(CN) – The Supreme Court agreed Friday to hear a Bosnian immigrant’s challenge to her forced removal from the United States, after she was convicted of concealing from immigration officers her husband’s involvement in the 1995 massacre of 8,000 Bosnian Muslims.
Ratko Maslenjak, 57, and his wife Divna Maslenjak, 53, were deported to Belgrade, Serbia last year after a 10-year battle with immigration authorities.
The couple arrived in Akron, Ohio in 2000 and won refugee status, telling U.S. officials that Ratko faced persecution for dodging mandatory enlistment in the Bosnian Serb army.
International investigators later discovered Ratko’s true involvement in the Yugoslav wars – he was company commander of the Bratunac Brigade, which participated in the attack on Srebrenica in July 1995.
The attack was followed by a genocide of more than 8,000 Muslim Bosnians, mainly unarmed men and boys, in a series of mass executions. Between 25,000 and 30,000 Bosnian women were deported, but not before many were raped and otherwise abused.
The commanders of the Bratunac Brigade were later convicted of war crimes before the Hague Tribunal.
Ratko was convicted of immigration fraud in 2007. Divna was convicted of the same crime in 2014 for repeatedly answering no to questions about whether she gave false information to any U.S. official to gain entry to the country or win naturalization.
Last year, the Sixth Circuit rejected Divna’s argument that the government is required to show proof that her false statements were material or relevant to its decision to grant her asylum and citizenship.
The panel said the trial judge correctly instructed the jury “that making a false statement under oath in an immigration proceeding was ‘contrary to law’ and violated 18 U.S.C. § 1425(a) if the act of making a false statement violated the immigration laws, regardless of whether the statement was material.”
This ruling created a conflict with the Ninth Circuit’s 1992 opinion in U.S. v. Puerta, where it ruled that that an immigrant’s false statements must be relevant for an immigrant to face criminal liability. The First, Fourth and Seventh Circuits have all reached the same conclusion.
“The resulting inconsistency in the application of the Nation’s criminal and immigration laws is intolerable: a naturalized American can now be stripped of her citizenship based on an immaterial false statement if prosecuted in Cleveland, but not in Boston, Richmond, Chicago, or San Francisco,” Maslenjak said in petition for writ of certiorari filed with the U.S. Supreme Court in September.
The Supreme Court’s consideration of Maslenjak’s case will provide guidance to the federal appeals courts to remedy the current circuit split over whether a naturalized American citizen can be stripped of their citizenship in a criminal proceeding based on an immaterial false statement.
Per its custom, the nation’s high court did not comment on its decision to hear the case.
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