To lie on one’s application for United States citizenship can put you in deportation proceedings if the lie is ever discovered. Historically, any lie, even the most inconsequential falsehood about petty issues, was grounds for revocation of citizenship. However, in June 2017, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down a ruling that changed this—a ruling that will be significant for many future immigrants who decide to naturalize.
The Court was unanimous in its ruling in favor of Divna Maslenjak, an ethnic Serb originally from Bosnia, who admitted to lying on her application for refugee status about her husband’s military service. Both of the last two administrations have held that this made her deportable, and indeed she and her husband were both deported in October 2016.
The lower courts’ ruling on the issue held that federal immigration law required deportation of anyone who admitted to willfully lying on their application for citizenship or refugee status—the relevant law actually suggests imprisonment, but it is common to simply deport non-citizens instead.
Justice Kagan wrote the majority opinion, stating on behalf of her colleagues that the interpretation given to this particular law by the administration was incorrect on its face (as opposed to wrong in practice). Historically, the Immigration & Nationality Act (INA) was interpreted to mean that any lie, no matter how inconsequential or irrelevant, was instant grounds for deportation. The justices understandably questioned the amount of discretion this would give federal prosecutors in reviewing which cases to try. In theory, at any point, in theory, a citizen could be ambushed by the government alleging they had lied about a 30-year old ticket or infraction with no relevance to today. Across the board, the Court voted against such wide discretion, holding that only a relevant lie on citizenship or refugee applications should result in revocation of status..
Potential Implications for Others
This ruling may not actually help Ms. Maslenjak—her case is now sent back to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals for retrial, to determine whether her lie was relevant to her citizenship application or not. However, this is an important case simply because of the precedent it sets, especially in an age where immigrants (both with and without documentation) are facing unprecedented scrutiny. It gives those who may have lied or concealed information out of shame or personal privacy concerns a way to retain their citizenship legally and ethically, while still allowing §1425 of the INA to catch those whose lies are very relevant to their obtaining immigration benefits.
A good example is the case of Rasmea Odeh. Odeh was born in what is today Israel, and in her youth was convicted of terrorism for participating in a bombing in Jerusalem in 1969. She said she was tortured into confessing by Israeli forces, but the claim was never substantiated. Either way, she immigrated to the United States upon her release in a prisoner exchange. She became a citizen in 2004, having stated twice that she had no criminal record of any kind. Some years later, Odeh was outed to immigration enforcement, tried and convicted of immigration fraud. Despite her protestations, her lie was extremely relevant to her ability to obtain immigration benefits—a conviction for terrorism renders one inadmissible and cannot be waived.
Consult an Immigration Attorney
One should not lie on official documents. However, it is still important to be aware of the potential outcomes if you did so in the past. The talented Chicago deportation defense attorneys at Mevorah Law Offices LLC will do our best to give you all the information you need to make an informed decision on your future. Contact us today to set up an initial appointment.
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