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Can I lose my U.S. citizenship after becoming naturalized?

Once naturalized, a foreign-born U.S. citizen enjoys virtually the same rights as natural-born citizens -- with one important difference. Occasionally, naturalized citizens have their citizenship revoked, and wind up deported from the country.

This process is known as “denaturalization.” It is rare, but it is something for naturalized U.S. citizens to be aware of. There are four main grounds for denaturalization:

1. The citizen lied or withheld information when applying to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service for citizenship. Even if the USCIS does not discover the deception until after granting citizenship, the agency has the power to file a denaturalization action. An unintentional concealment may not be grounds for denaturalization.

2. The citizen declined to testify before a congressional committee that is investigating him or her for allegedly participating in subversion against the government. However, this grounds for deportation goes away after 10 years of citizenship.

3. The citizen is a member of what the government labels a “subversive organization,” such as the Nazi Party and Al Qaeda, within five years of becoming naturalized.

4. The citizen was naturalized through serving in the U.S. military, but was dishonorably discharged before serving five years.

Denaturalization takes place in federal court. The law gives USCIS a high bar to prove that stripping the accused of citizenship is necessary, though the burden of proof is lower than in criminal cases. If the court rules against the citizen, he or she has the right to appeal. If he or she does not appeal, he or she may be deported soon after the verdict.

Someone facing denaturalization who wishes to fight the proceeding should contact an immigration attorney immediately.

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