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AILA Press Release on Denatz Cases

Cite as "AILA InfoNet Doc. No. 98030559 (posted Mar. 5, 1998)"

AMERICAN IMMIGRATION LAWYERS ASSOCIATION
1400 EYE STREET N.W. Suite 1200
WASHINGTON, D.C. 20005

For immediate release Contact: Jami Deise

March 5, 1998
Phone: 202-216-2404

Naturalized Citizens Sue to Stop INS From Canceling Their Citizenship Without a Judicial Hearing

Seattle, WA – Ten naturalized citizens today filed a class action law suit to stop the Immigration & Naturalization Service (INS) from stripping them of their newly-acquired citizenship without a hearing or even a plausible reason to deny citizenship, according to the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA), of counsel on the suit. 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. In the overwhelming majority of cases, the new citizens are accused of lying about an arrest or other facts at their interviews that would not have prevented naturalization. But many of these "lies" are in fact examples of oversight, sealed or overturned records, or INS errors.

"It is appalling that these new citizens – who worked so hard to become naturalized – can have their precious citizenship snatched away over alleged simple paperwork mistakes," said AILA President Margaret McCormick.

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 proceeds until the court has ruled in the case.

"I am insulted that they have accused me of lying," said the lead plaintiff, a software developer who applied for citizenship in the city where she worked but did not live; the INS accused her of concealing her place of residence. "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 misdemeanors, 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.

"How can the government strip away something as important as citizenship like a toddler grabbing back a toy?" asked AILA Executive Director Jeanne Butterfield.

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. The same INS official who invokes the expedited procedure is responsible for deciding whether to revoke naturalization.

"What kind of country would thoughtlessly and arbitrarily strip its citizens of the most valuable status it can bestow?" asked McCormick. "This case is about more than the rights of ten new citizens, or even about the right of immigrants to naturalize. It speaks directly to who we are as a country, and what rights do we give to the country’s weakest citizens. For if we strip the most basic judicial protection from these individuals, who knows where it will stop?"

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.

THE INS IS TRYING TO REVOKE THE NATURALIZATION OF DECENT CITIZENS

Below are some of the citizens who are being affected.

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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.