Fedorenko v. United States

The Case: U.S. Supreme Court decision concerning denaturalization

Date: Decided on January 21, 1981

Significance: The Fedorenko decision established that the citizenship of a naturalized citizen may be revoked in cases when individuals intentionally provided false information to enter the country or to obtain materialization.

Following World War II, Feodor Fedorenko, who was born in Ukraine, obtained a visa to enter the United States under the Displaced Persons Act of 1948 (DPA), which did not apply to anyone who had voluntarily assisted the enemy or had participated in persecuting civilians. Fedorenko became a naturalized citizen in 1970. A decade later, witnesses testified that he had concealed his service as an armed guard at Treblinka, a Nazi extermination camp, and that he had committed atrocities against inmates. Fedorenko claimed that the German army had forced him to serve in the camp, although he admitted that he had never tried to escape. The government brought denaturalization action under the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952, which requires revocation of citizenship that was procured by “willful misrepresentation.” Ruling in favor of Fedorenko, the district court held that because his service in the camp had been involuntary, his misrepresentation was not material to his admission.

Reversing the ruling by a 7-2 margin, the Supreme Court ordered Fedorenko’s denaturalization based on the fact that the language of the DPA made him ineligible to receive a visa. Speaking for the majority, Justice Thurgood Marshall criticized the district court for ignoring the clear and explicit wording of the DPA. Once the district court determined that either immigration or naturalization had resulted from willful misrepresentation, it had no discretion to excuse Fedorenko’s conduct. The DPA, moreover, referred to the objective fact of persecuting others, so that even if he had acted under duress, the DPA would not have allowed him to enter the country. In 1984, Fedorenko was deported to the Soviet Union, where he was executed by a firing squad two years later.

Thomas Tandy Lewis

Further Reading

  • Bosniak, Linda. The Citizen and the Alien: Dilemmas of Contemporary Membership. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2008. 
  • LeMay, Michael, and Elliott Robert Barkan, eds. U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Laws and Issues: A Documentary History. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1999. 

See also: Citizenship; Congress, U.S.; Constitution, U.S.; Deportation; Displaced Persons Act of 1948; Holocaust; Immigration law; World War II.

Add comments

A–Z index