A blog about U.S. immigration matters by Paul Szeto, a former INS attorney and an experienced immigration attorney and counsel. Contact Info: 732-632-9888, http://www.1visa1.com/ (All information is not legal advice and is subject to change without prior notice.)

Monday, June 26, 2017

False Statements Need to be Material to Support Denaturalization

Mrs. Maslenmjak made incorrect statements when she applied for political asylum in the United States. Her application was approved and she eventually became a naturalized U.S. citizen.  Years later, based on these incorrect statements, the U.S. government initiated legal actions to "de-naturalize"  her.  In her defense, Mrs. Maslemjak argued that she can be denaturalized only if her false statements had made a difference in the government's decision to grant her refugee status. The United States Supreme Court agreed. 

In 1998, Mrs. Maslenjak and her husband, both ethnic Serbian, lived in Bosnia during the war between Bosnia and Serbia. She successfully applied for asylum based on her family's fear of persecution. In her application, she stated that her husband had failed to serve in the Bosnian Serb army.  Based on the approval of her asylum application, she became a permanent resident of the United States.  Subsequently, DHS discovered that her husband did serve in the Bosnian Serb army and prosecuted him for making false statements. Mrs. Maslenjak applied for naturalization immediately and was granted citizenship.  She testified in her husband's court hearings and admitted that she lied when she said that her husband did not serve in the Bosnian Serb army. 

The U.S. Government prosecuted Mrs. Maslenjak for making these false statements and also stripped her citizenship.  She appealed to the Sixth Court of Appeals, arguing that she should be allowed to keep her citizenship since the untruthful statements that she made were immaterial to her asylum claim - which was based on fear of persecution by Bosnian Muslims.  The Sixth Circuit affirmed the lower court's decision, by holding that any false statements are sufficient to support denaturalization pursuant to 18 USC §1425(a), the relevant Federal statute. 
Undaunted, Mrs. Maslenik appealed to the United States Supreme Court, which sided with her.

By using the most natural way of understanding the statue, the Supreme Court held that in order to use any false statements by application for denaturalization, they must be material and have somehow contributed to the approval of citizenship.   In other words, there must be a direct causal relationship between the false statements and the eventual award of citizenship in order to strip away somebody's citizenship under §1425(a).  And whether or not there is such as causal link should be decided by the jury.  

Here, during the trial of Mrs. Maslenik, the jury instructions did not specify that her false statements must have been material and contributed to the outcome of her asylum application.  Consequently, the Supreme Court vacated the Sixth Circuit decision and remanded the case to the lower court to provide proper instructions to the jury. 

The Supreme Court decision applied a balancing test between the need to prosecute false statements and the rights of naturalized citizens.  To protect the rights of naturalized citizens, denaturalization should be based on some very strong reasons but not just any illegal conduct during the naturalization process.  It should be noted that Mrs. Maslenik might still lose her citizenship at the end.  A jury could conclude that her asylum application was granted partially based on her false testimony that her husband did not serve in the military as required,  If so, her false statements were material in the asylum decision and, according to the U.S. Supreme Court decision, she would be stripped of her citizenship. 

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