A United States Citizenship and Immigration Services team in Los Angeles has been reviewing more than 2,500 naturalization files for possible denaturalization, focusing on identity fraud and willful misrepresentation. More than 100 cases have been referred to the Department of Justice for possible action.
“We’re receiving cases where [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] believes there is fraud, where our systems have identified that individuals used more than one identity, sometimes more than two or three identities,” said Dan Renaud, the associate director for field operations at the citizenship agency. “Those are the cases we’re pursuing.”
From 2009 to 2016, an average of 16 civil denaturalization cases were filed each year, Department of Justice data show. Last year, more than 25 cases were filed. Through mid-July of this year, the Justice Department has filed 20 more.
Separately, ICE has a pending budget request for $207.6 million to hire 300 agents to help root out citizenship fraud, as well as to “complement work site enforcement, visa overstay investigations, forensic document examination, outreach programs and other activities,” according to the agency.
The stage for increasing cases of denaturalization was set during the waning days of the Obama administration.
In September 2016, a report released by the inspector general for the Department of Homeland Security showed that 315,000 old fingerprint records for immigrants who either had criminal convictions or deportation orders against them had not been uploaded into a database used to check identities.
It turned out that because of incomplete fingerprint records, citizenship had been granted to at least 858 people who had been ordered deported or removed under another identity. USCIS began looking into cases.
John Sandweg, who headed U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement under Obama, said that when it came to denaturalization, officers considered it on a case-by-case basis, “looking at the seriousness of the offense and then deciding if it made sense to dedicate the resources.”
“It was looked at more in that context — let’s look for serious felons who may have duped the system because we didn’t digitize fingerprints yet. Not so much … let’s just find people where there’s eligibilities to denaturalize because we want to try to reduce the ranks of naturalized U.S. citizens.”