Can Citizenship Really Be Taken Away?

During President-elect Donald Trump’s run for president, and in the month since the election, he has brought up the subject of limiting or revoking the right to U.S. Citizenship. In 2015, he stated he wanted to end birthright citizenship for people born of undocumented parents. Then, post-election, he proposed that Americans who protest government policies by burning the flag should spend a year in jail or lose citizenship as punishment. Such statements have ultimately raised the question for many: can the U.S. government simply deny or revoke citizenship, even if you were born in the United States?

The 14th Amendment to the Constitution states that all persons born in the United States are automatically U.S. citizens. This includes those born in certain incorporated U.S. territories. Additionally, under the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), those born abroad to a U.S. citizen parent or parents may also derive U.S. citizenship at birth. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled in the past that the Constitution does not permit the government to take a person’s citizenship against his or her will. Thus, a major overhaul of the U.S. Constitution or possibly a bill to limit or modify the rights of citizenship would have to be passed and subsequently withstand challenge in the Supreme Court to change any of the above.

So how CAN someone lose citizenship?

For all U.S. citizens, by birth or naturalization, revocation of citizenship is not a simple process. A person must voluntarily take action on their own that expresses an intent to give up their citizenship, such as:

  • Naturalization or swearing allegiance to another country after the age of 18;
  • Serving in the armed forces of a foreign country engaged in hostilities with the U.S;
  • Formally renouncing citizenship on a Department of State form before a consular or diplomatic officer;
  • Written renunciation during a state of war; or
  • Act of treason, force, or bearing arms against the United States.

In all of the above examples, the burden is still on the U.S. government to prove the person’s specific intent and voluntariness of the action to renounce citizenship.

For people who become citizens by naturalization, if it can be proved by clear, unequivocal, and convincing evidence that citizenship was obtained by improper means, then the government can institute proceedings to have it revoked. Grounds for revocation include:

  • Membership in a communist, terrorist, or other subversive group;
  • Concealment or willful misrepresentation of a material fact during naturalization;
  • Illegal procurement of naturalization; or
  • Subversive activities.

The government must institute proceedings against the person in court and provide them a chance to defend or rebut the allegations and charges. If a naturalized person loses citizenship, then any family member who benefited from that citizenship will also lose their status.

Fortunately, U.S. citizenship is very difficult to lose whether you are born here or naturalize after immigrating. So, despite the political rhetoric out there, barring major changes to our long-standing fundamental rights that would certainly be hard fought, birthright citizenship is not going anywhere.

FIND OUT WHERE YOU STAND! Do you or a family member qualify for U.S. citizenship? If you have never talked to an immigration attorney about your situation before, now is the best time to do so – before the new administration starts making changes that may affect you and your family. Contact an experienced, licensed attorney to find out what YOU can do to help your situation. If you would like our assistance, contact our office today at 210-932-3600 to set up a consultation.

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