A federal court has stripped U.S. citizenship from a man who was supposed to have been deported but instead was naturalized after the government botched a fingerprint check, the Justice Department announced Tuesday.
It was the first denaturalization in Operation Janus, a joint effort examining thousands of people who investigators say were erroneously granted citizenship because of a fingerprint snafu.
Baljinder Singh, also known as Davinder Singh, was ordered deported from the U.S. in 1992, but he managed to remain in the country anyway. He later applied for an immigrant visa and eventually citizenship after marrying a U.S. citizen, but he gave a different name, the government says.
He should have been caught because of his fingerprints, but they were contained in a paper file and the government was checking only an electronic system, allowing him to slip through, investigators said.
“The defendant exploited our immigration system and unlawfully secured the ultimate immigration benefit of naturalization, which undermines both the nation’s security and our lawful immigration system,” said Chad Readler, acting assistant attorney general in the Justice Department’s Civil Division.
Native-born citizens cannot have their citizenship revoked, but naturalized individuals can lose citizenship and the rights that come with it if they were naturalized under fraudulent circumstances.
Citizenship can be stripped either through obtaining a naturalization fraud conviction in a criminal case or by a Justice Department civil suit claiming the individual procured naturalization through willful misrepresentation or illegal means.
Those who have lost citizenship can be deported.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions is expected to pursue more of these types of cases.
In fiscal 2017, the Justice Department filed 57 criminal cases in an effort to revoke citizenship. In the last two years of the Obama administration, the government filed 46 and 44 cases, respectively.
One high-profile case filed in fiscal 2018 is against Iyman Faris, who is scheduled to be released from prison in 2020 after serving 17 years for a plot to destroy the Brooklyn Bridge. Faris, a Pakistani native, obtained his citizenship in 1999.
The Justice Department said it expects about 1,600 Operation Janus cases to be referred from Homeland Security for prosecution.
“This will send a message that when you apply for naturalization and do it through fraud or concealing material facts, just getting your citizenship doesn’t mean you are out of immigration official’s reach,” said Dan Cadman, a fellow at the Center for Immigration Studies, a Washington think tank. “Giving citizenship to aliens is the highest honor our nation can bestow someone from another country. It should be a process with integrity.”
Operation Janus began after a Homeland Security employee in 2008 identified hundreds of immigrants granted legal status even though they had been ordered to be deported. Hundreds more eventually were identified.
In Singh’s case, he was ordered deported after he arrived in the United States aboard a flight from Hong Kong without a passport.
He was placed in removal proceedings, but sought asylum claiming his name was Davinder Singh, according to a Justice Department complaint.
Singh, 43, abandoned his asylum application after he married a U.S. citizen, who filed a visa on his behalf.
In 2004 he was naturalized but did not disclose his alias of Davinder Singh or his immigration history, the Justice Department said. The government says the entire process is tainted because Singh was never lawfully admitted into the U.S.