WASHINGTON - The U.S. Justice Department announced on Wednesday that it has set up a new office dedicated to handling denaturalization cases involving terrorists, war criminals, sex offenders and other fraudsters.
The move is part of the Trump administration's stepped up enforcement of immigration laws over the past three years, including laws that allow the government to strip away the citizenship of foreign nationals suspected of illegally obtaining naturalization.
The Justice Department's civil division was already handling such cases, but officials said a dedicated section was needed in anticipation of a growing number of denaturalization cases coming from law enforcement agencies such as the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service.
"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," Jody Hunt, assistant attorney general in charge of the civil division, said in a statement.
Under U.S. law, naturalization can be revoked if it was obtained through fraud. To denaturalize a citizen, the government is required to show that the citizen in question "illegally" acquired naturalization or obtained it "by concealment of a material fact or by willful misrepresentation..."
In a press statement, the Justice Department provided a list of ten people who were stripped of U.S. citizenship.
In 2017, Khaled Abu al Dahab, an Egyptian American convicted of terrorism in Egypt, was denaturalized while in his native country, stripped of his passport and prevented from returning to the United States.
In 2018, a federal judged revoked the citizenship of convicted Bosnian war criminal Edin Dzeko. Dzeko was admitted to the United States as a refugee before becoming a citizen in 2006.
Also in 2018, a federal judge stripped an Indian American Baljindar Singh of his U.S. citizenship in what officials described as the first case to grow out of an Obama-era federal investigation that exposed rampant fraud among citizenship applicants.
The case was the first to result from Operation Janus, a Department of Homeland Security probe that identified 315,000 immigrants whose fingerprints were missing from government databases. The immigrants faced deportation or were criminal fugitives and "some may have sought to circumvent criminal record and other background checks in the naturalization process," the Department said.