ImmigrationNaturalized security threats retain their U.S. citizenship

Published 25 January 2013

There is a surprising number of naturalized citizens in the United States who have been charged and convicted of serious national security crimes — including terrorism, espionage, and theft of sensitive information and technology — in the last several years. A new study compares the relative ease with which aliens naturalize with the difficulty in stripping them of citizenship, even when they prove to be national security threats who have gamed the system.

This paper from the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) examines what it describes as the “surprising” number of naturalized citizens who have been charged and convicted of serious national security crimes — including terrorism, espionage, and theft of sensitive information and technology — in the last several years. It compares the relative ease with which aliens naturalize with the difficulty in stripping them of citizenship, even when they prove to be national security threats who have gamed the system.

The paper, titled “Upholding the Value of Our Citizenship: National Security Threats Should Be Denaturalized,” also discusses the fact that the federal government, and the Department of Homeland Security in particular, appear to have no systematic method of examining such cases to establish a baseline of “lessons learned” to attempt to weed out future threats, nor make any significant effort to denaturalize individuals even after they have committed serious national security offenses of the type described. It recommends that if the government will not or cannot take better care to prevent the admission of individuals who are serious threats to U.S. safety, then it should move more aggressively to reverse its mistakes and strip citizenship from those who commit national security crimes against our nation.

Key findings include:

  • In the past decade, dozens of naturalized U.S. citizens have been arrested and charged with a variety of serious national security-related offenses involving terrorism, spying, and theft of sensitive information and technology.
  • The federal government almost never revokes the citizenship of these naturalized citizens, even when it is clear that they concealed material facts regarding their extreme ideas or associations with terrorist groups or foreign intelligence organizations at the time they naturalized.
  • There is no central government repository of information about naturalized citizens who engage in serious national-security offenses.
  • The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has no systematic method for collecting the information nor efforts in place to review such cases, either for the purpose of instituting denaturalization or in order to discern whether there are steps it can and should take to better vet applicants during the naturalization process.
  • Administrative naturalization continues unabated with hundreds of thousands being granted citizenship each year (over 6.5 million in the last decade).
  • The consequence of these actions is to place all Americans at greater risk, as shown by the kinds of crimes for which many naturalized citizens have already been arrested, charged, convicted, and sentenced.
  • The now-defunct INS, a predecessor agency to DHS’s U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS), had created a parallel regulatory structure to administratively denaturalize individuals when facts came to light revealing that an applicant had been ineligible at the time of naturalization.
  • In July 2000, the federal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the regulation exceeded the INS’s authority and issued an injunction against its use.
  • As a result of the Ninth Circuit decision, presently the only way naturalized citizens can be stripped of citizenship is through criminal prosecution or civil suits in the already overburdened federal district courts.
  • Congress has within its power the ability to pass legislation re-instituting the capability to administratively denaturalize individuals granted citizenship in error or as a result of misrepresentations, concealment of materials facts, or other forms of fraud. Doing so would help protect the American people and enable the government to better ensure the integrity of the administrative naturalization process.
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