Deborah Choi

  • Hosted by Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Asian Law Caucus
  • Sponsored by Anonymous
  • Service location Washington, District of Columbia
  • Law school University of California, Berkeley School of Law
  • Issue area Immigrant Populations
  • Fellowship class year 2020
  • Program Design-Your-Own Fellowship

The Project

Deborah represented community members unjustly marked and criminalized as “national security” threats and engaged in policy advocacy challenging the government’s use of denaturalization as yet another immigration enforcement tool. Deborah also advocated against the technologies used for denaturalization and immigration surveillance broadly.

In recent years, the government’s denaturalization operation has rapidly grown in number, scope, and infrastructure. Through denaturalization, the government is able to strip Americans of their citizenship. When an individual is denaturalized, that person is no longer an American and is suddenly at risk of potential deportation. Previously, denaturalization was used in rare and egregious occurrences such as for individuals who committed crimes against humanity. These individuals were typically brought to the attention of the government rather than sought out. Today, individuals could be identified through extensive, sweeping, and onerous searches of their data, the specifics of which are shrouded in secrecy. This has led to many more instances of denaturalization investigations and prosecutions, particularly against African, Arab, South Asian, and Muslim communities, morphing denaturalization into yet another immigration enforcement tool. Denaturalization operates in conjunction with other immigration policies threatening citizenship to effectively redefine, to the exclusion of certain marginalized communities of color, who are considered “American” and enforce racialized and criminalized narratives about who belongs in the United States.

Fellowship Highlights

During the two-year Fellowship, Deborah:
  • Represented community members unjustly marked or criminalized as “national security” threats on issues involving denaturalization, undue delays in citizenship applications due to so-called national security concerns; harassment at borders and when flying due to identity; inability to access U.S. passports despite eligibility; and FBI or Homeland Security Investigations agent visits.
  • Led denaturalization advocacy by engaging with advocates, organizations, practitioners, and government leadership to inform their priorities and push for denaturalization to be a top priority.
  • Strategized advocacy efforts, including efforts to bring together advocates across issue areas to strengthen overlapping asks; and educated departmental leadership on the intersection of technology, surveillance, and denaturalization to elevate these issues as necessary components of any policy change on denaturalization.
  • Uncovered technologies underlying denaturalization through FOIA productions and worked with reporters to shed light on the technologies and engaged organizations in the tech/privacy/surveillance space to educate on and spread awareness of these technologies and the issue of denaturalization.


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The widespread failure to recognize the humanity of those affected by our immigration policies has led me to believe that communities of color are facing a crisis of belonging in the U.S. and beyond. The government is stripping Americans of their citizenship and effectively redefining citizenship to the exclusion of communities of color. This demands us to act.

Deborah Choi /
2020 Equal Justice Works Fellow

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