Published on: Thursday, June 22, 2017

On June 22, 2017, the Supreme Court held that a naturalized citizen’s immaterial false statements could not be used to strip her U.S. citizenship.  Divna Maslenjak was deported to Serbia after admitting that she lied to immigration officials  while seeking refugee status for her and her family during the civil war in Bosnia in the 1990s.   Maslenjak told officials that the family would be persecuted, in part, because her husband evaded serving in the Bosnian Serb Army by fleeing to Serbia.  Later, it was revealed that she knew that her husband had spent years  serving in that army.   

The government charged her with violating 18 U.S.C. §1425(a), knowingly procuring citizenship “contrary to law,” by knowingly making a false statement under oath in a naturalization proceeding, which is in violation of 18 U. S. C. §1015(a).  Maslenjak argued that her false statements would not have been important to immigration officials in deciding her citizenship application.  The district court instructed the jury that the government need not prove the false statements were material.  The Sixth Circuit affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed the conviction, explaining that “the most natural understanding” of “procure[s], contrary to law, naturalization” is that “the illegal act must have somehow contributed to the obtaining of citizenship.”

For the opinion, click here.  For more opinion analysis, click here.