William & Mary Bill of Rights Journal


Comprehensive immigration reform is a popular topic in Congress. While many reform bills have been offered, none have addressed the significant substantive and procedural issues surrounding denaturalization, the process where the federal government may seek to have a naturalized person’s citizenship revoked in federal court if his citizenship was unlawfully or fraudulently procured.Though denaturalization serves public policy as a final check on naturalization fraud, existing law also permits the government to denaturalize an individual solely for speech and expressive association that occurs after one acquires citizenship. This provision, 8 U.S.C. § 1451(c), violates naturalized citizens’ First Amendment rights to free speech and association, interferes with their Fifth Amendment right of equal protection, and also has a tendency to overpenalize otherwise innocent conduct. Moreover, authority to initiate a denaturalization proceeding is spread among the Attorney General and all U.S. Attorneys. Congress has not codified an evidentiary burden for denaturalization since the process was initially enacted in 1906. To protect the constitutional rights of all U.S. citizens and to provide legislative clarity, Congress should excise 8 U.S.C. § 1451(c) from immigration law, vest sole authority to initiate denaturalization proceedings with the Attorney General, and codify the “clear, unequivocal, and convincing” evidentiary burden.