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DHS drafts plan to allow fraudsters to retain nationality

The Homeland Security Department is circulating a draft proposal that would dramatically curtail its attempts to withdraw citizenship from naturalized people on the basis of fraud.

The Washington Times saw a draft of the memo, from Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas to the heads of the three immigration agencies. The memo says people might not apply for citizenship because they fear losing it in the future.

“Naturalized citizens deserve the finality and security of their rights as citizens,” the memo reads. “The policies of the ministry should not create a crippling effect or obstacles for lawful permanent residents seeking to naturalize. “

Denaturalization is part of federal law. It requires a court order and can be filed as a result of a criminal case or a civil lawsuit.

The memo says the department should limit its denaturalization cases to cases of threats to national security, serious criminals such as convicts of sex crimes or human rights violators, or cases of fraud “with factors. aggravating “.

Business the ministry is currently pursuing could be canceled under the draft memo.

The memo appears to be aimed at unwinding Trump-era efforts to uncover and revoke the citizenship of people who were wrongly approved, in some cases due to agency errors, but in many cases because they had a criminal record or obtained citizenship by fraudulent means.

Robert Law, head of policy at the Trump administration’s U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, said the language of the note is so restrictive that “no one will prosecute civil denaturalization cases.”

“With this policy, Mayorkas is saying that citizenship really doesn’t make sense and that immigration fraud is rewarded,” said Law, now director of regulatory affairs and policy at the Center for Immigration Studies.

Homeland Security did not respond to messages seeking comment this week.

The undated memo is marked “DRAFT” and “FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY”. Mr. Law said it has been circulated and is awaiting a decision from Mr. Mayorkas.

It is aimed at USCIS, Customs and Border Protection, and United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which form the backbone of the country’s immigration service.

The memo does not prohibit denaturalization but imposes a list of criteria to eliminate the cases, in particular if the bogus citizens had lawyers at the time, if they have a family which depends on them or if they have ” medical problems ”.

The draft proposal would likely not stop denaturalization efforts against prominent human rights violators or war criminals, such as the cases from the former Yugoslavia.

Instead, it is likely to protect more ordinary bogus citizenship cases.

Even then, efforts to withdraw citizenship have averaged only a dozen per year under the Bush and Obama administrations. This rose to at least 30 cases in 2017, according to the National Immigration Forum.

A 2016 Inspector General report identified hundreds of people who had been deported, infiltrated the United States, and obtained citizenship under new identities.

USCIS did not report their cases because the fingerprint cards from the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the deportation agency, were in paper form and were unverified.

After the Inspector General’s investigation, USCIS conducted a broader review and found even more cases.

In 2018, the agency created a Denaturalization Task Force in Los Angeles. The agency director at the time said he expected “potentially a few thousand cases” to be sent to the Justice Department for denaturalization.

In 2020, the Ministry of Justice announced a new section dedicated to denaturalization cases.

Immigrant rights advocates have complained bitterly about the Homeland Security Task Force and the Justice Department section. If Mr. Mayorkas approves the proposal, he will comply with their requests.

These advocates see denaturalization as part of an “invisible wall” limiting the ability of legal immigration during the Trump administration, along with policies that encourage legal immigrants to be self-sufficient, and a new emphasis on enforcing law. the law to USCIS.

Mr Law, however, said the only people who had to fear denaturalization were those who should never have gotten it in the first place.

Denaturalization efforts have started to increase in the Obama administration. Some of the key players in the current draft proposal were in the table.

This includes Mr. Mayorkas, who was head of the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services and then Deputy Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security. Ur M. Jaddou, now director of USCIS, was the agency’s legal director from 2014 to 2017.

At her confirmation hearing this year, Ms. Jaddou was asked if she supports the work of the Trump-Era Denaturalization Task Force. She dismissed the matter, saying she had not been in office for four years and needed to “carefully review and assess the findings and actions of USCIS since 2017.”

However, Ms. Jaddou has followed the subject during her absence. She gave a lengthy interview in 2018 to WNYC’s “The Takeaway” program, where she expressed concerns about the task force and said it was part of a Trump effort to scare off potential citizens.

“My concern is why all the public notice?” What is the solution? Why are you doing this publicly now? She said in the interview.

Mr Law said the Biden team had emptied the task force set up to prosecute cases arising from the Inspector General’s investigation. The Los Angeles office is vacant and staff members have been reassigned, he said.

The Washington Times has reached out to USCIS for comment on the status of the task force and Ms. Jaddou’s past comments on denaturalization.

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