Press release

A New Report Warns of Looming Threat to U.S. Citizenship, Calls for Moratorium on Denaturalizations

September 17, 2019
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NEW YORK—A new report from the Open Society Justice Initiative calls for a federal moratorium on denaturalizations until independent oversight is secured. The report also warns of a looming threat to U.S. citizenship due to the Trump administration’s effective renunciation of longstanding norms and constitutional protections. 

Launched on Constitution Day and Citizenship Day, Unmaking Americans: Insecure Citizenship in the United States, analyzes a web of policy initiatives in U.S. citizenship and immigration law. The report found that the U.S. is at a critical juncture as the current administration attempts to shrink American citizenship, and pick and choose who is allowed to participate in American democracy. 

Researchers found that the Trump administration’s current denaturalization cases are targeting naturalized citizens based on country of origin data, which serves as a proxy for race, ethnicity, and religion. Under this administration, the largest proportion of denaturalization cases target citizens of South Asian, Mexican, Haitian, and Nigerian descent.

 Laura Bingham, senior managing legal officer at the Open Society Justice Initiative and lead author on the report said, “Citizenship-stripping has a shameful past in this country and was often pursued based on perceptions of foreignness, positions in society, political opinions, or beliefs. But Americans have long rejected these zealous tactics and can agree that whether you were born in the United States or were naturalized, American citizenship is American citizenship. The hundreds of individual cases we examined are canaries in the coalmine for the stealthy but sweeping erosion of U.S. citizenship. Our report warns of a tiered system of citizenship emerging, a trend that should alarm and appall all Americans.” 

The United States is home to over 21 million naturalized citizens. Citizenship is a crucial tool for the integration of immigrant communities. From the 1960's to the early 2000's, denaturalization cases were extremely rare. Denaturalization was largely considered a last resort, primarily applied to alleged Nazis and other war criminals who had deliberately concealed their identity in order to escape accountability. Unmaking Americans warns that the Trump administration is using denaturalization proceedings as a tool for general immigration enforcement. On average, there have been more annual denaturalizations under the current administration than under any of the past eight administrations. 

According to the report’s findings, the current administration is also diverging from past practice in its more aggressive approach to denying and revoking Americans’ passports, which can have the same effect as denaturalization. When denials are contested in court, proceedings that must be initiated by citizens against the Department of State, the government now expends greater resources to try cases and rarely pursues settlement, even though the vast majority of cases result in confirmation of U.S. citizenship. 

The report shares the real stories of individuals born in the Rio Grande Valley who have lived as U.S. citizens for decades, and have suddenly found themselves stripped of their passports and defending themselves in court under high financial and personal burdens. The report calls for additional protections that address discrimination in the revocation of passports, including the right to counsel and placing the burden of proof on the government to prove non-citizenship, instead of everyday citizens. 

“This report highlights the Trump administration’s insidious and systemic tactics to strip Americans of their citizenship through denaturalization and passport revocations of U.S. citizens," said Sameera Hafiz, policy director at Immigrant Legal Resource Center. "These efforts, in addition to dramatic regulatory changes, harmful rhetoric and increased enforcement of immigrant communities have undercut the ability of many of our community members to live freely and be politically engaged. On this Citizenship Day, we urge our lawmakers to demand transparency and accountability to ensure we are a country that embraces diversity.”

Manar Waheed, ACLU senior legislative and advocacy counsel said, “The Trump administration has filed denaturalization cases at unprecedented levels, discarding longstanding legal norms and protections. From denaturalization cases and passport revocations to budget requests indicating it wants to investigate 700,000 American citizens, this administration is threatening the rights of Americans to vote, serve in certain offices, or even remain in the United States. This attempt to change the rules is a part of a nationalist agenda to get rid of immigrants of particular background and threatens the very premise of whether immigrants can ever truly be American.”

The relevant government departments and agencies began releasing documents covered by the FOIA request in 2019. Documents released can be viewed via the Open Society Foundations account on Document Cloud.

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