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The Supreme Court addresses Denaturalization

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Maslenjak v. United States is now being heard before the Supreme Court. This case questions whether or not a statement found to be false must be material or immaterial to denaturalize a naturalized U.S. citizen.

Maslenjak became a citizen in 2007, but was indicted by a federal grand jury in 2013 for giving a false statement during the naturalization process. At trial, the federal government stated that Maslenjak’s false claims in 1998 about her husband avoiding military service helped her gain refugee status while Maslenjak argued that her fear of persecution was the reason for being granted refugee status. She stated that her claims regarding her husband were immaterial. However, the trial judge informed the jury that a false statement “doesn’t have to be material” to violate the federal law, leading the jury to find Maslenjak guilty on two counts, one of which includes the penalty of denaturalization. The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the verdict in April 2016, but created a split on the immateriality standard.

The immateriality standard is now being discussed by the U.S. Supreme Court, but the justices have expressed concern about the lower court’s ruling stating “it gives the federal government too much leverage and too much power over something that is as precious as citizenship.” The justices have also called into question what sorts of false statements could cost someone their citizenship, mentioning multiple hypotheticals. Justice Sotomayor noted that the naturalization application requires you to list all nicknames, which is difficult to do if taken literally. As of now, the Supreme Court seems to be leaning towards this as being too broad of a power to revoke citizenship.

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