “would predictably have disclosed” some legal disqualification. Id., at 774. If that is so, the defendant’s misrepresentation contributed to the citizenship award in the way§1425(a) requires. This demanding but still practicable causal standard reflects the real-world attributes of cases premised on what an unhindered investigation would have found.

When the Government can make its two-part showing, the defendant may overcome it by establishing that she was qualified for citizenship(even though she misrepresented facts that suggested the opposite). Thus, whatever the Government shows with respect to a thwarted investigation, qualification for citizenship is a complete defense to a prosecution under §1425(a). Pp. 10–15.3. Measured against this analysis, the jury instructions in this case were in error. The jury needed to find more than an unlawful false statement. However, it was not asked to—and so did not—make any of the necessary determinations. The Government’s assertion that any instructional error was harmless is left for resolution on remand.Pp. 15–16.821 F. 3d 675, vacated and remanded.

KAGAN, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which ROBERTS, C. J.,and KENNEDY, GINSBURG, BREYER, and SOTOMAYOR, JJ., joined. GORSUCH, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and concurring in the judgment, in which THOMAS, J., joined. ALITO, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment.

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Updated 06-22-2017 at 10:47 AM by MKolken

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