The Trump administration has been unusually harsh on immigrants, whether legal or undocumented. But over the course of the past month, the federal government’s begun works on a taskforce to strip citizenship from Americans who may have cheated in their naturalization applications.
Alisha Chang, host of NPR’s “All Things Considered,” observes that “naturalization ceremonies carry with them a sense of permanence.”
But beginning in June, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services announced it was beginning investigations into instances wherein people may have lied to become Americanized. Now, the administration may be preparing to denaturalize several thousand citizens.
Mae Ngai, a professor of history at Columbia University, told “All Things Considered” that denaturalization isn’t regular or a remnant of Barack Obama’s time in the White House.
“The last time the federal government tried to denaturalize citizens was during the McCarthy period,” said Ngai, referring to the Cold War-era ‘Red Scare.’ “And they went after people who they were accusing of being Communists who were naturalized citizens. And they took away their citizenship and deported them. It wasn’t that many people because, actually, it’s not that easy to do. But that was the last time there was a concerted effort.”
Ngai added that some 75 years have passed since McCarthy’s witch-hunt and the Trump presidency.
“And I think most people would say that the Red Scare, or the McCarthy period, was not the nation’s proudest moment,” Ngai said.
Editors from Esquire—and analysts from other liberal publications—have questioned the sense in trusting the Trump administration to follow the rules of denaturalization. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, under the current commander-in-chief, has attracted criticism for cutting corners in its investigations. Suspected illegal immigrants have been arrested without warrants, detained in so-called ‘sensitive zones,’ and accused of non-existent gang affiliations to expedite deportation proceedings.
The USCIS taskforce has hired dozens of lawyers and immigration officers to a new office in Southern California, “to find U.S. citizens they say should not have been naturalized, to revoke their citizenship, and then eventually deport them.”
Some naturalized citizens have begun to wonder what exactly constitutes dishonesty in the context of citizenship applications.
Writing in a June issue of The New Yorker, columnist Masha Gessen recounts his own experience with applications in the 1980s.
Then, writes Gessen, American immigration policy banned “aliens afflicted with sexual deviation” from entering the United States. Even at 14, Gessen knew he was homosexual and thus should never have been allowed into the country.
When he applied for citizenship in 1989, he was faced with a dilemma: to continue lying, or to risk deportation for dishonesty by telling the truth.
Gessen chose the latter but questioned the lengths USCIS and associated agencies could go in their quest to root out dishonesty among millions who made a choice to become Americans.