Is the new governmental office necessary or an unjustified anti-immigrant tactic?
When a foreign-born person becomes an American citizen — often a long and expensive process — they are called “naturalized citizens.” From 2009 to 2019, more than 7.2 million people became naturalized citizens. Naturalized citizens are also projected to make up a record 9.8 percent of eligible voters for the 2020 elections.
Through the Justice Department, the federal government is able to “denaturalize” any of these citizens if they choose. The practice is extremely rare, only occurring 228 times since 2008, and ostensibly to be used only for serious crimes such as treason.
The frequency of denaturalizations has increased during the Trump Administration, almost doubling the per-year average relative to the Obama Administration. In February 2020, the Trump Administration created a new Justice Department section devoted entirely to denaturalization cases.
What the bill does
The Defend New Americans Act would prevent federal funding for the Justice Department’s denaturalization section. The bill also bans federal funding “for any successor policy,” just in case the administration tries to find a loophole by renaming the section.
What supporters say
Supporters argue that the new Justice Department section is merely a fear tactic for the immigrant community, a solution in search of a problem given the extremely low levels of actual denaturalization.
“The number of denaturalization cases has skyrocketed over the past three years, with no apparent increase in fraudulent citizenship claims,” Rep. Carbajal said in a press release. “We cannot sit idly by as the Department of Justice pours even more federal resources into a non-existent problem that was invented to sow fear.”
“Like millions of other Americans who took the Oath of Allegiance, I am proud to be a naturalized citizen and I refuse to let new Americans be treated as second-class citizens,” Rep. Carbajal continued. “The Defend New Americans Act prevents the administration from using denaturalization to unfairly target innocent American citizens.”
What opponents say
Opponents counter that the new section is necessary to bolster the denaturalizations which have occurred and made the country safer.
“When a terrorist or sex offender becomes a U.S. citizen under false pretenses, it is an affront to our system — and it is especially offensive to those who fall victim to these criminals,” Assistant Attorney General Jody Hunt said in a press release. “The Denaturalization Section will further the Department’s efforts to pursue those who unlawfully obtained citizenship status and ensure that they are held accountable for their fraudulent conduct.”
That same press release also spotlighted some of the most justified examples of denaturalization, including an al Qaeda recruiter, a war criminal who executed six unarmed civilians in Bosnia, somebody who committed sexual crimes against a 7-year-old family member, and a fraudster who caused more than $12 million in financial losses.
Odds of passage
The bill has attracted two Democratic cosponsors: Reps. Adriano Espaillat (D-NY13) and Norma Torres (D-CA35). It awaits a potential vote in the House Judiciary Committee.
Odds of passage are low in the Republican-controlled Senate.