The US government agency that oversees immigration applications is launching an office that will focus on identifying Americans who are suspected of cheating to get their citizenship and seek to strip them of it.
US Citizenship and Immigration Services Director L Francis Cissna told The Associated Press in an interview that his agency is hiring several dozen lawyers and immigration officers to review cases of immigrants who were ordered deported and are suspected of using fake identities to later get green cards and citizenship through naturalisation.
Cissna said the cases would be referred to the Department of Justice, whose attorneys could then seek to remove the immigrants' citizenship in civil court proceedings. In some cases, government attorneys could bring criminal charges related to fraud.
Until now, the agency has pursued cases as they arose but not through a coordinated effort, Cissna said. He said he hopes the agency's new office in Los Angeles will be running by next year but added that investigating and referring cases for prosecution will likely take longer.
"We finally have a process in place to get to the bottom of all these bad cases and start denaturalising people who should not have been naturalized in the first place," Cissna said. "What we're looking at, when you boil it all down, is potentially a few thousand cases." He declined to say how much the effort would cost but said it would be covered by the agency's existing budget, which is funded by immigration application fees.
The push comes as the Trump administration has been cracking down on illegal immigration and taking steps to reduce legal immigration to the US.
Immigrants who become US citizens can vote, serve on juries and obtain security clearance. Denaturalisation the process of removing that citizenship is very rare.
The US government began looking at potentially fraudulent naturalisation cases a decade ago when a border officer detected about 200 people had used different identities to get green cards and citizenship after they were previously issued deportation orders.
In September 2016, an internal watchdog reported that 315,000 old fingerprint records for immigrants who had been deported or had criminal convictions had not been uploaded to a Department of Homeland Security database that is used to check immigrants' identities. The same report found more than 800 immigrants had been ordered deported under one identity but became US citizens under another.
Since then, the government has been uploading these older fingerprint records dating back to the 1990s and investigators have been evaluating cases for denaturalisation.
Authorities said Singh used a different name when he arrived in the United States in 1991. He was ordered deported the next year and a month later applied for asylum using the name Baljinder Singh before marrying an American, getting a green card and naturalizing. Authorities said Singh did not mention his earlier deportation order when he applied for citizenship.
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