Sometimes I get asked, "So once I'm a citizen, I'm good, right?" And I say, "Yes, generally. There is always a chance of denaturalization (revoking citizenship) but that is relatively rare."
Enter Operation Janus. I will not be alarmist, but I can no longer give such advice.
On September 8, 2016, the Office of Inspector General reported that 858 people had been granted US citizenship based on incomplete fingerprint records. Normally, fingerprints are checked against both immigration and FBI digital databases, but neither of these databases included all older, paper records. So some people's fingerprints may have matched older records but because they were not in either database, it failed to generate a positive hit, and was therefore never investigated.
Another 148,000 records were identified by ICE as not having been digitized (and hence not in the databases normally checked). These were of people who were fugitives, had criminal records, orders of deportation, or were otherwise potentially ineligible for citizenship. Some of those, perhaps, tried to (and maybe became) citizens.
On January 5, 2018 the first casualty of Operation Janus lost his citizenship: Baljinder Singh (aka Davinder Singh) of India. Two other Operation Janus cases (Parvez Manzoor Khan and Rashid Mahmood, both of Pakistan) in September apparently remain pending.
The DOJ is investigating 315,000 cases in which people were granted citizenship without the proper fingerprint data available. USCIS intends to refer approximately another 1,600 for denaturalization prosecution. It remains to be seen how they will decide which cases to pursue - most of these 315,000 may have been granted citizenship on incomplete data, but now the data will be checked and perhaps nothing will turn up. If there is any irregularity, however, prosecution becomes possible, and if there is a hint of fraud, it becomes likely.
Denaturalization can be prosecuted whenever citizenship was "unlawfully procured" - it does *not* require there to be fraud. Mistaken grants of permanent residence or citizenship count as "unlawful procurement" of citizenship. So it will be up to the DOJ to decide whether to prosecute. I need not remind you that Jeff Sessions heads the DOJ.
This will seemingly affect mostly people who have been US citizens for decades, where there is an older, non-digital fingerprint record that may not have been checked - until now.
Main takeaways from this story:
- Old issues can and will come back to haunt you. If you're on the path to citizenship, remember this and remember it well.
- Citizenship is not truly final. Do not be lulled into a false sense of security.
- It will be interesting to see the breakdown by country of former nationality of Operation Janus.
Attorney Lily S. Axelrod correctly points out: this is not a reason to panic, and it's certainly not a reason not to file for citizenship. What it does mean is that sound advice is very important. It also means citizenship is not an straightforward as it used to be.