An astonishing number of naturalized U.S. citizens have been convicted of grave national security crimes—including terrorism, espionage and theft of sensitive technology—yet the government allows them to keep their American citizenship.
As unfathomable as this may seem it’s simply business as usual in the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the massive agency created after 9/11 to keep the nation safe. The agency rarely strips foreigners of citizenship even when they prove to be national security threats who hustle the system. In fact, DHS has no system in place to examine such cases or weed out future threats.
The alarming details of this inept operation are outlined in a scathing report (“Upholding the Value of Our Citizenship: National Security Threats Should Be Denaturalized”) published this week by an organization that researches legal and illegal immigration into the United States. DHS rarely denaturalizes individuals, even after they have committed serious national security offenses, the probe found.
In the past ten years dozens of foreigners who became American citizens have been arrested, charged or convicted of serious national security-related offenses, according to the study. Incredibly, the government rarely bothered to revoke their citizenship, even though many had associations with terrorist groups or foreign intelligence organizations at the time they naturalized. In fact there is no central government repository of information about naturalized citizens who engage in serious national security offenses, the probe reveals.
Administrative naturalization continues unabated, the study says, with hundreds of thousands being granted American citizenship annually. That’s more than 6.5 million naturalized citizens in the last decade! “The consequence of these actions is to place all Americans at greater risk, as shown by the kinds of crimes for which many naturalized citizens have already been arrested, charged, convicted, and sentenced,” investigators write.
Years ago the government had a system to administratively denaturalize those who presented a danger to the country, but a federal appellate court changed that in 2000 when it ruled that the regulation exceeded the authority of the now-defunct agency (Immigration and Naturalization Service or INS) that exercised it. That left criminal prosecution or civil suits as the only method of stripping a naturalized individual of citizenship, but it’s a lengthy and tedious process that can take years.
Congress has the authority to change this by passing legislation to reinstate the government’s authority to denaturalize individuals that present a natural security threat. As the report points out, this makes a lot of sense; “If the government will not or cannot take better care to prevent the admission of individuals who are serious threats to our safety, then it must move more aggressively to reverse its mistakes and strip citizenship from those who commit national security crimes against our nation.”