It’s a well-known fact that if you make a false statement during the process to become a U.S. citizen you can be stripped of your citizenship. However, a recent Supreme Court decision puts limits on the government’s citizenship-stripping abilities for untrue statements.
The decision is likely to complicate the efforts of the Trump administration to strip naturalized Americans of citizenship if they made false statements during the naturalization process.
In June, a six-justice majority of the high court ruled a naturalized citizen who lies on his or her application can only be subject to citizenship-stripping if the lie would have led officials to deny citizenship if uncovered or hid facts likely to lead to a denial.
The appeal related to a Bosnian woman who came to the United States as a refugee reported NPR.
Divna Maslenjak, an Ohio resident, lived in Bosnia during the 1990s during the bloody civil war. She was an ethnic Serb who applied for refugee status in the United States in 1998.
Maslenjak claimed she was in fear of persecution along with her husband and her two children, because of their ethnicity.
She claimed they were targets because her husband avoided serving in the Bosnian army by taking refuge in Serbia. The family escaped to the U.S. Maslenjak became a U.S. citizen in 2007.
Two years later new and disturbing details emerged about Maslenjak’s husband. U.S. officials discovered he served for five years in a Bosnian militia brigade that was implicated in the massacre of about 8,000 Muslims in the town of Srebrenica.
Maslenjak testified on behalf of her husband at the hearing. She said she’d given false information about him when seeking refugee status for the family. She answered no on her citizenship application form when asked if she’d ever given false information to gain entry to the U.S.
Her admission that she’d lied led to charges being brought against her.
The Bosnian woman was convicted, stripped of her citizenship and deported from the United States. She appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, claiming she was convicted because of an erroneous instruction.
Lawyers for Maslenjak said the judge, at the government’s request, instructed the jury it should convict her if it discovered any of her statements was false, even if the statement in question did not affect a decision to grant her citizenship.
The Supreme Court overturned the conviction against Maslenjak that led to citizenship-stripping.
Justice Elena Kagan wrote for her fellow justices.
“The Government must establish that an illegal act by the defendant played some role in her acquisition of citizenship.”
In other words, a lie must be pertinent to the decision to grant citizenship.
This is an important decision for citizenship in the United States. While applicants should never lie when applying for naturalization, it may not always be grounds to be stripped of citizenship.
An experienced Texas citizenship attorney can help you with your application and ensure no mistakes are made in the process. See our citizenship resources here or call us at (512) 474-4445.