In the U.S. is it legal for a family member to withhold certificate of naturalization & passport from another legal adult?

What can be done to retrieve the documents?

  • 4
    Report to the police that the documents have been stolen.
    – phoog
    May 24 '16 at 4:16
  • @phoog: Most likely, the police would consider this a civil matter and decline to get involved. May 24 '16 at 9:24
  • 2
    In the United States or in other countries? The Wall Street Journal periodically makes hay out of the powerlessness of the US embassy in Saudi Arabia re: holding female spouse or children's US passports from them riyadh.usembassy.gov/mobile//ipca2.html
    – user662852
    May 25 '16 at 22:16

If the passport that was stolen is a U.S. one, you should report it by any of the channels outlined on the State Department's page Lost or Stolen Passports. The paper-reporting option is via form DS-64, which asks, among other things, whether you filed a police report; so it might be good to do that first. Form N-565 is a similar form for requesting the reissue of a naturalization certificate, and it, likewise, asks about any police report.

Withholding someone's ID documents, knowing that they are necessary for travel, would be "false imprisonment" under both state and federal statutes. Also, 18 USC §§1426 and 1427 cover the crimes of "Reproduction of naturalization or citizenship papers" and "Sale of naturalization or citizenship papers"; a 10-year felony for a first offence.

"Whosoever unlawfully ... disposes of a ... certificate of naturalization, ... shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than ... 10 years (in the case of the first or second such offense, if the offense was not committed to facilitate such an act of international terrorism or a drug trafficking crime),"

If the police take your report but don't scare the possessor of your documentation into immediately returning it, you could sue him or her for the actual expenses of obtaining replacements in Small Claims court. If the mispossessed passport causes big enough damages, I guess you could sue in any court that has jurisdiction.


Sue them.

If someone has physical possession of property you own and does not voluntarily return it (and you do not have a contract with them that grants you repossession rights), the only lawful means of recovery from the person in possession is to sue them.

As a practical matter, however, it might be more timely and efficient for you to simply apply for a replacement copy. I would be surprised if the issuing authorities don't have a simple procedure to handle this.

  • 1
    To replace the passport, she'll need a police report, so if the police refuse to get involved as you suggested in your reply to my comment, she may be out of luck on that front. As to the suit, it may be difficult to show, to the court's satisfaction, that the family member actually has the document.
    – phoog
    May 24 '16 at 9:51
  • 3
    @phoog: To replace the passport, she'll need a police report. Are you certain? What if the passport was misplaced, lost or destroyed? Which would, technically, be the case if the family member refuses to admit possession as you described. May 24 '16 at 9:57
  • 1
    No, you are correct, form only asks whether you filed a report. I still think it's theft though, even if the police don't want to get involved. ... theft of US government property, no less.
    – phoog
    May 24 '16 at 10:06
  • IANAL - and don't live in the USA, but I would argue "no, its not OK" - you have not advised the reason why, but I posit that them withholding this information is, in fact likely facilitating slavery. The [US Department of State][1] website claims "What is Modern Slavery? Over the past 15 years, “trafficking in persons” and “human trafficking” have been used as umbrella terms for activities involved when someone obtains or holds a person in compelled service."
    – davidgo
    May 24 '16 at 19:21
  • 1
    @Mowzer: You can file a police report for something that was lost, especially a passport.
    – user102008
    May 24 '16 at 20:29

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