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Trump DOJ launches unit to revoke citizenship from immigrants who hid terrorism, crime ties

Attorney General Bill Barr and FBI Deputy Director Bowdich at press conference announcing charges against 4 Chinese military hackers on Feb. 10, 2020. (U.S. Department of Justice/Released)
February 26, 2020

The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), under the Trump administration, has launched a new section designed to handle the process of removing citizenship granted to foreign-born individuals who concealed their terrorist or criminal ties in order to fraudulently obtain their citizenship.

The new DOJ section would be formed under the DOJ’s existing Office of Immigration Litigation, according to a department press release Wednesday. The DOJ determined it needed the new section, known as the Denaturalization Section, due to a growing influx of case referrals.

“While the Office of Immigration Litigation already has achieved great success in the denaturalization cases it has brought, winning 95 percent of the time, the growing number of referrals anticipated from law enforcement agencies motivated the creation of a standalone section dedicated to this important work,” the DOJ said.

Assistant Attorney General Jody Hunt said when immigrants obtain citizenship under false pretenses, “it is an affront to our system—and it is especially offensive to those who fall victim to these criminals.”

Denaturalization cases require the DOJ to demonstrate that a defendant illegally procured their citizenship or  “procured by concealment of a material fact or by willful misrepresentation.”

In its press release, the DOJ noted several denaturalization cases it has already won. Cases have included those who concealed convictions for fraud and sex crimes, as well as war criminals, human rights violators and terrorists. The denaturalization process is designed for those who concealed criminal activity they committed prior to obtaining citizenship.

One denaturalization case, U.S. v. Kariye, saw DOJ prosecutors successfully revoke citizenship from an individual who trained at terrorist training camp in Afghanistan, communicated with terrorist leaders such as Osama Bin Laden, and who was affiliated with the Makhtab Al-Khidamat, the precursor to Al Qaeda.

Another DOJ case, U.S. v. al Dahab, saw prosecutors successfully revoke the citizenship of an individual who was convicted of terrorism in Egypt and who admitted to recruiting for Al Qaeda while living in the U.S.

In February, federal immigration officials arrested Ali Yousif Ahmed Al-Nouri, the suspected leader of an Al Qaeda affiliate in Iraq wanted in connection with the 2006 murders of two Iraqi police officers. Al-Nouri may have been living in Arizona since 2008 and currently faces extradition to Iraq where he would then be tried.

In August, ICE arrested 39 known and suspected criminals, including several wanted on war crimes charges that include recruiting child soldiers, as well as killing and maiming civilians. According to an ICE statement at the time, more than 415 individuals have been arrested in connection to human rights abuses, since 2003.