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Citizenship Being Revoked Through Discriminatory Algorithms: What You Need to Know About Denaturalization

May 19, 2023 Perspective


Caroline Marks

Caroline Marks

Staff Attorney, National Security & Civil Rights

Caroline Marks

Staff Attorney, National Security & Civil Rights

Caroline Marks is a Staff Attorney in the National Security and Civil Rights program at Asian Law Caucus. Caroline’s work focuses on, among other things, state legislative and administrative advocacy challenging surveillance and counterterrorism programs and narratives that harm Arab, Middle Eastern, Muslim and South Asian communities and other communities of color.

Before coming to ALC, Caroline worked on litigation and advocacy with the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice at NYU Law, to hold the United States responsible for its extraordinary rendition program—whereby the U.S. kidnapped and transferred individuals to black sites and proxy governments for their subsequent torture and secret detention. Specifically, Caroline participated significantly in litigation before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in the case Mohamed et al. v. United States.

Caroline graduated from NYU School of Law and holds a BA in International Relations from Brown University. During her time at Brown, Caroline spent a semester Amman, Jordan learning the Levantine dialect and expanding her knowledge of modern standard Arabic.

Zoha Raza

Zoha Raza

Communications Associate

Zoha Raza

Communications Associate

Zoha Raza serves as the communications associate at Advancing Justice – Asian Law Caucus. Prior to this position, she led and managed communications work statewide for CAIR, coordinated youth leadership programs, and aided different social justice efforts around the Bay Area and beyond.

She has been published by a number of different news outlets including San Francisco Chronicle and San Jose Spotlight. She also volunteered as a NextGen Councilmember for ABC7, where she shared insight from local communities to contribute to story development.

Zoha graduated from the University of California, Davis with a degree in Communications. Outside of work, Zoha enjoys writing, playing basketball, and trying new food spots.

For most of U.S. history, the federal government has rarely resorted to removing someone’s citizenship. Over many decades, this tool was used in rare cases, mostly against those who were deemed to be war criminals or former Nazis. This is why its recent use against naturalized immigrants with no such similar histories is alarming and indicates a racial and discriminatory bias.

Under the Trump administration and continuing through the Biden administration, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Department of Justice (DOJ) have started to use opaque - and often biased - algorithms and databases to flag more community members for investigation and potential loss of their citizenship, a process called denaturalization.

As we call on the Biden administration to immediately halt denaturalization operations and stop using broad categories and discriminatory, automatic databases to target people, we’re also talking to more and more community members about what we’ve been seeing and how to protect your rights and freedoms in the still unlikely chance you are targeted.

Why Are More People Being Targeted for Denaturalization?

DHS, DOJ, and other federal agencies are now relying more on powerful databases and algorithms to make decisions about who should be investigated for potential denaturalization.

Among a growing web of federal surveillance and investigative tools, we’re deeply concerned by automated background check tools like ATLAS and biometric databases like HART. These tools use data from local and state police, which are riddled with racially biased, discriminatory, and often unverified information. With Black and Brown communities already over-policed, these tools only serve to reinforce systemic racism in policing.

As The Intercept explains, “powered by servers at tech giant Amazon, [ATLAS] in 2019 alone conducted 16.5 million screenings and flagged more than 120,000 cases of potential fraud or threats to national security and public safety.” These large numbers are contributing to the rise in denaturalization investigations by DOJ and DHS officials, and disturbingly, these federal agencies are refusing to be transparent about how ATLAS and HART work.

Last year, the Immigrant Defense Project (IDP), Just Futures Law, and Mijente released a detailed report that explains how DHS’s massive biometrics database will supercharge surveillance of many communities and threaten our civil rights. HART creates digital profiles of people using fingerprints, facial recognition data, and “miscellaneous officer comment information,” which is the officer’s personal feelings and impressions of the person. DHS officers are violating privacy rights under the unjustified and ineffective cover of national security, not unlike the Muslim & African Bans.

What Should You Do To Protect Your Rights?

Even as federal agencies are investigating more people than ever before for denaturalization, it is still very unlikely that you or someone you know could be subject to this type of investigation. We want people to know about the changes in federal policy and what to do if you suspect this may be happening.

First, you must be served a formal Department of Justice complaint before any denaturalization process starts. The complaint will provide some information about why the government is attempting to revoke your citizenship. Still, even if you are served this complaint, there are steps to protect yourself.

You will have 60 days to respond to the complaint, but it is important to contact an attorney right away. You can contact civil rights attorneys at the Asian Law Caucus at 415-896-1701, or another attorney. We provide free legal services in Urdu, Arabic, and Farsi, among other languages.

While the complaint will provide some information about why the federal government has started this process, it rarely offers full transparency. As we’ve been monitoring DHS and DOJ actions, we’ve identified some circumstances that are more likely to trigger denaturalization investigations, including if you were naturalized through a parent or spouse who was previously denaturalized, or you were naturalized due to participation in the U.S. military and you were discharged within 5 years of service other than honorably.

If any of these circumstances apply to you, you may also want to contact us or another attorney.


For more information about the different grounds for denaturalization and potential legal defenses, the Immigrant Legal Resource Center has created an advisory: Denaturalization And Revocation of Naturalization Practice Advisory | February 2020.

For questions about applying for U.S. citizenship - which is an entirely different and separate process - please contact CAIR-SFBA, Pangea Legal Services, or Pars Equality Center.