Rights advocates expressed outrage and severe concerns after the U.S. Department of Justice announced Wednesday it is creating an official task force devoted to "denaturalization"—the process by which the government strips citizenship from foreign-born Americans, or naturalized citizens.
"Of all the dystopian shit—a department of denaturalization at DOJ might take the biscuit," tweeted activist Joel Braunold. "Means immigrant Americans (such as myself) will always have a threat to displace us if we step out of line."
"Trump is weaponizing the DOJ to make naturalized immigrants look like second-class citizens."
—The Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights
The Justice Department claimed in its announcement that the motivation for the new unit stems from a desire to strip citizenship from terrorists or sex offenders whose citizenship was "illegally procured" by lying about past crimes.
"When a terrorist or sex offender becomes a U.S. citizen under false pretenses, it is an affront to our system—and it is especially offensive to those who fall victim to these criminals," Assistant Attorney General Jody Hunt said in a statement.
Officially termed the "The Denaturalization Section," Hunt said the unit "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."
Rep. Chuy Garcia (D-Ill.) expressed dismay over the new policy, tweeting that it evoked historical U.S. mistreatments of ethnic minorities.
"This is a nightmare," said Garcia.
Exclusion laws prevented Chinese immigrants from naturalizing until 1943.
SCOTUS’s U.S. v. Thind decision prevented Indian immigrants from becoming citizens until 1946.
Today in 2020, Trump’s DOJ launched an entire section dedicated to #denaturalization.
This is a nightmare. https://t.co/5QM3nC5SPo
— Congressman Chuy García (@RepChuyGarcia) February 26, 2020
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The Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights (CHIRLA), in a statement, rejected the formation of the new department as an example of another attempt by President Donald Trump to attack immigrant families and communities.
"We reject any denaturalization task force that destroys citizenship as we know it and keeps every naturalized immigrant living in fear," said CHIRLA. "Trump is weaponizing the DOJ to make naturalized immigrants look like second-class citizens."
As the New York Times reported, not everyone in the Justice Department is comfortable with the new department:
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.
David Bier, immigration policy analyst at the Cato Insitute, said on Twitter that he doubts the new unit is even legal.
"Denaturalization is unconstitutional. The Constitution says anyone the government naturalizes is a U.S. citizen and has equal rights as all other citizens," said Bier. "US-born citizens cannot have their citizenship revoked, so neither should naturalized citizens."
"Bottom line is that if you can ever lose your citizenship for any reason, you don't have equal rights and aren't a real citizen," Bier added.
Rebecca Parson, a Democratic candidate for Congress in Washington's 6th District, tweeted that the danger of the task force's formation has frightening historical overtones.
"Stripping citizens of their citizenship is a key trait of authoritarian, genocidal regimes and falls under Stage 3: Discrimination of the 10 Stages of Genocide," said Parson.