False Statements and Immigration Benefits: Part 1

by | Sep 27, 2017 | Blog, Criminal Law, Interrogation, Monmouth County, Ocean County

On June 22, 2017, the United States Supreme Court decided the case of Maslenjak v. United States. Petitioner Divna Maslenjak is an ethnic Serb who resided in Bosnia during the 1990’s, when a civil war divided the new country.  In 1998, she and her family sought refugee status in the United States.  Interviewed under oath, Maslenjak explained that the family feared persecution from both sides of the national rift: Muslims would mistreat them because of their ethnicity, and Serbs would abuse them because Maslenjak’s husband had evaded service in the Bosnian Serb Army by absconding to Serbia.  Persuaded of the Maslenjaks’ plight, American officials granted them refugee status.

Years later, Maslenjak applied for U.S. citizenship.  In the application process, she swore that she had never given false information to a government official while applying for an immigration benefit or lied to an official to gain entry into the United States.  She was naturalized as a U. S. citizen. But it soon emerged that her professions of honesty were false: Maslenjak had known all along that her husband spent the war years not secreted in Serbia, but serving as an officer in the Bosnian Serb Army.  The Government charged Maslenjak with knowingly “procuring, contrary to law, her naturalization,” in violation of 18 U. S. C. §1425(a).

It would be interesting to learn how this information that the Govnernment could not uncover during their 1998 investigation “soon emerged years later.” Given that her husband was an army officer in a bitter conflict, it is likely that someone aligned with the Muslim faction sent an anonymous communication to the United State Government.

According to the Government’s theory, Maslenjak violated §1425(a) because, in the course of procuring her naturalization, she broke another law: 18 U. S. C. §1015(a), which prohibits knowingly making a false statement under oath in a naturalization proceeding. The District Court instructed the jury that, to secure a conviction under §1425(a), the Government need not prove that Maslenjak’s false statements were material to, or influenced, the decision to approve her citizenship application.  The Sixth Circuit affirmed the conviction, holding that if Maslenjak made false statements violating §1015(a) and procured naturalization, then she also violated §1425(a).