When Davinder S. came to America, he arrived without any travel documents or proof of identity. He petitioned for asylum under a different first name, Baljinder, but he abandoned that petition. Eventually, he married a U.S. citizen and became a lawful permanent resident. Years later, he became a U.S. citizen — again under the name Baljinder.
Last year, the Department of Justice filed a denaturalization case against Davinder. It won because he failed to appear in court to contest the case. As a result, he was stripped of his citizenship. His status reverted to that of a permanent resident — but he can now be deported.
When you apply for citizenship, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) checks your fingerprints against repositories from the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI. However, those repositories weren’t digitized until recently, so the checks weren’t always complete.
Unfortunately, in 2016 an internal USCIS investigation revealed that incomplete fingerprint checks may have allowed hundreds of people to be granted U.S. citizenship despite having existing deportation orders.
Davinder’s case was part of Operation Janus, an initiative begun by the USCIS in January 2017. The agency has been reviewing citizenship cases where a fingerprint search may have been inaccurate because the digital fingerprint repositories were incomplete.
Davinder was the first to lose his citizenship under Operation Janus, but the USCIS has said it plans to refer at least 1,600 other cases for prosecution. The agency has just announced it is opening a new Los Angeles office for Operation Janus and plans to hire “several dozen lawyers and immigration officers.”
Their goal? To identify people suspected of using false identities to gain green cards and citizenship and to attempt to denaturalize them.
A small misstatement on your immigration paperwork could spell trouble
Becoming a U.S. citizen is supposed to be permanent. The U.S. Supreme Court said in 1967 that there are only two situations in which citizenship ends: when the citizen willingly renounces it or when the government can prove fraud in the application. Last year, the Supreme Court clarified that, in order to threaten a person’s naturalization, the fraud has to have played a direct role in their having been granted naturalization.
In other words, it’s not enough for the USCIS to find a falsehood of any kind. In order to denaturalize someone, they have to prove that the government relied directly upon the misstatement when granting the person citizenship.
That said, the administration is ramping up Operation Janus and plans to use digitized fingerprint databases to determine when a naturalized citizen has used a false name on their citizenship application. They may also be looking for evidence of other misstatements made on citizenship applications.
If you are accused of fraud on a citizenship application, call a lawyer
If you are a naturalized citizen, you could be contacted by the USCIS about possible fraud on your citizenship application. If this has happened to you, you may be under a great deal of stress.
Do not panic. Instead, contact an immigration attorney right away. There may be many defenses available to a denaturalization case.
You do need to protect your rights. Davinder S. lost his denaturalization case because he did not defend himself. Don’t make the same mistake.