Elizabeth, NJ- Earlier in January, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear the case of a Bosnian immigrant who had her citizenship revoked for making a false statement on her naturalization application. The court’s decision will help clarify when an immigrant can have their citizenship revoked for a false statement.
At the center of the case, is Divna Maslenjak, a Bosnian immigrant who, along with her husband, was granted asylum in the U.S. She applied for refugee status in 1998, telling an agent for United States Immigration and Naturalization that her family faced persecution because her husband refused to serve in the Bosnian Serb Army. She also told immigration officials that she and her husband lived apart between 1992 and 1997 because he was in hiding.
Divna Maslenjak and her husband Ratko Maslenjak were both granted asylum in the U.S. and entered the U.S. in 2010. Divna became a legal permanent resident in 2004.
In 2006, Rotko Maslenjak was investigated, and immigration authorities discovered he served in the Bosnian Serb Army as one of the commanders of the Bratunac Brigade. Leaders of the Bratunac Brigade were convicted of war crimes by The Hague Tribunal for the genocidal killings of an estimated 8,000 Muslim Bosnian men and boys, and the rape and abuse of between 30,000 and 45,000 Bosnian women.
Rotko Maslenjak was charged with two counts of making a false statement on an immigration document in 2007. After her husband was detained, Divna filed an N-400 Application for Naturalization, and on that application, she was asked if she ever knowingly gave a government official a false or misleading answer. She answered “No” despite her knowledge of her husband’s military service. When she appeared before an immigration official, Divna Maslenjak, she affirmed she did not misrepresent any facts on her application or in her testimony. However, during her husband’s removal hearing, she admitted to lying on her asylum application and to an immigration official.
In 2014, Divna Maslenjak was convicted of making false statements on her immigration application and was sentenced to two years of probation and immigration authorities were instructed to revoke her citizenship.
Divna Maslenjak appealed the decision to the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, arguing that the government failed to show her false statements were material to the decisions that granted her asylum and citizenship. She also argued that because the government failed to show her false statements were material to her immigration applications, the jury for her criminal trial was incorrectly instructed.
On April 7, 2015, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals rejected Divna’s argument, upholding prior decisions. The Sixth Circuit panel explained that there are criminal and civil procedures for denaturalization under the Immigration Nationality Act 18 U.S.C § 1425(a). Civil procedures require the government to show materiality to a case, but under criminal procedures taking away a person’s citizenship is an automatic consequence of a criminal conviction.
By agreeing to hear Maslenjak’s case, the U.S. Supreme Court will give federal appeals courts clarity about when evidence is considered material in immigration cases in which a naturalized American citizen can have citizenship taken away.
The outcome of this case will impact decisions in future cases where immigration laws and criminal laws intersect. Immigrants in New Jersey who find themselves facing criminal charges can call my office and set up a consultation. I can assist immigrants in Elizabeth, Jersey City, Newark or another area of New Jersey with their criminal cases, so they don’t make any decisions that could jeopardize their immigration status. Call my office at (973) 453-2009 and set up a consultation.