On Thursday, June 22, 2017, the Supreme Court unanimously tightened the standards for stripping immigrants of citizenship. Divna Maslenjak, a Bosnian-Serb refugee who immigrated to the U.S. in 2000 and later obtained American citizenship, was stripped of her citizenship when information that she lied during her naturalization process was discovered. She admitted to covering up her husband’s service in the Bosnian-Serb army unit that massacred 8,000 Bosnian Muslim civilians at Srebrenica in 1995.
Applicants for citizenship must possess “good moral character.” The government argued she lacked this, and if she had presented accurate information during her naturalization process, it would have affected the decision to grant Mrs. Maslenjak citizenship.
During Mrs. Maslenjak’s 2013 trial for procuring citizenship illegally, the jury was instructed that any lie, whether or not it was “material” and “did not influence the decision to approve [her] naturalization,” was sufficient for conviction. The jury found her guilty of making false statements on her application and she was stripped of her citizenship
Mrs. Maslenjak’s lawyer challenged the jury instruction in the case, as the jury was told it could convict regardless of whether the false statement at issue influenced the government’s decision to approve the application for naturalization.
The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld her conviction, which conflicted with several other circuit rulings that held a misrepresentation must be relevant to the naturalization decision.
The Supreme Court rejected the government’s position in this case that any lie, no matter how minor, during the nationalization process can cost an individual his or her American citizenship. Justice Kagan wrote for the court, stating that a jury must find that “a false statement sufficiently altered those processes as to have influenced the award of citizenship.”
Maslenjak v. U.S. has been remanded back to the lower courts, giving Mrs. Maslenjak the opportunity to challenge the materiality of her false statements to determine the status of her citizenship going forward.