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ArtI.S8.C4.1.5.1 Denaturalization (Revoking Citizenship) Generally

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; . . .

The concept of naturalization typically concerns the grant of citizenship to a person who has lived in the United States for a specified time period and meets certain other requirements; to groups of people in newly-acquired territories who acquire citizenship by statute or treaty; and to children born outside the United States who become U.S. citizens upon birth to a U.S. citizen parent, or who derive their citizenship upon their parents’ naturalization in the United States. Congress has also addressed the concept of denaturalization, which refers to the revocation of citizenship from a naturalized U.S. citizen.

Congress’s power over denaturalization derives from its power “[t]o establish an uniform rule of naturalization,” and from its power “to make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing Powers, and all other Powers vested by this Constitution in the Government of the United States, or any Department or Officer thereof.” 1 In describing the theory of denaturalization, the Supreme Court has stated that “[a]n alien has no moral nor constitutional right to retain the privileges of citizenship if, by false evidence or the like, an imposition has been practiced upon the court, without which the certificate of citizenship could not and would not have been issued.” 2 Thus, “there must be strict compliance with all the congressionally imposed prerequisites to the acquisition of citizenship. Failure to comply with any of these conditions renders the certificate of citizenship ‘illegally procured,’ and naturalization that is unlawfully procured can be set aside.” 3

The Naturalization Act of 1906 was the first law to provide for denaturalization.4 It authorized judicial proceedings against a naturalized U.S. citizen “for the purpose of setting aside and canceling the certificate of citizenship on the ground of fraud or on the ground that such certificate of citizenship was illegally procured.” 5 The Act provided that if a naturalized U.S. citizen returned to his native country or went to another foreign country and established a permanent residence there within five years of being admitted as a U.S. citizen, such facts were “prima facie evidence” that he or she lacked the intention to become a permanent citizen of the United States at the time of filing the naturalization application.6 Absent “countervailing evidence,” the naturalized citizen’s permanent residence in the foreign country would “be sufficient in the proper proceeding to authorize the cancelation of his certificate of citizenship as fraudulent, . . .” 7

Knauer v. United States, 328 U.S. 654, 673 (1946); see also U.S. Const. art. I, § 8, cl. 18 ( “Necessary and Proper Clause” ). back
Johannessen v. United States, 225 U.S. 227, 241 (1912). See also United States v. Spohrer, 175 F. 440, 446 (D.N.J. 1910) ( “That the government, especially when thereunto authorized by Congress, has the right to recall whatever of property has been taken from it by fraud, is, in my judgment, well settled, and, if that be true of property, then by analogy and with greater reason it would seem to be true where it has conferred a privilege in answer to the prayer of an ex parte petitioner. A recall of this character injures no one but the fraud doer, and his discomfiture is entitled to but slight consideration.” ). back
Fedorenko v. United States, 449 U.S. 490, 506 (1981). back
See Aram A. Gavoor & Daniel Miktus, Snap: How the Moral Elasticity of the Denaturalization Statute Goes too Far, 23 Wm. & Mary Bill Rts. J. 637, 648 (2015) ( “As early as 1844, members of the United States Senate inquired into how they could legislate a legal method for revoking citizenship. Over time, the President and others directed Congress’s attention to the need for a legislative effort to create formalized denaturalization proceedings. The effort was intended to create a uniform system of naturalization and provide ‘uniform fairness’ to individuals seeking to naturalize.” ). back
Naturalization Act of 1906, ch. 3592, § 15, 34 Stat. 596, 601. back
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