The Trump administration announced this week the creation of a new section within the Department of Justice that will focus on investigating and stripping away the citizenship of foreign-born individuals who obtained it illegally, such as war criminals and terrorists.
A Wednesday DOJ news release explained that the section will be called the "Denaturalization Section" and will exist inside the department's Office of Immigration Litigation. The release said that the move "underscores the Department's commitment to bring justice to terrorists, war criminals, sex offenders, and other fraudsters who illegally obtained naturalization."
During the naturalization process, prospective citizens fill out a form that asks a series of questions, including whether the applicant has ever been a part of a terrorist group or totalitarian group or has ever been involved in the commission of serious crimes such as genocide, torture, religious persecution, or working at a labor camp. The form also asks the applicant if he or she has ever been involved with "forcing, or trying to force, someone to have any kind of sexual contact or relations."
Under federal law, naturalized citizens can have their status revoked if federal prosecutors are able to prove that it was "illegally procured" or "procured by concealment of a material fact or by willful misrepresentation." Such cases have no statute of limitations, the department also pointed out.
"When a terrorist or sex offender becomes a U.S. citizen under false pretenses, it is an affront to our system — and it is especially offensive to those who fall victim to these criminals," Assistant Attorney General Jody Hunt said about the new office. "The Denaturalization Section will further the Department's efforts to pursue those who unlawfully obtained citizenship status and ensure that they are held accountable for their fraudulent conduct."
The release also gave examples of successful denaturalization cases, such as one involving an individual who had been convicted of terrorism in Egypt, another involving an individual convicted of executing unarmed civilians and prisoners of war "during the Balkans conflict," and another case dealing with "an individual who sexually abused a minor victim for multiple years."
The department also said that while it's been successful in litigating denaturalization cases in the past, the creation of the new stand-alone section was prompted by a "growing number of referrals anticipated from law enforcement agencies."
This isn't the first action the administration has taken to combat citizenship fraud. In June 2018, then-Citizenship and Immigration Services Director L. Francis Cissna told the Associated Press that his agency would bring in a team of lawyers and enforcement officers who would be tasked with rooting out immigrants who had been naturalized under false pretenses and refer the cases to the DOJ.
"We finally have a process in place to get to the bottom of all these bad cases and start denaturalizing people who should not have been naturalized in the first place," Cissna told the outlet at the time.