If you're one of the thousands of foreign nationals who become naturalized US citizens each year, you're to be congratulated. The naturalization process can be long, and it takes a lot of effort on your part. You may not know it, though, but it's possible for you to lose your US citizenship.
Denaturalization is how the US government revokes or cancels your US citizenship because you've done something that's contrary to being a US citizen. There are several things that can jeopardize your citizenship:
- Concealing facts or lying to the immigration officials
- Refusing to testify before the US Congress
- Joining certain organizations
- Receiving certain military discharges
Reasons for Revocation
The US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and the US Department of State can make a determination that your citizenship should be revoked. The US immigration law is very specific about what can lead to revocation of your citizenship as well as the revocation process.
If you concealed facts or lied about important matters at the time you were interviewed by the USCIS on your application for naturalization, then your US citizenship may be revoked. Some examples include intentionally not listing a criminal conviction, giving a false name or lying about the period of time you've been in the US on your application.
Refusing to Testify
Your US citizenship can be cancelled if you refuse to testify before a committee formed by the US Congress to investigate your participation in subversive activities. Your refusal to testify, however, has to be within 10 years after the USCIS granted your application for naturalization.
What's a "subversive activity?" It can be many things, but for revocation purposes it generally means doing or teaching others how to do some act that's designed to:
- Overthrow the US government, especially through violence and force
- Harm or injure US government officials
Membership in Subversive Organizations
Membership in a subversive organization or group within five years after you became a naturalized citizen could lead to revocation of your citizenship. The Communist Party and terrorist groups are the classic examples of "subversive" organizations.
Military Service and Discharge
It's possible to become a naturalized citizen based upon your service in the US armed forces. If, however, you are dishonorably discharged before you've served five years honorably, your citizenship may be cancelled. For example, immigrant A enlisted in the US Army in 2005 and was sent to a combat unit in Iraq. In 2007 she applied for and was granted naturalization based upon her honorable military service. In 2008, she was dishonorably discharged. Because A didn't have five years of honorable service before her dishonorable discharge, her US citizenship may be revoked.
For a naturalized citizen, US citizenship can be revoked only through a judicial action, that is, a suit filed in court. Generally, these suits are filed in a federal district court. Typically, the suit is filed in the district court where you live or reside. If you aren't living in the US, the suit can be filed in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia or in the district court for the area where you last resided.
You have to be given "notice" of the suit. The US government has to tell you that a denaturalization action has been filed against you and where the suit was filed. You'll be given or "served" a copy of the complaint that's been filed with the court, which tells you why the denaturalization action was filed. Also, the US government must file "affidavit of good cause" detailing exactly why the government is trying to revoke your citizenship.
You have 60 days to file an answer to the government's complaint, where you can challenge the government's claims and raise any defenses against revocation. For example, you may claim that the revocation is based on wrong information, such as that the government is mistaken about a past criminal conviction that it claims you failed to report on your naturalization application.
The government must prove its case against you by evidence that is clear, unequivocal, convincing and doesn't leave any doubt that your citizenship should be revoked. If it's successful, your certificate of citizenship will be revoked immediately.
Obviously, having your US citizenship revoked is serious. If your citizenship is cancelled, you can be removed or deported from the US. It's not only you that you have to worry about. In some instances, if your citizenship is revoked, members of your family could lose their citizenship too, if their citizenship depends upon your status of being a naturalized citizen. For example, if you're a naturalized citizen and have a child born outside the US, your child may be a US citizen based upon your naturalized status. In some cases, if your citizenship is revoked, your child's citizenship may be revoked as well.
Because of the serious consequences of denaturalization, you should get the advice of an experienced immigration lawyer if a denaturalization lawsuit is filed against you.
Questions for Your Attorney
- How will having an attorney benefit me in a denaturalization suit?
- I was born in the US and my father is a naturalized citizen, as was my mother, who recently passed away. I just discovered that my father has children from a previous marriage living in his native country. Should I inform the USCIS?
- I've been served with a denaturalization lawsuit, but I can't find my certificate of naturalization. Can I get a copy of it?