Alienating Citizens

In 1967, the Supreme Court declared that denaturalisation for any reason other than fraud or mistake in the naturalisation process is unconstitutional, forcing the government to abandon its aggressive denaturalisation campaigns. For the last half century, the government denaturalised no more than a handful of people every year. Over the past year, however, the Trump Administration has revived denaturalisation. The Administration has targeted 700,000 naturalised American citizens for investigation and has hired dozens of lawyers and staff members to work in a newly created office devoted to investigating and prosecuting denaturalisation cases. Using information gathered from responses to Freedom of Information Act requests, legal filings, and interviews, the author of this essay describes the Trump Administration’s denaturalisation campaign in detail. The author then situates denaturalisation within the Trump Administration’s broader approach to immigration. Under a policy known as “attrition through enforcement,” the Trump Administration has sought to discourage immigration and encourage “self-deportation.” Although attrition through enforcement is typically described as a method of persuading unauthorised immigrants to leave the United States, the denaturalisation campaign and other Trump Administration initiatives suggest that the same approach is now being applied to those with legal status.

Amanda Frost, Alienating Citizens, Northwestern University Law Review, 2019.