DOJ Seeks to Strip Citizenship From Gymnastics Coach Charged With Sexual Abuse

December 9, 2019 Updated: December 9, 2019

The Justice Department (DOJ) is seeking to revoke the citizenship of a former Olympian and gymnastics coach who has been charged with the sexual abuse of at least three minor female athletes.

José Vilchis, 68, has been accused of lying on his immigration application when he concealed that he had allegedly sexually assaulted minor victims in the 1980s and 1990s.

The 68-year-old is now currently facing 18 charges for sexually assaulting a minor in 2013 and 2014, separate to the allegations from the 1980s.

According to a complaint (pdf) to revoke Vilchis’s citizenship, the gymnastics coach assaulted his victims at various gymnastics training centers in the greater Chicago, Illinois, area. Some of those victims were as young as 12. The complaint was filed in federal court in the Northern District of Illinois.

“The Department of Justice will do everything in its power to hold accountable those who sexually abuse minors,” Assistant Attorney General Jody Hunt of the Department of Justice’s Civil Division said in a statement.

“This individual’s abuse of his position of authority and trust to prey on his students is reprehensible, and but for his fraud on our immigration process, he never would have been granted a green card and never would have been permitted to naturalize as a U.S. citizen,” Hunt added.

Vilchis, who is a native of Mexico, became a permanent resident in 1991 and a naturalized citizen in 1997. He competed for Mexico in the men’s gymnastics at the 1968 Summer Olympics and has been training gymnasts at various locations in the Northern District of Illinois for more than 30 years, according to the complaint.

Under the Immigration and Nationality Act, the citizenship of a naturalized U.S. citizen may be revoked if it was illegally procured, or procured by concealment of a material fact or by willful misrepresentation.

A person applying for naturalization must prove they are a person of “good moral character,” according to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services website. This includes not committing a crime against a person with intent to harm.

“Vilchis fraudulently gained U.S. citizenship by lying about the horrific, ongoing crimes he was committing against innocent children,” acting ICE Director Matthew T. Albence said in the statement.

“His crimes and his fraud have justifiably returned to haunt him as the government pursues his denaturalization. The United States will not allow itself to be a safe haven for sexual predators,” Albence added.

In similar actions in 2017, the DOJ filed lawsuits against five men—three natives of Mexico, one of Colombia, and one of Nigeria—saying that they committed fraud by concealing sexual abuse during the naturalization process. The department said the men had committed crimes of sexual abuse of minor victims prior to becoming U.S. citizens.

Former Attorney General Jeff Sessions said at the time that fraud is “a betrayal of the American people’s generosity.”

“It is especially appalling when it also involves the sexual abuse of children. The Department of Justice has a duty to prosecute these crimes vigorously, particularly so for individuals who commit fraud in the naturalization process,” Sessions said.

Charlotte Cuthbertson contributed to this report.

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