In the United States, permanent residents can become U.S. citizens after meeting a few specific requirements.
Becoming a U.S. citizen has several advantages, such as priority in bringing their relatives to the United States.
However, in certain rare circumstances, it’s possible to lose your naturalized citizenship. This process is called “denaturalization,” and it can happen for a couple of different reasons.
In this article, we’ll cover the various ways that you might lose your naturalized U.S. citizenship. However, keep in mind that the cases we’ll cover are extremely rare.
The large majority of individuals who naturalize through the normal processes are not at risk of losing their citizenship.
What is Denaturalization?
“Denaturalization” is the process through which the U.S. government attempts to strip you of your citizenship.
This process begins when the government files a formal complaint against you. You’ll then have 60 days to respond to this complaint.
Generally, this is the point at which you’ll hire a lawyer and prepare your defense.
Unlike other immigration matters, denaturalization cases are tried in federal court, not immigration court. This means that the standard of evidence is much higher.
However, it’s also possible to appeal the denaturalization verdict to a higher court.
If you lose your denaturalization case, the court will revoke your U.S. citizenship. You will then be placed in expedited removal proceedings and eventually deported.
Note that, depending on the circumstances, your children, spouse, or other family members might lose their citizenship as well.
Generally, this is because you sponsored their entry into the country through a family visa or similar method.
What are the Grounds for Denaturalization?
As mentioned above, denaturalization is quite rare. However, due to recent policy changes it may be becoming more common.
As a general rule, the government only initiates denaturalization proceedings under a small set of very limited circumstances.
Most of these relate to instances of fraud or deception committed during the naturalization process.
Illegal Procurement of Naturalization
“Illegal Procurement of Naturalization” occurs when a person who should not have been eligible for naturalization becomes naturalized anyway.
Generally, this is due to deception or falsified information that is materially relevant to the naturalization case.
Note that, in the past, the Supreme Court has used a very specific definition of “relevant information.”
According to Malsenjuk vs. The United States, the concealed facts must have played a direct part in your naturalization petition to be considered “relevant.”
Put another way, you cannot lose your citizenship over “small omissions” which were irrelevant to your naturalization case.
For example, misremembering an individual’s birthday, claiming that you escaped in a pickup truck when it was actually a 4-door sedan, or forgetting a hotel name could all count as irrelevant details in certain situations.
Generally speaking, “relevant information” would include things such as criminal history, identity information (i.e. pretending to be someone else), or falsifying your country or origin.
For this reason, you should always disclose your criminal history during the naturalization process.
Otherwise, it might result in a federal case and deportation down the line.
Dishonorable Military Discharge
If you based your naturalization claim on your military service, you might lose your citizenship if you receive a dishonorable discharge.
Generally, this only occurs if you receive your discharge within five years of your naturalization.
Membership in Subversive Groups
Under federal law, membership in certain subversive groups is also grounds for denaturalization.
This primarily includes recognized terrorist groups, as well as active membership in certain political parties which have committed crimes against humanity, such as the Rwandan MRND.
As a recent example of this law in action, see the recent case where a federal judge stripped a former Nazi guard of his citizenship and scheduled him for deportation.
There are several myths surrounding denaturalization, mostly stemming from fears that it might happen to recently naturalized immigrants.
Fortunately, many of the scariest aspects of the process are actually myths, and denaturalization itself is actually far rarer than you might realize.
Myth: You Can Lose Your Citizenship by Remaining Outside the U.S.
FACT: It is possible to lose your green card by leaving the country for an extended period of time.
However, citizenship is permanent unless revoked for one of the reasons listed above. You can leave the U.S. for years or decades at a time and still remain a citizen.
Myth: You Can Lose Your Citizenship for Any Crime
FACT: As mentioned, only very specific criminal acts can result in denaturalization.
Outside of exceptional circumstances, you will only lose your citizenship over a crime if you failed to disclose that crime on your naturalization paperwork.
Myth: Denaturalization Never Happens
FACT: Denaturalization cases are quite rare in the United States, but they do happen on occasion. In 2017, for example, the Department of Justice filed 30 separate denaturalization cases.
However, these numbers have changed rapidly over the past few years, with the Department of Justice even recently announcing a possible new law enforcement section dedicated to investigating cases eligible for denaturalization.
The American Immigration Lawyers Association has a wonderful page on this topic if you’d like to read more.
How Can I Avoid Losing My Naturalized Citizenship?
As mentioned above, most naturalized citizens don’t need to worry about losing their citizenship.
Especially if you hired an experienced immigration lawyer to help you with your case, the chance of your citizenship being called into question is very small.
However, if you’re still worried there are two things you can do to proactively avoid denaturalization.
First, fully and honestly complete all of your naturalization paperwork.
Make sure not to withhold information that might be relevant to your case, even if the forms don’t explicitly ask for it.
For example, a common mistake is to improperly answer criminal history questions on the N-400 naturalization form.
Second, make sure you consult an immigration attorney during the naturalization process.
A good immigration attorney can help make sure you cover all of your bases and point out other common places people make mistakes on their applications.
While denaturalization cases are more common than they used to be, they’re still quite rare.
As long as you avoid lying to or misleading USCIS during your naturalization, the chances of ever having to worry about losing your citizenship are extremely low.