In an important decision, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously today that an immigrant cannot be stripped of citizenship for making minor misstatements. In the case of Maslenjak v. United States a woman who lied about her husband’s immigration status during an interview with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) was stripped of her citizenship. The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld her citizenship being taken away.
During oral arguments before the Supreme Court in May, attorneys for the government argued that virtually all fibs could lead to an immigrant being stripped of citizenship later. Chief Justice Roberts asked the Justice Department’s lawyer if an immigrant who had driven at 60 miles per hour in a 55 mile per hour zone could have his citizenship taken away if he had lied about it to the Immigration Service before being naturalized. When the Justice Department lawyer said that he might, Justice Roberts replied “Oh come on.”
Justice Sonia Sotomayor asked another hypothetical about someone who had been the target of anti-LGBT abuse as a child. “One of the requirements is that you list any nickname that you’ve ever had…And his buddies were calling him the F word in terms of gender identity. He’s not; never was. Or is and disclosed it in another part of the application. But that word embarrassed him, continues to embarrass him, and it has no importance to the decision-making process. Is that failure to disclose the use of a childhood nickname that is embarrassing, that has no relationship to anything whatsoever, could you prosecute that person?” While the Justice Department lawyer said he did not think it was enough to take away citizenship, he could not offer a rationale for distinguishing this situation.
In the past, only a knowing misrepresentation of a material fact could lead to denaturalization. The Supreme Court decided to stick with that standard today and rejected the notion that lies that really have no relation to the granting of citizenship can be the basis for revoking that status.