Think the latest crazy bout of politics has nothing to do with you, in particular? Think again. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has made a quiet, largely unpublicized move to target naturalized citizens.
L. Francis Cissna, director of USCIS, announced last month that several thousand previously approved applications for citizenship would be reviewed. This includes files and fingerprints that will be pulled from old records and reexamined.
The process of revoking citizenship in this manner is called “denaturalizing” and has up until now been sparingly used. The WP reports that it was “reserved… for egregious crimes or acts of fraud.” The AP reports that “most U.S. efforts to strip immigrants of their citizenship focused largely on suspected war criminals who lied on their immigration paperwork, most notably former Nazis,” in the past.
The current measure would be targeting a wider net. According to the same AP report, an Indian man named Baljinder Singh was accused by federal authorities of using an alias when he applied for citizenship: “Authorities said Singh used a different name when he arrived in the United States in 1991. He was ordered deported the next year and a month later [he] applied for asylum using the name Baljinder Singh…” He then married an American, obtained a green card and successfully petitioned for naturalization. Earlier this year, his case reached a federal judge, who denaturalized Singh’s status.
The WP hypothesizes a similar case with a Filipina: “A woman from the Philippines comes to the United States on a work visa in the 1980s and overstays. She is arrested and deported. A few years later, the woman marries an American citizen and returns. On her naturalization form, she deliberately does not disclose the previous deportation, and eventually earns U.S. citizenship. Twenty years later, when the fingerprints from her first deportation are digitized, the woman is notified she will stripped of her citizenship for lying on her application forms.
On Twitter, Cissna commented: “The people who are going to be targeted by this — they know full well who they are because they were ordered removed under a different identity and they intentionally lied about it when they applied for citizenship later.”
But a change from the status quo caused by the memo is that archived records are specifically being targeted towards this end. A new agency, set to open in Los Angeles next year, will be hiring lawyers to investigate the “bad cases,” according to Cissna. The latest USCIS data lists 2,536 cases that will be up for review.
Another change brought about by Cissna’s undertaking is the reversal of the current precedent, where old files are reviewed only if they come into attention as a course of normal proceedings. With this move, a process has been opened up whereby the targeting of naturalized citizens, if only “for review,” could become a routine feature of the USCIS. Cissna did not disclose the cost of the new agency, but the funding will be coming out USCIS’ regular budget. Ostensibly, this would require cuts in other areas, like service and support.