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MAY 5, 2017
The law is the law and a lie is a lie. Can a long-ago lie cost an immigrant her U.S. citizenship? That is what the Supreme Court is considering in the case of an ethnic Serbian woman from Bosnia who lied during her refugee and later citizenship application process about why she was seeking to make the U.S. her permanent home. Divna Maslenjak and her husband, Ratko Maslenjak obtained refugee status in 1999 and moved to Akron, Ohio a year later. They said they feared persecution back in Bosnia because the husband had refused to serve in the Bosnian Serb military.
But that was untrue. Ratko Maslenjak had in fact served as commander of a unit of the military that had been linked to war crimes that killed thousands of Bosnian Muslims and resulted in the exodus from the city of Srebrenica of about 30,000 women, children and senior citizens. Both were convicted of immigration document fraud, deported last year and stripped of their U.S. citizenship.
Divna Maslenjak had tried to argue against the charge that she obtained U.S. citizenship illegally because it was based on a false statement on her application. She said the lie was immaterial, but lower courts upheld a criminal conviction against her. The issue for the justices is how important her false statements were to her application to become an American citizen. Lower courts have disagreed with the standard. The trial judge in the lower courts said that any lie in the process of applying for naturalization was justification for stripping the immigrant of citizenship.
Last week, the Supreme Court seemed most concerned
with the potential for the case to pave the way for the U.S. government
to revoke citizenship for any number of reasons, no matter how significant.