An applicant must be of "good moral character," meaning that he or she cannot have committed any serious crimes, or, in some cases, even any minor ones. They have to demonstrate the ability to speak and write in English. They must pass a civics test. At that point, the applicant qualifies for citizenship.
Citizenship and Immigration Services will interview an applicant and launch another series of background checks, again including a review of the entire history of his immigration status. It's possible at this point that the applicant could be put back into the system for removal — deportation — if any application fraud is found, or a serious crime, for example.
But if not, he or she becomes a citizen, sworn in by a judge. That person then has all of the rights of a U.S. citizen. Last September — September 11th, in fact — Dzhokhar Tsarnaev took the oath, during a large ceremony held at TD Bank Garden.
His brother, according to The Times, wasn't so lucky; his "moral character" didn't make the grade.
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev got a green card in 2007, and became a naturalized United States citizen on Sept. 11, 2012, officials said. Tamerlan was denied citizenship after he was involved in a domestic-violence episode, his father said.
If Dzhokhar survives the manhunt, if he's convicted of setting the bombs at the Boston Marathon, — he's still a citizen. Leopold was clear on this point. The government can't simply revoke citizenship because it wants to. If it found that Dzhokhar's application for naturalization was fraudulent, it could. Which, Leopold indicated, might include the government deciding that his sworn oath was insincere. That oath reads, in part:
I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic; … I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same …
The government could theoretically decide that Dzhokhar, in essence, didn't mean it. In that case, Leopold thought, it might be possible he loses his status, and could be deported. Even if none of the various levels of detailed security checks suggested he shouldn't be allowed to be a citizen, his broken word might do the trick.
Update: The Times updates its report:
It had been previously reported that Mr. Tsarnaev’s application might have been held up because of a domestic abuse episode. But the officials said that it was the record of the F.B.I. interview that threw up red flags and halted, at least temporarily, Mr. Tsarnaev’s citizenship application. Federal law enforcement officials reported on Friday that the F.B.I. interviewed Mr. Tsarnaev in January 2011 at the request of the Russian government, which suspected that he had ties to Chechen terrorists.
Reinforcing Leopold's point about the way in which security holds remain opaque.
Correction: Early reports that it was Tamerlan who received his citizenship were incorrect. Also, as the State Department only handles residency requests from outside of the United States, the article has been updated.
Top photo: Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, at left, poses for a photo after graduating from Cambridge Rindge and Latin High School.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.