For immediate release For more information
March 6, 1998 see attached list
INS Working to Strip Away Citizenship New Suit Charges
Seattle, WA – Ten naturalized citizens have filed a class action lawsuit to stop the Immigration & Naturalization Service (INS) from stripping them of their newly-acquired citizenship.
"The INS is going after decent hardworking Americans and threatening to take away something as invaluable as citizenship – for which they worked so hard and hold so dear," said attorney Daniel Levy, counsel for the class of plaintiffs.
Since last summer, the INS has notified over 1,200 new American citizens that it will revoke their citizenship through a new, expedited summary procedure that denies them a fair hearing and lacks due process.
In the overwhelming majority of cases, the INS accused the citizens of lying about an arrest or other facts that would not have prevented naturalization had the information been considered by the INS. But many of these "lies" are in fact examples of INS oversight or error.
"I am insulted that they have accused me of lying," said the lead plaintiff, whom the INS erroneously accused of concealing her place of residence at the time she applied for naturalization. "This kind of treatment is as bad as the treatment I experienced with the bureaucracies in the Soviet Union. I was shocked, because I thought that because this was a democracy, things would be better here."
Other plaintiffs include:
- a California homemaker who is accused of failing to disclose an arrest record. Her "crime" was growing a common house plant which police mistook for marijuana;
- a California plant manager who is accused of failing to disclose two ten-year-old arrests, which the INS had known of at the time of his naturalization;
- an Oregon housepainter who is accused of failing to disclose two arrests which he believed were traffic violations, which were noted when he legalized ten years ago;
- a New York health advisor who is accused of failing to disclose a seven-year-old conviction for carrying a baseball bat in his car, which he believed had been nullified and sealed.
"Clearly, these people are not criminals," said Margaret McCormick, President of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, of counsel on the suit. "Having been accused of allowing hardened criminals to naturalize, these individuals are being made the scapegoats of a political process that sees immigrants as just another wedge issue."
The INS’ new summary procedure marks the first time ever in the history of this country that individuals can be stripped of their citizenship without having a judge determine that the government has ‘clear and convincing evidence’ that the individual was not eligible for naturalization, according to Seattle attorney Robert H. Gibbs. Furthermore, the INS has put people’s citizenship in question without making the effort to ascertain whether the individual in fact intentionally concealed or misrepresented anything. The plaintiffs have asked the INS to suspend their summary denaturalization proceedings until the court has ruled in the case.
According to the National Immigration Law Center, if the government believes that an individual obtained citizenship through fraud or misrepresentation, it must bring a formal proceeding in federal district court, and prove its case by clear and convincing evidence.
The INS procedure for summarily canceling naturalization lacks due process safeguards, and forces the accused citizen to prove that he or she should not lose citizenship, rather than requiring the INS to prove this allegation before an impartial judge. "Incredibly, the same INS official who invokes the expedited procedure is responsible for deciding whether to revoke naturalization," said Jonathan Franklin of Hogan & Hartson, counsel for the class of plaintiffs.
"The threat of denaturalization is the ultimate form of immigrant-bashing," said Meredith Brown of One-Stop Immigration & Education Center, Inc. "When we carelessly question whether new Americans deserve to be citizens, not only do we insult those who have worked so hard to become Americans, ultimately we say that something that can be taken away so easily, perhaps isn’t so valuable after all."
The named plaintiffs in the nationwide class action are residents of Washington, Alaska, Oregon, California, Nebraska, New York and Virginia. They are represented by counsel from the law firm of Hogan & Hartson, Washington, D.C.; the law firm of Perkins Coie, Seattle, Washington, the National Immigration Law Center; attorney Robert Gibbs, Seattle, Washington; and attorney Daniel Levy, Los Angeles, California. Also of counsel are the American Immigration Lawyers Association, the Immigrant Legal Resource Center, the National Council of La Raza and One-Stop Immigration & Education Center, Inc.
For more information:
Vibiana Andrade, National Immigration Law Center, (213) 938-6452
Meredith Brown, One-Stop Immigration & Education Center, (213) 268-8472
David J. Burman, Perkins Coie, (206) 583-8888
Evelyn Cruz, Immigrant Legal Resource Center, (415) 255-9499
Jami Deise, American Immigration Lawyers Association, (202) 216-2400
Jonathan Franklin, Hogan & Hartson, (202) 637-5600
Robert Gibbs, Gibbs Houston Pauw, (206) 224-8790
Lillian Hirales, National Council of La Raza, (202) 776-1722
Daniel Levy, Wolfsdorf Professional Corp., (310) 573-4242
THE INS IS TRYING TO REVOKE THE NATURALIZATION OF DECENT CITIZENS
Below are some of the citizens who are being affected.
Ms. G is a software development engineer now working in Seattle. She was a long-term resident of Salt Lake City, where she applied for naturalization. Although she repeatedly asked INS officers whether her case should be transferred to Seattle, as she had recently moved there, she was told not to. She now stands accused by INS of concealing her proper residency.
Ms. E, a 39-year-old homemaker in LA County, has lived most of her life in the U.S. She took the oath of allegiance to become an American citizen in 1995. Some years ago, she was growing a common houseplant, which police officers mistakenly believed was marijuana. Charges were dropped, and she was never jailed and never went to court. She did not believe that she had been arrested, yet stands accused by INS of failing to disclose her "criminal" record.
Mr. L, the manager of the loading department at a meat packing plant in Vernon, California, was naturalized in 1995. He is accused by INS of failing to disclose arrests, one of which happened more than twenty years ago. In one incident, charges against him were dropped when a friend took a stereo that he had found on the street. In the other, Mr. L was cited for possession of a dead rooster that belonged to a friend. Mr. L had disclosed these incidents to INS when he applied for legalization ten years ago, but, because of the minor nature of the incidents and passage of time, had simply forgotten them.
Mr. S, a house painter who lives in Aloha, Oregon, became a citizen in 1996. He is accused of failing to disclose criminal arrests that he believed were just traffic violations, which are excluded from the naturalization application. Mr. S repeatedly informed INS of these arrests when he legalized ten years ago.
Mr. C is a senior public health advisor with the New York City Department of Health. He became a naturalized citizen in 1995. He is accused of failing to disclose a 7-year-old arrest resulting from an altercation he had at the airport where he had been beaten by guards. The judge told him that the charge would be dismissed, his record sealed and the arrest nullified, as if nothing had ever happened. Because he understood that he had no criminal record, he did not disclose it.