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Stripped of citizenship for a white lie? One woman's story - pt 1

Once you've become naturalized U.S. citizen, you have all the rights and responsibilities as any other citizen, right? While that equality between citizens is the bedrock of our naturalization system, there is at least one important exception.

Making false or misleading statements on your immigration application or to an immigration official can put your citizenship in jeopardy. Some instances of lying to immigration officials are considered as serious as bribing them or committing other crimes to obtain your immigration status.

If the USCIS discovers those false or misleading statements later, your immigration status could be revoked, because, as far as they are concerned, your status was never legal in the first place. Unfortunately, even naturalized citizenship can be stripped away if your lie was serious enough.

Just how small of a lie could get your citizenship stripped away?

That question is currently before the Supreme Court. The case involves a woman who fled Bosnia after the collapse of the former Yugoslavia and the ethnic cleansing that took place in its aftermath. Her family was among the wave of refugees who were granted safe haven in the U.S. It was too dangerous to return to their home village, and they believed that moving to a majority-Serb village risked the father being pressed into Serbian military service.

The family was granted refugee status and moved to Ohio to live near other family members in 2000. In 2006, the mother applied for citizenship. As part of that process, she was asked whether she had ever made false or misleading statements during the immigration process, or in order to gain entry into the U.S. She answered no to both questions. Unfortunately, those two no's may be enough to get her citizenship stripped away.

As it turns out, just before she made her citizenship application, her husband was arrested and charged with making misleading statements on his refugee petition -- an offense for which he would later be convicted and ordered to be deported.

The misleading part of his petition, it seems, was his failure to mention that he had been a company commander in the infamous Bratunac Brigade, and that he had led his men in the July 1995 attack on Srebrenica. In that massacre, an estimated 8,000 innocent men and boys were murdered in mass executions. Additionally, between 25,000 and 30,000 women were raped, abused and driven from their homes. Other commanders of the Bratunac Brigade were later convicted of war crimes.

The husband was clearly guilty of misleading immigration authorities. Now, the Supreme Court will decide whether her answering "no" to those two questions is enough to end her American Dream.

We'll discuss her case in greater detail in our next post.

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