Naturalized citizens are no longer safe from anti-immigrant initiatives
A disturbing development in the news this week. I've pasted most of the article here (it's long) but click on the headline for the full article:
(Miami Herald, July 9)
The United States government has long reserved its power to revoke citizenship for the rarest of cases, going after the likes of war criminals, child rapists and terrorist funders.
Norma Borgono is none of those. The 63-year-old secretary who immigrated from Peru in 1989 volunteers weekly at church, raised two children on a $500-a-week salary and suffers from a rare kidney disorder. But a week after her baby granddaughter came home from the hospital, Borgono received a letter from the U.S. government: The Department of Justice was suing to "denaturalize" her as part of an unprecedented push by the Trump administration to revoke citizenship from people who committed criminal offenses before they became citizens.
"I don’t know what’s going to happen if she goes to Peru," said her daughter, Urpi Ríos. "We have nothing there."
Borgono, a Miami resident for 28 years, is being targeted based on her minor role in a $24 million fraud scheme in the previous decade. As the secretary of an export company called Texon Inc., she prepared paperwork for her boss, who pocketed money from doctored loan applications filed with the U.S. Export-Import Bank.
When the feds caught wind of the scheme, Borgono cooperated. The secretary never made any money beyond her regular salary and helped the FBI make a case that put her former boss behind bars for four years. On May 17, 2012, Borgono took a plea deal and was sentenced to one year of house arrest, four years of probation and $5,000 of restitution.
Working two jobs, she paid off her restitution and was relieved of her sentence early. Two years after she put it all behind her, Borgono received the letter notifying her that the U.S. government wanted to take away her citizenship.
The stated reason was that Borgono became a U.S. citizen after the fraud scheme started. Although she had not yet been charged when she applied for citizenship, the Department of Justice is now arguing that she lied by not divulging her criminal activity on her application.
Bouncing her 3-month-old daughter on her lap, Ríos said the family was shocked by the letter. They had no idea this kind of case was even possible. “Had the threat to her citizenship been brought up," during the original case, she said, "we would have gone to trial or found some way to fight it.”
Borgono is one of thousands of citizens and legal residents of the United States who may now find themselves subject to denaturalization and deportation for past offenses, some of them committed decades ago.
“I’m worried that people who have been citizens for a long time will now be targeted for denaturalization, and that the effort to defend against a federal denaturalization claim is so expensive that people will just give up,” said Matthew Hoppock, a Kansas City immigration attorney who has been tracking the changes in denaturalization policy.
When a denaturalization lawsuit is filed, the defendant's options are to fight it or be deported. Ríos explained that the only settlement offered to her mother was to voluntarily renounce her citizenship and move to Peru. They believe this would be a death sentence.
Borgono and her children suffer from a rare kidney disease called Alports syndrome that eventually leads to the loss of kidney function. They no longer have any close family or ties to Peru because Borgono's mother and brother both died from their kidney disease decades ago. Borgono has been on the Miami transplant list for two years, and Ríos is scared her mother won't be able to get proper care, let alone a transplant, if forced to go back to Peru.
“For everything that she did wrong, that she cooperated on, that she paid her debt to society for, now they want to send her away to die over there?” Ríos asked through tears.