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Maslenjak v. United States

Justia Summary

Maslenjak is an ethnic Serb who resided in Bosnia during the civil war. In 1998, she and her family sought refugee status in the U.S.. Interviewed under oath, Maslenjak explained that the family feared persecution: Muslims would mistreat them because of their ethnicity, and Serbs would abuse them because Maslenjak’s husband had evaded service in the Bosnian Serb Army. They were granted refugee status. Years later, Maslenjak applied for citizenship and swore that she had never given false information to a government official while applying for an immigration benefit or lied to an official to gain entry. She was naturalized. It later emerged Maslenjak had known all along that her husband spent the war years as an officer in the Bosnian Serb Army. The government charged Maslenjak with knowingly “procur[ing], contrary to law, [her] naturalization,” 18 U.S.C. 1425(a). The Supreme Court vacated her conviction, reversing the Sixth Circuit. Section 1425(a) makes clear that, to secure a conviction, the government must establish that the defendant’s illegal act played a role in her acquisition of citizenship. Under the government’s reading “Some legal violations that do not justify denying citizenship would nonetheless justify revoking it later.” The statute Congress passed strips a person of citizenship not when she committed any illegal act during the naturalization process, but only when that act played some role in her naturalization. The government must prove that the misrepresented fact was sufficiently relevant to a naturalization criterion that it would have prompted reasonable officials, “seeking only evidence concerning citizenship qualifications,” to undertake further investigation. If that is true, the inquiry turns to the prospect that the investigation would have borne disqualifying fruit. When the government can make its two-part showing, the defendant may overcome it by establishing that she was nonetheless qualified for citizenship.

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