How ICE Works To Strip Citizenship From Naturalized Americans

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BY: Eoin Higgins 02.15.18

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For 10 years, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s investigative office has worked to keep its internal handbook out of American courts. The handbook could have been used in court to show how ICE’s push to lead on denaturalization cases stands in contrast to the language of federal law governing the process, an immigration lawyer said. “We could have used it as an exhibit in a motion to dismiss” in previous denaturalization cases, said Philip Smith, an immigration attorney from Portland, Oregon, noting the contrast.

The handbook, which was issued on January 15, 2008 and published Wednesday by the independent media outlet Unicorn Riot, makes clear that the priority for ICE’s investigative division, Homeland Security Investigations, or HSI, in denaturalization proceedings is to use the most efficient means possible to fulfill a single-minded goal: leveraging the bureaucratic process to strip citizenship from naturalized Americans.

“It’s a manual for the worst outcome” with respect to investigation targets, said Alaska immigration lawyer Margaret Stock in an interview on Tuesday. That’s not unique to ICE, Stock added — it’s how the entire U.S. justice system operates. “Their objective is to inflict the most pain as possible, as efficiently as possible,” Stock said. “They feel they’re doing their job correctly if the government wins — not if justice is done.”

The 20-page manual instructs agents on the particulars of denaturalization investigations. Documents obtained by the Freedom of Information Act-driven clearinghouse Government Attic indicate that the denaturalization investigations handbook was used through at least 2016; the handbook appears in the table of contents for HSI’s 2016 Special Agent’s Manual, sandwiched between chapters on cybercrime and fraud. “There’s no reason to believe the document is not authentic,” said Matthew Bourke, a public affairs officer with ICE. “ICE-HSI does manage a special agent handbook on denaturalization investigations.”

Last year, The Intercept obtained and reported on HSI’s guidelines for asset forfeiture.

The denaturalization handbook shows how the federal government pursues denaturalization against naturalized citizens and has instructions on how to prosecute cases efficiently to strip citizenship as quickly as possible.

Smith, the immigration lawyer, said the language of the manual — where ICE plays a chief role in pushing denaturalization — stands in contrast to the civil statute that allows for stripping Americans’ citizenship. “It shall be the duty of the United States attorneys for the respective districts, upon affidavit showing good cause therefor, to institute proceedings in any district court of the United States in the judicial district in which the naturalized citizen may reside at the time of bringing suit,” the statute reads.

The handbook, said Smith, shows how ICE is taking the power of instituting procedures away from federal prosecutors assigned to those geographic areas. “We believe Congress meant to have the case evaluated by prosecutors in the jurisdiction, the community,” Smith said. ICE declined to respond on the purported disconnect between its manual’s emphasis on ICE-led denaturalization, and the statute’s emphasis on letting federal prosecutors take the lead.