Commentary: Denaturalization push turns legal immigrants into second-class citizens

Ellis Island. Photo: Library of Congress


By Barbara Franz

In June, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) formed a task force to identify and denaturalize people who lied on their citizenship applications.

In addition to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), USCIS is the other principal agency in the Department of Homeland Security, charged with the relatively public-spirited processing of immigrant visa and naturalization petitions, asylum and refugee applications.

The extraordinary step of launching a process to denaturalize citizens destroys the last illusion of equality between naturalized and native-born citizens in the United States. It also begins in earnest the elimination of the last remaining security bulwark for naturalized citizens living in this country.

Barbara Franz
Barbara Franz

All naturalized citizens are second class citizens now. This is the latest of a number of steps that this government has taken with the underlying premise that America is under attack by malevolent immigrants who cause harm by finding ways to live here.

The administration is changing the immigration system, cracking down not just on unauthorized immigrants, but also refugees, asylum seekers, and holders of Temporary Protected Status.

It seeks to overhaul the legal immigration system by eliminating family-based visas, preventing thousands of people from reuniting with their families — unless they have connections to high officials. The administration clearly is on a quest to reduce the foreign-born share of the population.

Historically, denaturalization has been an extraordinary procedure, reserved for serious crimes, mostly those of war criminals. The new task force very likely will produce many more denaturalization cases, not necessarily focused only on persons who committed war crimes or crimes against humanity.

Yet the very creation of the task force eliminates security by taking away the assumption of permanence for the more than 21 million naturalized citizens in the American population.

Moreover, ICE already has begun to deport Green-Card holders, so-called lawful permanent residents. An estimated 13.2 million lawful permanent residents are living in the U.S., according to a report by the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Immigration Statistics.

Because Green Card holders’ information is logged into multiple government data bases, permanent legal residents can become easy prey for deportation enforcement.

Historically, the standard for Green Card applicants has been good moral character for five years preceding the application. Now, Green Card holders meeting specific criteria are subject to removal proceedings under the Immigration and Nationality Act.

For example, those convicted of an aggravated felony are removable, and permanent residents “who at any time after admission have been drug abusers or addicts and those who are convicted of violating U.S. laws or regulations relating to a controlled substance, other than a single offense involving possession for one’s own use of 30 grams or less of marijuana, are removable,” according to ICE.

Convicted felons, drug dealers and unfortunate users caught with too much pot are not the only ones being singled out, under a blueprint for removable permanent residents that is circulating through various federal agencies.

A product of the Homeland Security Department, this plan would have sweeping effects. It would cover not only benefits granted to legal immigrants, but also to their U.S. citizen spouses and children.

For instance, if an American-born child receives Medicaid or health insurance subsidies, that could be grounds to disqualify his parent from receiving a Green Card.

Under the existing system, federal officials already are authorized to deny Green Cards to immigrants who receive what are called “cash” welfare benefits — mainly elderly and disabled people who receive cash assistance under the Supplemental Security Income program.

With the administration’s new plan, working-class immigrants would be penalized if they claimed practically any benefit for which they qualified — even the earned-income tax credit, which is used by tens of millions of American workers and is designed to promote employment.

In 2017, more than 27 million American citizens received income tax credits. The administration’s true goal is not only to enforce the existing law, but also to stretch it so it becomes a tool for reshaping who may claim American privileges and protections.

Meanwhile, proposed bills and executive actions aim to limit the number of immigrants from everywhere except countries like Norway.  The President calls immigrants “animals.” The Attorney General presumes everyone crossing the southern border is a criminal.

To be sure, this is not the first time in American history when permanent residents were stripped of their status and deported.

During the 20th century, the U.S. government deported mostly Nazis and war criminals. Are we now equating SS Battalion leaders and concentration camp guards with substance abusers and people who applied for income tax credits? 

Barbara Franz, Ph.D., is a political science professor at Rider University, and a Morristown resident.


Editor’s note: The opinions expressed above are the author’s, and do not necessarily reflect those of this publication.

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  1. The idea that undocumented people get all these free benefits is just totally not aligned with reality. It’s a good talking point, but it’s fake news.

    I’m sure you’re all for corporate welfare though, my anonymous friends…

  2. But we can welcome them with open arms and offer free education, meanwhile are kids are paying a 9%+ interest rate on their loans? Why does doing something ILLEGAL entitle you to benefits and sidestepping the law? Whereas it adds to my lawful burdens? I am not a hippie nor do I want to be one, so please do not force me!!!!

  3. So the author apparently believes that its OK to lie on an application for citizenship and not face any consequences. I wonder were you would draw the line and hold someone accountable for lying and cheating? Does a student in your class get a free pass and an “A” for cheating on an exam, while its just tough luck for those who may have struggled with the material to get a passing grade, but made an honest effort? How about lying on a tax return or mortgage application? Lying in court to a judge? Please enlighten us further on where you draw the line.