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Can a U.S. Citizen Be Deported?

In 2019, we saw the Trump administration embark on a campaign attempting to deport thousands of naturalized US citizens. Many individuals were at risk of having their citizenship revoked to face deportation.

That act begs the question: Can US citizens be deported? On what grounds?

Before we dive in, let’s ensure we have a solid understanding of the differences between a US citizen and a US permanent resident (the laws surrounding deportation are vastly different between the two).

  • US citizens are people who are either born in the country or obtain citizenship through the naturalization process. In some cases, people can also obtain U.S. citizenship automatically through certain family members who are U.S. citizens. They cannot be deported except under very specific circumstances.
  • US permanent residents are people with green cards who have been granted the right to live in the country for an indefinite period. There are many more situations where they can be deported compared to someone with citizenship.

Related: U Visas and You

Can a United States Citizen Lose Their Citizenship?

Most naturalized US citizens cannot lose their citizenship in the same way that a permanent resident can.

However, there are some cases where a United States citizen can lose their status. For example, anyone who acquired their citizenship illegally or by deliberate deceit can have their citizenship revoked.

In addition, a US citizen can lose their citizenship if they voluntarily give it up and perform certain acts, including:

  • Becoming a citizen of another country after turning 18
  • Declaring allegiance to a foreign government after turning 18
  • Joining another country’s military force that is either engaged in hostilities with the US or as an officer
  • Renouncing their US nationality before a consular or diplomatic officer
  • Being convicted of treason or attempting to overthrow the US government

Can US Citizens Be Deported?

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While it’s relatively rare for a naturalized US citizen to get deported by the government, it can happen through a process called denaturalization.

US citizens can be denaturalized if they:

  • Partake in fraudulent or illegal activities during the naturalization process
  • Refuse to testify before congress during an investigation for subversive acts
  • Commit and get convicted for certain criminal acts
  • Join a subversive group within five years of becoming a naturalized citizen
  • Get dishonorably discharged from the military before serving five years
  • Voluntarily renounce their citizenship (as mentioned above)

Can Naturalized US Citizens Be Deported for a Felony?

A naturalized US citizen cannot be deported for breaking the law unless they break the law to become a US citizen or get convicted of treason.

However, permanent residents of the US can get deported for committing certain crimes and felonies.

The two criminal acts that are most likely to get someone deported are crimes of moral turpitude and aggravated felonies.

Aggravated felonies include lesser-known crimes, including failing to appear in court and knowingly filing a false tax return. Some crimes that don’t seem “serious” can be an aggravated felony for immigration purposes so it is important to investigate this carefully no matter what the conviction may be for.

How Long Can a US Citizen Live Outside the Country?

US citizens, whether by birth or through naturalization, can live outside of the country for as long as they want and maintain their citizenship as long as they don’t take certain actions like joining a foreign military, taking on new citizenship in a country that prevents dual citizenship, or committing treason against the US.

On the other hand, permanent residents who leave the country for extended periods may be considered to be abandoning their US residence. Suppose a green card holder leaves the country (especially for over a year). In that case, they may have difficulty returning and be placed into removal proceedings. Alternatively, if a permanent resident is gone for a long time and returns, they could face the same grounds of inadmissibility as if they are requesting admission for the first time, and not as a green card holder.

Related: Adjustment of Status: Complete Guide

Can a US Citizen Be Denied Reentry to America?

US citizens and (under most circumstances) lawful permanent residents cannot be denied reentry into the country.

As a US citizen, it’s unlikely to have any issues returning to the US after a trip abroad as long as you have your passport. 

US permanent residents are allowed to travel outside of the US and return. However, it doesn’t mean that you’ll automatically gain re-entry. If it was a short trip, your green card and foreign passport should be sufficient for reentry; however, if you were gone for a year or more, you might need to obtain a reentry permit.

Will I Lose my US Citizenship by Living Abroad?

Unlike permanent residents, US citizens can remain outside of the US and live abroad for indefinite periods without losing their status — as long as they don’t perform any of the acts of giving up their citizenship mentioned above.

This issue is much more common for green card holders who have been accused of abandoning their US residence by remaining out of the country for too long. They can be refused reentry into the country after living abroad and/or put into removal proceedings where they then have to see an immigration judge in immigration court.

US Citizens & Tax Requirements While Living Abroad

On the note of US citizens living abroad, while you won’t lose your citizenship, you may face some unwelcome consequences if you fail to file a US tax return (even if you’re not currently in the country).

Whether you lived in the US or not during the tax year, almost every citizen still has to file a return with the IRS. The income you earn outside of the US is not exempt except in special circumstances.

Can US Citizens Hold Dual Citizenship?

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Yes, the US government allows citizens to hold dual citizenship; naturalized citizens are not required to give up their citizenship in their country of origin.

However, while US citizens have a right to claim multiple nationalities, they are also subject to the responsibilities of both countries.

In addition, not all countries will recognize your status as a naturalized US citizen on their soil even if you hold citizenship in multiple countries. For example, China and India do not recognize dual citizens.

And in some countries, you may lose your citizenship automatically upon becoming a US citizen — it’s essential to understand how your country of origin handles dual citizenship before becoming a US citizen through naturalization.

What Crimes Revoke US Citizenship?

In most situations, committing a crime cannot result in your US citizenship being revoked. However, some crimes can bar you from becoming a US citizen permanently.

If you were ever convicted of murder or an aggravated felony, you could never become a US citizen. In immigration law, the definition of an aggravated felony can surprise you. For example, they can include what many courts classify as a misdemeanor.

Any crime of violence, theft, or burglary that resulted in a year or more prison term will likely be considered an aggravated felony, among others.

Related: VAWA Green Cards

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While a naturalized US citizen can have their citizenship revoked and get deported, it’s relatively rare. On the other hand, green card holders can more easily find themselves in a situation where they cannot become citizens and may face deportation.

If you have questions about your citizenship or are ready to start the naturalization process to become a US citizen, we’re here to help.

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