Justice Initiative Sues U.S. Government for Denaturalization Records
NEW YORK—Today, the Open Society Justice Initiative filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Departments of Justice and Homeland Security under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) seeking the immediate release of government records concerning the denaturalization and deportation of Americans. The filing pertains to data on denaturalization cases brought from 1948 through 2018 and records on the administration of denaturalization cases since 2017. It comes weeks after the Justice Department announced the creation of a new official section within the Civil Division’s Office of Immigration Litigation dedicated to developing and litigating denaturalization cases.
The U.S. government’s expanded efforts to increase the number of denaturalization cases make the release of these records increasingly urgent—records which would allow the public to better understand the impacts of the current administration’s policy goals regarding denaturalization. To date, the U.S. government has provided only a few pages of historical case data in partial response to a FOIA request submitted by the Justice Initiative in December 2018.
“The Trump administration must acknowledge and adhere to the reality that in the United States, all Americans are equal under the Constitution,” said Laura Bingham, Open Society Justice Initiative senior managing legal officer for equality and inclusion. “The surge in government resources and unjustified reversal of longstanding practice pertaining to denaturalization have been shrouded in mystery and are designed to instill fear in American communities. The release of these records on denaturalization and deportation is crucial to building a case for more constitutional safeguards and ensuring government accountability.”
A report produced by the Justice Initiative last year found that denaturalization threatens a number of constitutional rights, particularly those established under the Fourteenth, Eighth, Fifth, and Sixth Amendments. Currently, individuals have no right to counsel in civil denaturalization proceedings, and, in criminal denaturalization proceedings, are subject to deportation while cases are still pending. Many denaturalization cases put Americans at risk of becoming stateless, yet the Justice Department and Homeland Security have failed to produce any records indicating that policies and procedures exist to identify and mitigate statelessness.
Under current policy, the Justice Department can pursue denaturalization lawsuits against citizens it claims committed fraud to obtain U.S. citizenship. The Justice Initiative has found that the government has applied this framework overly broadly by including small infractions, such as misstatements or minor errors made on a naturalization application. As a result, thousands of law-abiding citizens and their family members risk having their citizenship stripped. There is no statute of limitations in civil suits, and a 10-year statute in criminal cases, meaning that lawsuits have commenced based on minor errors on decades-old applications.
The Justice Initiative also found that the Trump administration filed three times as many civil denaturalization cases in its first two years in office than the average of the last eight administrations combined. It also determined that half of all cases filed between 2017 and 2018 disproportionately impact individuals originating from certain countries, suggesting that U.S. citizens are being targeted based on national origin as a proxy for race, ethnicity, and religion.