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ArtI.S8.C4.1.5.5 Concealing Material Facts When Procuring Citizenship

Article I, Section 8, Clause 4:

[The Congress shall have Power . . . ] To establish an uniform Rule of Naturalization, and uniform Laws on the subject of Bankruptcies throughout the United States; . . .

Apart from considering the government’s burden of proof in denaturalization cases, the Supreme Court has also considered, under the Immigration and Nationality Act’s (INA) denaturalization provision, the standard for assessing whether facts concealed by a naturalization applicant are “material.” 1 In a 1960 case, Chaunt v. United States, a Hungarian national, Peter Chaunt, challenged the government’s claim that he had fraudulently procured his naturalization by concealing and misrepresenting his record of arrests in the United States, and that his arrest record was a “material” fact under the denaturalization statute.2 The Court suggested that, to meet the materiality threshold, the government had to show that either (1) the omitted facts “would have warranted the denial of citizenship,” or (2) their disclosure “might have been useful in an investigation possibly leading to the discovery of other facts warranting denial of citizenship.” 3

The Court determined that Chaunt’s arrests, which related to minor offenses (e.g., distributing handbills in violation of a city ordinance) occurring more than five years before his naturalization application, did not affect his qualifications for citizenship.4 The Court also rejected the government’s contention that the disclosure of the arrests would have led to an investigation revealing Chaunt’s communist affiliations, warranting the denial of citizenship on the ground that he lacked the requisite attachment to the Constitution.5 The Court noted that Chaunt had disclosed in his naturalization application that he was a member of the International Worker’s Order (reportedly linked to the Communist Party), and that it was thus questionable whether the disclosure of his arrest record would have led to an investigation of any communist affiliations.6 The Court thus ruled that the government failed to prove by “clear, unequivocal, and convincing” evidence that Chaunt procured his citizenship by “concealment of a material fact.” 7

However, in Fedorenko v. United States, the Court in 1981 held that the failure of a Ukrainian national, Feodor Fedorenko, to disclose in his naturalization application that he had served as a concentration camp guard following his capture by German forces during World War II warranted his denaturalization.8 The Court reasoned that Fedorenko’s misrepresentations about his wartime activities were material because, had those facts been known to immigration officials, he would have been ineligible for initial admission into the United States.9 Consequently, the Court determined, because Fedorenko obtained his immigration visa through fraud, he could not establish that he was lawfully admitted to the United States for permanent residence, as required for naturalization under the INA, and thus, his citizenship was “illegally procured.” 10

Further, the Court rejected Fedorenko’s claim that a district court could, as an exercise of discretion, decline to enter a judgment of denaturalization against a person who procured his citizenship unlawfully.11 The Court stated that “once a district court determines that the Government has met its burden of proving that a naturalized citizen obtained citizenship illegally or by willful misrepresentation, it has no discretion to excuse the conduct.” 12

Eventually, in its 1988 decision in Kungys v. United States, the Supreme Court clarified the test for determining whether a concealment or misrepresentation is “material” under the INA’s denaturalization provision.13 In that case, the Court considered whether willful misrepresentations by a naturalized German national, Juozas Kungys, about the date and place of his birth were material for purposes of his denaturalization proceeding.14 The Court rejected the notion that a misrepresentation or concealment is material if it would more likely than not have produced an erroneous decision, or would more likely than not have triggered an investigation, as the Court had suggested in Chaunt.15 Instead, the Court held that materiality is established if the government presents “clear, unequivocal, and convincing” evidence that the misrepresentation or concealment “had a natural tendency to produce the conclusion that the applicant was qualified” for citizenship.16

Applying this standard, the Court held that Kungys’s misrepresentation of the date and place of his birth was not material for purposes of his denaturalization proceeding because there was no indication that it had the natural tendency to influence the immigration official’s decision whether to confer citizenship.17 The Court determined there was no suggestion that Kungys’s date and place of birth were “themselves relevant to his qualifications for citizenship,” or that knowledge of his true date and place of birth would “predictably have disclosed other facts relevant to his qualifications.” 18

The Court also noted that, apart from showing a material misrepresentation or concealment, the government in a denaturalization proceeding must show that the naturalized citizen procured citizenship as a result of the misrepresentation or concealment.19 The Court held that proof of a misrepresentation’s materiality established a presumption that the naturalized citizen procured citizenship based on the misrepresentation, but that the presumption could be rebutted “by showing, through a preponderance of the evidence, that the statutory requirement as to which the misrepresentation had a natural tendency to produce a favorable decision was in fact met.” 20

See 8 U.S.C. § 1451(a) (authorizing denaturalization if “order and certificate of naturalization were illegally procured or were procured by concealment of a material fact or by willful misrepresentation” ). back
364 U.S. 350, 351 (1960). back
Id. at 355. back
Id. at 353–54. back
Id. at 354–55. back
Id. back
Id. at 350, 355. back
449 U.S. 490, 518 (1981). back
Id. at 512–14. back
Id. at 514–15, 518; see 8 U.S.C. § 1427(a) (requiring applicant to show five years of continuous residence in the United States after being lawfully admitted for permanent residence). back
Fedorenko, 449 U.S. at 516–17. back
Id. at 517. back
485 U.S. 759 (1988). back
Id. at 766–67. back
Id. at 771. In Kungys, the Court explained that Chaunt had not provided “a conclusive judicial test” for determining whether a misrepresentation or concealment was “material,” and noted that subsequent judicial rulings have struggled to uniformly interpret the materiality standard under Chaunt. Id. at 768–69. back
Id. at 772. The Court based this standard on the “uniform understanding” of “materiality” that had been adopted by courts in construing federal statutes criminalizing false statements to public officials. Id. at 770. back
Id. at 775–76. back
Id. at 774. back
Id. at 767; see 8 U.S.C. § 1451(a) (authorizing government to institute proceedings against a naturalized citizen on the ground that his order of citizenship and certificate of naturalization “were illegally procured or were procured by concealment of a material fact or by willful misrepresentation” ). back
Kungys, 485 U.S. at 777. The Court also considered whether false testimony has a materiality requirement for purposes of establishing a lack of good moral character for naturalization. Id. at 779; see 8 U.S.C. §§ 1101(f)(6) (providing that one who has given false testimony for the purpose of obtaining immigration benefits does not have good moral character); 1427(a) (requiring naturalization applicant to show that he “has been and still is a person of good moral character” during the requisite periods of continuous residence). Citing the INA provision that enumerates the types of conduct that show a lack of good moral character, the Court observed that, with respect to false testimony, the statutory language “does not distinguish between material and immaterial misrepresentations,” and concluded that there was no materiality requirement for false testimony. Kungys, 485 U.S. at 779–80. back