Justice Dept. Establishes Office to Denaturalize Immigrants – The New York Times

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.

Critics say that the administration’s desire to prioritize denaturalizations underscores the idea that naturalized citizens have fewer rights than those born in the United States, and that immigrants should not assume that they cannot be deported even if they go through the naturalization process.

The new section will replace the team of immigration lawyers who have been asked to focus on cases that revoke citizenship from those who have been convicted of terrorism, war crimes, human rights violations and sex offenses.

The department has not announced who will lead the office, but several department officials and lawyers expected Timothy Belsan, who has taken the lead on the department’s denaturalization work, to assume that role. Mr. Belsan helped to revoke the citizenship rights of a Yugoslavian-born convicted war criminal who omitted from her naturalization application the fact that she had executed unarmed civilians during the 1990s Balkan conflicts.

The Justice Department under President Barack Obama also pursued denaturalizations, and it targeted people who had lied on their applications and committed other crimes.

But denaturalizations have ramped up under the Trump administration: Of the 228 denaturalization cases that the department has filed since 2008, about 40 percent of them were filed since 2017, according to official department numbers.

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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The Buttigieg immigration plan: Virtue and economy | TheHill – The Hill

News flash: Pete Buttigieg

Peter (Pete) Paul ButtigiegBiden looks to shore up lead in S.C. Vulnerable Democrats brace for Sanders atop ticket The Hill’s Campaign Report: Gloves off in South Carolina MORE is not Bernie Sanders

Bernie SandersDNC warns campaigns about cybersecurity after attempted scam Overnight Health Care — Presented by American Health Care Association — Trump taps Pence to lead coronavirus response | Trump accuses Pelosi of trying to create panic | CDC confirms case of ‘unknown’ origin | Schumer wants .5 billion in emergency funds Biden looks to shore up lead in S.C. MORE. The two candidates are different in almost every way. Unsurprisingly, their plans for immigration reform are also different. I wrote about Sanders’s plan previously, noting how the Vermont senator already has given up on Congress and would use a series of executive orders to implement his policy goals. What’s different about the former South Bend, Ind., mayor’s plan?

Buttigieg’s plan looks to reform and improve the current immigration system, rather than burn it down. Die-hard Sanders supporters may hate it, feeling that it doesn’t go far enough and doesn’t immediately address some very real injustices. President Trump

Donald John TrumpTrump passes Pence a dangerous buck Overnight Health Care — Presented by American Health Care Association — Trump taps Pence to lead coronavirus response | Trump accuses Pelosi of trying to create panic | CDC confirms case of ‘unknown’ origin | Schumer wants .5 billion in emergency funds Trump nods at reputation as germaphobe during coronavirus briefing: ‘I try to bail out as much as possible’ after sneezes MORE’s loyal supporters may hate it because it doesn’t reflect their vision of a future American society built on immigration restriction and enforcement. 

Fair enough. But most Americans don’t fall into either group.


Most Americans still believe that the democratic process can work, and that structured lawful immigration can be a net positive for our nation. Buttigieg’s plan shows one way that middle-of-the-road sentiment could translate into action.

Buttigieg’s plan, if implemented, would make the immigration system fairer, clearer and more manageable. It would modernize the outdated family immigration system and reduce the backlog of family-based visas that make some family members of U.S. citizens wait more than 10 years to immigrate. It would eliminate the arbitrary yearly cap on visas for immigrant crime victims who cooperate with law enforcement. It would keep children who cannot be reunited with one or both parents — so-called “special immigrant juveniles” — from being deported while their cases are being considered. 

The plan contains a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants and encouragement for green card holders to seek naturalization, reasoning rightly that with citizenship comes responsibility and civic engagement. And it would eliminate the three- and 10-year immigration bars for unlawful presence that break up many families and keep people in the shadows. These parts are similar to Sanders’s plan, if not as dramatic.

Unlike Sanders’s plan, however, Buttigieg’s plan recognizes the importance of business and employment-based immigration to grow America’s economy. It would modernize the employment-based immigration system and align it with the needs of America’s growing economy. For example, Buttigieg’s plan resets the number of employment-based visas every two years, based on the needs of the economy, rather than the current outdated system of inflexible quotas, caps and monthly visa bulletins where visa availability ebbs and flows like the tide. 

It proposes a new “community renewal” visa for immigrants to help strengthen and revitalize communities. It would revive and expand visa programs to provide doctors and nurses to underserved areas. It supports immigrant entrepreneurs to help them create jobs. It would help those who earn college degrees stay in the United States and use those skills to build our economy. These are commonsense reforms that are long overdue. 


Buttigieg’s plan for immigration enforcement returns to the “priority” approach of the Obama years, where the government targets its resources against serious criminal offenders, traffickers and recent arrivals without valid asylum or humanitarian claims. Like other plans, it envisions an independent immigration court system with real access to counsel, a vast improvement over the current system where the immigration courts function as policy arms of the administration.

It proposes concrete steps to reduce the backlog in immigration courts, which will help end the years-long waits for hearings. With respect to the southern U.S. border, Buttigieg’s plan would end family separation and ensure that all screening for asylum claims is done by trained asylum officers, rather than Customs and Border Patrol officials. The tone and tenor of the plan shows a commitment to improving the process and treating people with dignity, which is a far cry from the way things work under the Trump administration. 

Finally, Buttigieg’s plan looks to reclaim America’s leadership role in the world. It would end discriminatory “travel bans” that fall disproportionately on Muslims and increase the number of refugees the United States accepts to at least 125,000 in the first year (a significant number, but fewer than the number of refugees admitted during Ronald Reagan’s first year as president). On a larger scale, Buttigieg’s plan recognizes that the most effective way to reduce the number of refugees and asylum-seekers is for America to help improve conditions in their home countries. 

And in keeping with the themes of modernization and economic growth, the plan would modernize and improve the visa adjudication process at U.S. embassies so that decisions can be made more quickly and businesses can access the skilled workers they need.

No plan is perfect, this one included. Some voters will ask where the money would come from. That’s a fair question, and one not answered in Buttigieg’s plan. But any reform of the immigration system will cost money in the short run — and reform is long overdue. Currently, the administration’s partial border wall is paid for by billions of dollars stripped from congressional appropriations for our military. That’s not a sustainable answer. 

Ultimately, Congress will have to decide which costs of immigration reform are worthwhile. However, any fair assessment of the current system shows that things can’t continue the way they are. You can only patch an old tire so many times before it blows. 

Will a President Buttigieg have a chance to implement this plan in 2021? Not likely. Buttigieg probably won’t be the Democratic nominee, let alone president, because moderation is not what the voters appear to want in 2020. However, when the next president grapples with the fundamental issues of immigration reform, he (or she) should pay close attention to this page from Buttigieg’s playbook. Moderation may not win elections, but it does provide a path to lasting change. 

We as a nation used to know this basic truth. If we want to find our way back from our current fractured society, we need to pay attention to plans that can bring us together to solve problems. Good ideas are good ideas, no matter what the source. Let’s hope that the next president remembers that.

Martin W. Lester is an immigration attorney based in Hixson, Tenn. Follow him on Twitter @LesterLawTN.

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President Trump’s immigration crackdown inundates Supreme Court – USA TODAY

WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump’s three-year crackdown on immigration has led to a surge in lawsuits reaching the Supreme Court, where a rebuilt conservative majority increasingly is paying dividends for him.

In the past year, the justices have let the administration deter poor immigrants, deny asylum seekers and redirect military funds to build a wall along the southern border. Federal officials’ efforts to force cooperation from states and cities could be next.

The high court has heard arguments in six immigration cases since its term began in October, including Trump’s plan to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program that has helped nearly 700,000 undocumented immigrants work without fear of deportation. Two additional cases will be argued next week, including an effort to speed the removal of migrants without federal court hearings. 

More:Trump administration’s effort to speed removal of migrants seeking asylum headed to Supreme Court

Supreme Court Takes Up Immigration, Including Border Shooting – NPR

The U.S. Supreme Court heard two immigration-related cases on Tuesday, including one about a cross-border shooting involving a border patrol agent. Patrick Semansky/AP hide caption

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Patrick Semansky/AP

Immigration and border-patrol issues took center stage at the U.S. Supreme Court in two cases on Tuesday.

A sharply divided court first ruled that the parents of a Mexican boy shot and killed by a U.S. border patrol agent cannot sue the officer who killed their son. Then, the court heard arguments in a free-speech case that will determine whether people who encourage illegal immigrants to remain in the country can be prosecuted.

Border Patrol shooting

In 2010, 15-year-old Sergio Hernandez and his friends were playing chicken at the U.S. Mexican border, running up and touching the border fence and then running away and hiding. Video of the scene shows Sergio peeking out from behind a railroad trestle on the Mexico side, as Agent Jesus Mesa Jr. points a gun, fires, and kills the boy.

When the U.S. government declined to prosecute the agent or turn him over to Mexican authorities to face murder charges there, the boy’s parents sued the agent for damages, contending that he violated the U.S. Constitution by depriving Hernandez of his life.

The suit was brought under a 1971 Supreme Court ruling that allowed such damage claims against officers who act in bad faith.

The panel of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals found that no reasonable officer would have done what Agent Mesa did under the circumstances, but the full appeals court said that it didn’t matter whether Mesa had acted unreasonably because Hernandez was standing on the Mexican side of the border when he was shot, his parents couldn’t sue.

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court threw out the suit entirely and went much further, cutting the heart out of much of the court’s 1971 decision.

The vote was 5-to-4 with the court’s conservative justices refusing to allow damage suits for cross-border shootings, and the court’s liberal justices castigating the court’s majority for giving a free pass to the “rogue actions” of law enforcement officers.

Writing for the conservative court majority, Justice Samuel Alito said that in essence the court has come to realize the folly of its earlier decision and has thus sought to limit its effect.

“A federal court’s authority to recognize a damages remedy must rest at bottom on a statute enacted by Congress,” he wrote, “and no statute expressly creates [such] a remedy.”

Alito said there is “a world of difference between” allowing damage claims that have been allowed in the past and a case like this one, where, Alito maintained, there were foreign policy and national security issues at stake. Justice Clarence Thomas, joined by Justice Neil Gorsuch, would have gone further and outright overturned the court’s 1971 decision and others that followed in its wake.

Writing for the dissenters, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said that “using lethal force against a person who poses no immediate threat to the officer and no threat to others surely qualifies as an unreasonable” invasion of an individual’s constitutional rights. It should not matter “one whit” that the boy was standing on the Mexican side of the embankment, not the U.S. side, she added.

Mexico perceives cross-border shootings like this one to be a “persistent problem.” Indeed, between 2005 and 2013 there were 42 cross-border shooting deaths, that number has increased in recent years.

Mexico filed a brief in the case saying the U.S. should “hold the agents accountable” and pointing out that the U.S. “would expect no less if … a Mexican government agent, standing in Mexico and shooting across the border, had killed an American child standing on U.S. soil.”

Robert Hilliard, who represents the Hernandez family, was more than disappointed by the ruling, telling NPR that “the path to justice apparently does not travel as far as a bullet.”

After the announcement of the ruling in the Hernandez case, the Supreme Court moved on to hearing arguments in another immigration case, but this one involved the First Amendment right of free speech.

The First Amendment and immigration advocacy

At issue was a statute that makes it a crime to encourage or advise illegal immigrants to stay in the country. Critics say the law could ensnare grandparents, ministers, lawyers and human rights activists.

The case involves the conviction of Evelyn Sineneng-Smith, a California woman who ran an immigration consulting business that mainly served Filipino home health care workers.

Between 2001 and 2008, she collected more than $3 million from clients applying for an adjustment of their immigration status. The adjustment program, however, had ended in 2001, so the clients she applied for were not actually eligible for the adjustment.

Sineneng-Smith was subsequently convicted of mail fraud, tax violations and also of illegally encouraging or inducing an alien to remain in the U.S.

It was this last conviction — for encouraging undocumented people to stay in the U.S. — that was before the Supreme Court Tuesday.

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals threw out that conviction, finding it to be a violation of the First Amendment’s free speech guarantee. Both liberal and conservative advocacy groups have urged the Supreme Court to follow suit, contending that the statute is so broad that it encompasses lots of perfectly legal expression.

Assistant Solicitor General Eric Feigin, representing the Trump administration, took incoming fire from an ideologically diverse set of justices.

What about “a grandmother whose granddaughter is in the United States illegally,” and “tells [her] granddaughter … I hope you will stay,” asked Chief Justice John Roberts. Would that grandmother be at risk of federal prosecution?

“What about a charity,” followed up Justice Brett Kavanaugh. If it’s a charity that “provides food to someone who’s in the country unlawfully … is it covered under the statute?”

Feigin acknowledged that it was possible conduct of that sort “might violate the statute” but added that there was no instance of it actually being used in that way.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor followed up: “It has been used” to create “a watch list at the border” for “charitable organizations, people who were giving legal advice at the border … because they potentially violated this encouragement provision.” And, noted Sotomayor, there was a prosecution in the case of a woman who advised her housekeeper that “if you return to your home country, you may not get back.”

Justice Gorsuch noted that being in the country illegally is not itself a crime, so why is encouraging someone to stay a crime?

Arguing on behalf of Sineneng-Smith, the defendant in the case, lawyer Mark Fleming faced a grilling from Justice Alito who wanted to know if there is any kind of encouraging speech that could be criminalized.

For instance, what if a bullied and depressed teenager calls up a friend to say he is going to kill himself, and the friend says, “I’m tired of hearing this from you … you’re a coward, why don’t you just do it … pull the trigger.”

Asked Alito, “Is that speech protected by the First Amendment?”

No, replied Fleming, because that is inciting imminent harm, which the Supreme Court has said is not protected.

Addressing the government’s argument that the statute is not really used to prosecute most speech, Fleming told the justices that while the statute has historically not been used much, the Trump administration has “recently made it a focus of enforcement.”

Building on Sotomayor’s point about government watch lists of charitable organizations and lawyers working at the border, Fleming noted that should the court uphold the law, it could soon be used against “U.S. citizens for their prayer, for their speech, and for their legal advice.”

A decision in the case is expected by summer.

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