The recent arrest of Marco Senghor, the Senegal-born owner of the popular dance club and restaurant Bissap Baobab, could well be the first local case stemming from federal “denaturalization” efforts — the act of stripping naturalized Americans of their citizenship.
Federal authorities, Mission Local is told, arrested Senghor in the morning of Wednesday, August 1, while he was walking down Mission Street between 19th and 20th. Senghor spent the night in jail and, on August 2, was released on a $50,000 bond.
The charges: “Procurement of Citizenship Contrary to Law” and “Procurement of Citizenship for a Person Not Entitled to Citizenship.” Essentially, he has been criminally charged with illegally obtaining his citizenship. The details of Senghor’s case are unclear, as the indictment, filed by United States Attorney Alex G. Tse, is under seal. Senghor, who arrived in the United States in 1989, became a citizen in 2009.
The federal government has “decided to use their prosecutorial resources to punish him criminally. There are civil options and other remedies, and they chose not to do that,” said Jeffery L. Bornstein, Senghor’s attorney. “That just shows me that they’re targeting people that have done their best to be contributing members of our society.”
Bornstein declined to answer questions about the specifics of the accusations, only stating that Senghor was “taken advantage of” and “misled along the way.”
Senghor’s arrest comes as the Trump administration is ramping up efforts to denaturalize Americans suspected of cheating on their on their citizenship forms. In June, officials from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services announced the hiring of additional lawyers to review cases of individuals suspected of using fake identities to obtain their citizenship.
This week, the Los Angeles Times reported that those denaturalization cases are on the rise: In Los Angeles, a United States Citizenship and Immigration Services team is reviewing some 2,500 naturalization files for identity fraud and willful misinterpretation, and have already referred more than 100 cases to the Department of Justice for possible action.
Just how many files are being reviewed by Citizenship and Immigration Services office in San Francisco is unclear. The agency has not immediately responded to Mission Local’s inquiries.
A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s office declined to answer regarding whether the office has received cases for review from USCIS, nor how many such cases the office is currently pursuing.
Both offices declined to say whether USCIS referred Senghor’s file to the U.S. Attorney’s office — or whether his case is part of a larger federal push to denaturalize American citizens.
All of the lawyers Mission Local interviewed said they were aware of the efforts, but had not personally dealt with denaturalization cases similar to Senghor’s.
But Jehan Laner Romero, an immigration lawyer with San Francisco’s Pangea Legal Services, said Senghor’s case is a product of recent efforts. “This definitely fits into the trend,” she said.
“They’re further criminalizing immigrants, even though they’ve legally gone through the procedure, [the government is] now trying to accuse them of things like fraud — probably things they didn’t intend to do,” she said.
“They’re just trying to go through and find little mistakes on those applications,” she added.
Other local immigration attorneys said they are aware of the recent efforts, but have not yet seen a major uptick in criminal charges tied to revocations of citizenship. “We’ve seen an uptick in people talking about cases,” said Anoop Prasad, a staff attorney at Advancing Justice — Asian Law Caucus. “But I don’t know if there’s actually an uptick or people are just talking about it more.”
Nevertheless, Prasad said, denaturalization cases are relatively easy to prosecute. “The truth is you can look through most people’s immigration files and you’re going to find something that isn’t accurate — that there’s a mistake or something was left out,” he said.
Prasad added that the questions on the forms can also be vague and broad. For example, the citizenship form asks the question: “Have you ever been arrested, cited or detained by any law enforcement officer (including any and all immigration officials or the U.S. Armed Forces) for any reason?”
“This goes to show how broad their power is,” Prasad said. “If they want to target someone, they can dig through and find something.”
Senghor (whose full name is Marc Oliver Senghor) is the son of a French-Senegalese father, Yacinth Lat Senghor, a diplomat and a former boss of Kofi Annan, and a French mother, Alice Laget. He is also the grand-nephew of Senegal’s first president, Leopold Senghor, an association from which he publicly distanced himself for a time.
He came to the United States nearly 30 years ago, and, after fits and starts at making a ginger-juice company successful, he started Bissap Baobab on 19th Street. In addition to his American citizenship, which he received in 2009, Senghor is also a citizen of Senegal and France. He has been a vocal member of the African diaspora community and is often hailed as the very model of an American immigrant success story.
“It’s not right to be against every foreigner and every minority,” Senghor said in a speech broadcast on cable TV news stations following the September 11 terrorist attacks. “We all love this country. We all want to be here. We’re here and we’re proud. We don’t want people to kill our dreams.”
A GoFundMe has been set up for Senghor’s legal defense fund. As of Thursday afternoon, it was at $5,500 of its $50,000 goal.