November 13th, 2007 08:40 EST
Irvine man to be stripped of citizenship after conviction for naturalization fraud
SANTA ANA, Calif. - An Afghani-born Irvine man convicted of naturalization fraud in the first criminal denaturalization case ever to go to trial in Orange County faces loss of his U.S. citizenship when he is sentenced early next year.
Hares Ajmal Ahmadzai, 35, was found guilty by a jury here late yesterday of failing to disclose his criminal history when he applied for citizenship with the former Immigration and Naturalization Service in 1994. The charges stem from an investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the Department of State's Bureau of Diplomatic Security. Ahmadzai's sentencing is scheduled for January 28.
Once Ahmadzai is stripped of his citizenship, he becomes an alien subject to removal from the United States. The Irvine man previously pleaded guilty to passport fraud in April 2006.
In addition to naturalization and passport fraud, Ahmadzai's criminal history also includes prior convictions for drug sales, assault and battery, forgery, and receiving stolen property.
"Citizenship is perhaps the greatest privilege this country can bestow," said Robert Schoch, special agent in charge for the ICE office of investigations in Los Angeles. "When a person commits naturalization fraud, they are not only compromising the integrity of our nation's legal immigration system, they are stealing a precious gift from the American people."
"No one wins by defrauding the citizenship process and there are formidable consequences," said Gregary J. Levin, special agent in charge of the Bureau of Diplomatic Security's Los Angeles Field Office. "The Department of State is firmly committed to working with ICE and other federal and state law enforcement agencies to investigate these cases, and bring those who commit these crimes to justice."
Under the law, a naturalized U.S. citizen can be "denaturalized" if the government establishes that the person was ineligible for citizenship when the benefit was granted. The government may seek to denaturalize someone through a federal civil filing, or as part of a criminal action involving fraud, as was done in this case.
Since 1999, ICE has moved civilly to denaturalize more than 200 persons nationwide. Criminal cases like the one in Orange County this week are less common. In the last 12 months in the greater Los Angeles area, ICE has obtained guilty pleas in three criminal denaturalization cases, but none of those cases actually went to trial.
ICE and the Bureau of Diplomatic Security received assistance in this investigation from the Orange County Sheriff's Department; the Orange County District Attorney's Office; the police departments in Santa Ana, Irvine, and Anaheim; and the California Department of Motor Vehicles.
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