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SCOTUS: Citizenship can't be revoked for minor misstatements

After a long and busy term, things are now relatively quiet in the halls of the Supreme Court of the United States and will likely remain this way until the start of the next session. From a legal news perspective, this means the nation's high court won't be making headlines any time soon.

Before turning the page on SCOTUS' 2016-17 term, however, it's worth examining another immigration law case that perhaps failed to generate quite as much attention as the travel ban decision, but is nevertheless incredibly important. Indeed, it examined whether citizenship can be revoked for minor falsehoods or misstatements.

The case, Maslenjak v. U.S., involved a woman, an ethnic Serbian, who came to the nation seeking safety from persecution in Bosnia. On this basis, she was granted refugee status and later citizenship in 2007.

It was later uncovered, however, that during naturalization proceedings, the woman made at least one fabrication. Specifically, federal officials discovered that she falsely claimed that she feared retribution due to her husband's avoidance of conscription into the Bosnian Serb military, when, in fact, he had indeed served in the military -- in a unit accused of war crimes.

She was ultimately charged with unlawful procurement of citizenship or naturalization.

At trial, her attorney attempted to argue that the lie was immaterial. However, the presiding judge instructed the jury that the standard was that any lie, no matter how minor, was sufficient. She was ultimately convicted, meaning her citizenship was revoked, and both she and her husband were deported to Serbia.

The case ultimately made its way before SCOTUS, which unanimously rejected the arguments of the federal government that citizenship can be revoked for trivial misstatements and ruled that the lower court had applied the incorrect standard.

Specifically, the opinion, written by Justice Elena Kagan, indicated that the government must first demonstrate that a defendant committed an illegal act that played some role in acquiring citizenship. When this act is making a false statement, she wrote, a firm connection between the statement and securing of citizenship must be established.

“When the illegal act is a false statement, that means demonstrating that the defendant lied about facts that would have mattered to an immigration official, because they would have justified denying naturalization or would predictably have led to other facts warranting that result,” reads the opinion.

The case was accordingly reversed and remanded to the lower court for consideration as to whether it should be heard again using the new standard. Legal experts have indicated that if a retrial is undertaken, the defendant's chances of prevailing are relatively slim given the substance of her misstatement.

Please consider speaking with a skilled legal professional if you have questions or concerns regarding any immigration law matter.

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