Federal officials are reviewing the citizenship petition process of more
than 2,500 people who became naturalized American citizens, in search
of possible fraud committed during the process.
A spokeswoman for the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS)
told EFE news agency on Monday that about 100 of the 2,500 cases “have
a reasonable suspicion” and were referred to the Department of Justice (DOJ).
The DOJ will evaluate whether to initiate legal proceedings in these cases.
Part of the process could include revoking a person’s U.S. citizenship,
spokeswoman Claire Nicholson told EFE.
The review is part of a multimillion-dollar effort by the Trump administration,
which seeks to identify people who have committed fraud during the process
to obtain citizenship or permanent residence, or who committed crimes
before naturalizing and did not report them, officials have said.
This summer, the government announced it tapped a group of lawyers and
investigators, operating under Customs and Immigration, to review the
naturalization procedures. USCIS staff has been reviewing potential cases
for citizenship revocation since January 2017, the agency’s director,
L. Francis Cissna, told the Associated Press.
The Department of Homeland Security (under which USCIS operates) also plans
to devote more than $207.6 million in a separate initiative involving
the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). ICE will use the funds
to hire new agents for the National Security Investigations division to
look for possible citizenship and green card fraud, according to ICE’s
budget plan for 2019.
One of the tasks is to identify applicants who were ordered to leave the
country but stayed behind and naturalized under another identity.
To determine possible cases of fraud, researchers focus on fingerprint
records on deportation orders from the 1990s and prior years, which were
not digitized. This information is now being compared with more recent
files. The authorities plan to refer some 1,600 of these types of cases
to the DOJ.
Efforts to revoke citizenship are not new but have accelerated under the
Between 1990 and 2017, there were 305 legal cases of denaturalization,
an average of 11 per year. Under former President Obama, the number of
cases increased to 15 in 2016, his last full year in office. The number
of cases doubled to 30 in 2017 under President Trump and is expected to
be higher this year.
Immigration activists and attorneys have said they fear the plan is to
scare immigrants. They said the measures could affect people who committed
fraud decades ago.
“I’m worried that people who have been citizens for a long
time will now be targeted for denaturalization, and that the effort to
defend against a federal denaturalization claim is so expensive that people
will just give up,” Matthew Hoppock, a Kansas City immigration lawyer
who has been following the changes in denaturalization policy, told the
Herald in July.
Hoppock was referring to
cases such as that of Norma Borgoño, a 63-year-old Peruvian woman who has lived in Miami for 28 years.
Borgoño was sentenced in 2012 to one year of house arrest and four
years of probation for her involvement in a $24 million fraud a decade
ago. As secretary of an export and import company called Texon Inc., she
prepared documents for her boss, who pocketed money from loans fraudulently
received from the U.S. Export-Import Bank. Borgoño did not profit
from the fraud and cooperated with the authorities in the investigation.
Borgoño, who has a rare kidney disease, served her sentence and
paid the restitution of $5,000 little by little. But this year, a week
after the birth of her granddaughter, she received a letter from the federal
government warning her that they are seeking to revoke her citizenship
and deport her to Peru.
The government alleges that she naturalized after the fraudulent operation
began. Although she had not been charged when she petitioned for citizenship,
the Justice Department now argues that Borgoño lied by not disclosing
her illegal activities in the application.
Borgoño’s lawyers argue that the case represents an abuse
of federal officials’ discretion in filing cases of “denaturalization.”
The USCIS said in a statement to the Herald that people who has used a
false identity to naturalize shouldn’t be surprised to be referred
to the Department of Justice to withdraw their citizenship.
“We go to great lengths to ensure individuals aren’t susceptible
to instances of error, misunderstanding, or special circumstances,”
the statement said.
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