U.S. Can’t Revoke Citizenship Over Minor Falsehoods, Supreme Court Rules – The New York Times

Same logic would apply in Canadian cases of misrepresentation, whether it was material or not:

The justices unanimously rejected the government’s position that it could revoke the citizenship of Americans who made even trivial misstatements in their naturalization proceedings.

During arguments in April, several justices seemed indignant and incredulous at the government’s hard-line approach in the case, Maslenjak v. United States, No. 16-309.

They asked about a form that people seeking American citizenship must complete. It requires applicants to say, for instance, whether they had ever committed a criminal offense, however minor, even if there was no arrest. A government lawyer, in response to questioning, said that failing to disclose a speeding violation could be enough to revoke citizenship even years later.

Writing for the majority, Justice Elena Kagan said that the law required a tighter connection between the lie and the procurement of citizenship.

“We hold that the government must establish that an illegal act by the defendant played some role in her acquisition of citizenship,” she wrote. “When the illegal act is a false statement, that means demonstrating that the defendant lied about facts that would have mattered to an immigration official, because they would have justified denying naturalization or would predictably have led to other facts warranting that result.”

The case concerned Divna Maslenjak, an ethnic Serb who said she had faced persecution in Bosnia. She was granted refugee status, at least partly on that basis, and became a United States citizen in 2007.

In the process, she made a false statement about her husband, saying she and her family had also feared retribution because he had avoided conscription by the Bosnian Serb military. In fact, he had served in a Bosnian Serb military unit, one that had been implicated in war crimes.

When this came to light, Ms. Maslenjak was charged with obtaining her citizenship illegally. She sought to argue that her lie was immaterial, but the trial judge told the jury that any lie, however significant, was enough. Ms. Maslenjak was convicted, her citizenship was ordered revoked, and she and her husband were deported to Serbia.

The Supreme Court, having ruled that Ms. Maslenjak had been convicted under the wrong standard, returned the case to the lower courts to consider whether the government may try the case again under the stricter standard.

Given the significance of Ms. Maslenjak’s lie, she may lose again in a retrial.

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About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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