Justice Dept. Establishes Office to Denaturalize Immigrants

WASHINGTON — The Justice Department said Wednesday that it had created an official section in its immigration office to strip citizenship rights from naturalized immigrants, a move that gives more heft to the Trump administration’s broad efforts to remove from the country immigrants who have committed crimes.

The Denaturalization Section “underscores the department’s commitment to bring justice to terrorists, war criminals, sex offenders and other fraudsters who illegally obtained naturalization,” Joseph H. Hunt, the head of the Justice Department’s civil division, said in a statement.

“The Denaturalization Section will further the department’s efforts to pursue those who unlawfully obtained citizenship status and ensure that they are held accountable for their fraudulent conduct,” Mr. Hunt said.

The move promises to further expand a practice that was once used infrequently, but that the Trump administration has increasingly turned to as part of its immigration crackdown. It has raised alarms among some department lawyers who fear denaturalization lawsuits could be used against immigrants who have not committed serious crimes.

And over the past three years, denaturalization case referrals to the department have increased 600 percent.

From the earliest days of the Trump administration, officials including Stephen Miller, the White House aide who has driven much of President Trump’s immigration policy, said denaturalization could be used as part of a broad pushback on immigration.

Some Justice Department immigration lawyers have expressed worries that denaturalizations could be broadly used to strip citizenship, according to two lawyers who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of retribution.

They cite the fact that the department can pursue denaturalization lawsuits against people who commit fraud, as it did against four people who lied about being related to become U.S. citizens. Fraud can be broadly defined, and include smaller infractions like misstatements on the citizenship application.

But a Justice Department official said the new section would prioritize people who have committed serious violations of law.

When the department announced the new section, it cited successful denaturalization cases including a naturalized citizen who had recruited for Al Qaeda in the United States and one who had sexually abused a 7-year-old family member.

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