Rep. Lee Zeldin Introduces Bill to Strip Immigrant Gang Members’ Citizenship

MS-13 Gang Member in El Salvador - GETTY IMAGES Jan Sochor
Jan Sochor/Getty Images

Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY) introduced a new bill on Tuesday that would strip the citizenship of any recent immigrant that participates in a gang.

The bill, known as the “Protecting Our Communities from Gang Violence Act,” would remove the naturalization of any immigrant who becomes involved in gang activity ten years before or after taking the American citizenship oath.

Congressman Zeldin said, “United States naturalization is a privilege, not a right, and those who have had this privilege bestowed upon them must respect and uphold the laws of our land.”

Zeldin explained that he introduced the bill to combat the long string of violent crimes committed by MS-13 gang members in his home district in Long Island, New York.

Zeldin argued, “From the vicious machete attack of four young men in Central Islip, to the childhood best friends brutally murdered by MS-13 in Brentwood, our community has witnessed the indiscriminate brutality of gang violence firsthand.”

In February, United States Center for Immigration Services (USCIS) Director Lee Francis Cissna explained to President Donald Trump how current immigration laws prevent the agency from deporting foreign-born MS-13 gang members.

Cissna explained to President Trump:

…There are no grounds in the law right now that permit us to deport a gang member merely because he’s a gang member. We have to wait until they’ve actually killed somebody or harmed an American.  Then we have a reason to deport them; then we can get them. Or if they’re here unlawfully, okay. But if they’re here lawfully, and they’re a gang member, there’s no ground of removal, really.

Similarly, there’s no ground of inadmissibility. So we can’t stop them from coming in, and my people may have to grant them an immigration pathway because there’s no — nothing in the law that makes a gang member, merely because they’re a gang member, ineligible for that benefit.

Cissna also told the president that foreigners can still apply and obtain citizenship because there is no federal law preventing USCIS from naturalizing gang members.

Cissna elaborated:

Indeed, they might even get citizenship under the law right now.  You have to have what’s called good moral character to become a citizen. But gang membership is not explicitly on the list of things that makes you not qualified for good moral character.  We can take it into account, we can look at it, we can weigh their gang membership against other things in their life, but we are not required to deny them the citizenship.

This is untenable, and I urge the members of Congress sitting here today to help us fix that.  That is a horrendous loophole.  It affects public safety, it affects the integrity of our laws.  It cannot stand. 

Rep. Zeldin argued, “Every level of government has a role to play in combating the rise of MS-13 and other gangs, and we must crack down on the aspects of our nation’s broken immigration system and other policies that have allowed MS-13 and other gangs to take hold in our communities and stay there.”


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