Supreme Court Raises the Bar for Revoking US Citizenship


The US Supreme Court in its June 22nd ruling, has made it harder for the government to strip naturalized immigrants of their US citizenship.  In the case of Maslenjak v. United States, Divna Maslenjak, a naturalized citizen was deported because she had lied on her naturalization application, and her US citizenship was revoked.  The Supreme Court unanimously ruled in favor of Maslenjak, holding that she could not be stripped of her citizenship if the lie or omission was not relevant or material to the government’s decision to grant her citizenship. 

In this case, the government had granted refugee status to Maslenjak, an ethnic Serb, as result of the Bosnian war.  Maslenjak had told immigration officials that she feared persecution because her husband fled mandatory service in the Bosnian Serb Army when in fact her husband had served in the Bosnian army.  Years later, at the time of applying for US citizenship, on her application form, she denied giving “false or misleading information” to a government official while applying for an immigration benefit.  She became a US citizen in 2007. 

In 2013, Maslenjak was found guilty by a lower court of making false statements on her naturalization application and was stripped of her citizenship.  However, the Supreme Court unanimously sided with Maslenjak, throwing out the lower court’s ruling in favor of the government, and sent the matter back to that court for further consideration.  The Supreme Court stated that the government must prove that the offense was material to the decision to grant naturalization, and rejected the government’s argument that citizenship could be revoked for minor misstatements in the citizenship application process. 

In essence, the Supreme Court has limited the grounds for revoking citizenship by holding that unless the underlying omission or false statement is significant to the acquisition of citizenship, citizenship cannot be revoked for a false statement that has no bearing on the grant of citizenship. 

(Source: Supreme Court of the United States - https://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/16pdf/16-309_h31i.pdf)

Zeenat Phophalia, Esq., Senior Associate



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