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Stripped of citizenship for a white lie? One woman's story - pt 2

In our last post, we discussed a case currently before the U.S. Supreme Court. The issue is whether any misstatement during an immigration petition, even a small one, is enough to render someone's immigration status invalid. Even naturalized citizens are vulnerable.

The case before the Supreme Court involves a Serbian woman who fled war-torn Bosnia with her family and become a refugee in America. She later became a naturalized citizen, but her citizenship may be stripped away. You see, as she applied for citizenship, she was asked whether she had given false or misleading information to immigration officials, and whether she had lied to any U.S. official to gain entry to the country. She answered "no" both times.

That wasn't quite true. She knew her husband had been a company commander in the infamous Bratunac Brigade during the Bosnian war -- and that he had not disclosed it on his refugee petition. She knew, but she didn't rat him out.

Prosecutors submit statements she made after becoming a citizen as proof of her lies

It's clear that the husband misled officials on his refugee petition. It's not immediately obvious what the wife is accused of lying about, or how you could prove it if she was. Additional information was on its way, however, as part of the husband's last-ditch effort to stay in the U.S.

He applied for political asylum in 2009, after the wife had been granted U.S. citizenship. When she testified in that case, the wife admitted that she had known her husband had served in the Bosnian Serb military -- and that she had misrepresented that fact in her interview for refugee status.

After she admitted that, she was immediately indicted for "procurement of citizenship or naturalization unlawfully." She was convicted by a reluctant jury who had been told she should be convicted for making false statements even if the jury found that the statements were not material and had no influence on the decision to grant her refugee status.

That's how this law has been read, here in the Sixth Circuit. Other circuit courts of appeal have read the law to mean that, for a naturalized citizen to be stripped of her citizenship, any misstatements she made must be material. In other words, if she had been granted refugee status based on her own realistic fear of being persecuted as a Serb, her misleading statements about her husband's military service weren't relevant and shouldn't count.

As her Supreme Court petition says, this leads to an intolerable inconsistency in the law depending on where the defendant lives. The high court will now have to decide how to make it right.

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