Denaturalization: Evaluating Section (C)

Photo Courtesy of Migrant-Rights.Org
Photo Courtesy of Migrant-Rights.Org

Denaturalization: Evaluating Section (C)

By Carlie Masterson, Staff Writer

Many natural-born United States citizens have heard the horror stories of having to pass the USCIS Naturalization test to become a citizen. Even as a law student, I have to admit, there are many History and Government Civics questions I would be unsure of. [1]

However, after going through the rigorous testing process unlike natural-born citizens, and although purportedly given the same rights after naturalizing, naturalized citizens may lose their US citizenship through denaturalization. [2] This is how the government revokes or cancels citizenships. [3] Although in certain situations this process serves an important public policy objective in ensuring citizenships were not fraudulently procured, there are also unfair and potentially unconstitutional effects as well.

The burden in proving citizenship had been unlawfully procured rests solely on the government, and the evidence must be “clear, unequivocal, and convincing.” [4] 8 U.S.C. §1451 defines when civil revocation of naturalization of citizenship may occur. Statutory elements relevant to denaturalization are moral character, concealment, and misrepresentation. [5] In addition, this element must have been material to the grant of citizenship, which has caused additional confusion in interpretation. Id.

Part (c) of this statute specifically defines concealment or misrepresentation of membership in certain organizations as grounds for denaturalization because it would have “precluded such persons from naturalization.” [6] This provision raises a number of issues, including equal protection, over-penalizing otherwise innocent conduct, and whether naturalized citizens’ First Amendment rights to free speech and association have been violated. [7] In addition, the denaturalized citizen’s family members may be unfairly punished by losing the derivative status they had previously attained.

The equal protection component of the Fifth Amendment’s Due Process Clause is at issue because denaturalization and the statute of limitation provisions divide US citizens into classes based on national origin, and provides lesser protection to recently naturalized citizens than longer durational naturalized citizens and natural-born citizens. Id.

NAACP v. Alabama ex rel. Patterson, 357 U.S. 449 (1958) was the first Supreme Court case to hold that freedom of expressive association is protected under the First Amendment. However, this was held many years after § 1451(c) was enacted. [7] Naturalized citizens’ First Amendment rights to free speech and association are at issue in § 1451(c) because it provides that a naturalized citizen may be denaturalized within a specified time limit for previously associating with a particular group or holding a certain viewpoint. Id.

For example, in United States v. Geiser, 527 F.3d 288, Geiser was seventeen when he was drafted to be a guard for a concentration camp in Sachsenhausen, Germany. [8] He obtained civilian clothes and fled with fellow guards during wartime and later worked in Austria. Id. Geiser entered the United States in 1956, and was naturalized in Mercer County, Pennsylvania in 1962. Id. The complaint to revoke his citizenship was filed in 2004, and claimed that because of his prior association with the Nazi party, he should have been ineligible for citizenship. Id. The United States Court of Appeals, Third Circuit, found in favor of the government to revoke his citizenship, and Geiser spent the rest of his life fighting this, until he died at the age of 88. Id.

Conclusively, this is an outdated area of immigration law in need of reform. In my opinion and in that of many others, denaturalization serves an important final check to combat fraud in obtaining citizenship, yet at the same time creates inequities for naturalized citizens previously associated with a group the United States finds not to be in accordance with “good moral character.” As a secondary impact, family members of the denaturalized citizen who were potentially never associated with the group of their denaturalized family member, but received their status derivatively, will lose their status in the United States as well. It’s time re-evaluate this statute to ensure its objective are being met without violating the rights of some of our newest citizens!


[1] See to view all potential questions and answers for the civics portion of the test.

[2] Schneider v. Rusk, 377 U.S. 163, 165, 84 S. Ct. 1187, 1189, 12 L. Ed. 2d 218 (1964)



[4] Schneiderman v. United States, 320 U.S. 118, 125, 63 S. Ct. 1333, 1336, 87 L. Ed. 1796 (1943)


[5] Michael Heyman, Language and Silence: The Supreme Court’s Search for the Meaning of American Denaturalization Law, 5 Geo. Immigr. L.J. 409, 432 (1991)


[6] 8 U.S.C.A. § 1451(c) (West).


[7] Aram A. Gavoor & Daniel Miktus, Snap: How the Moral Elasticity of the Denaturalization Statute Goes Too Far, 23 Wm. & Mary Bill Rts. J. 637 (2015)


[8] United States v. Geiser, 527 F.3d 288, 290 (3d Cir. 2008).




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